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Graph Representations

In graph theory, a graph representation is a technique to store graph into the memory of computer.

To represent a graph, we just need the set of vertices, and for each vertex the neighbors of the vertex (vertices which is directly connected to it by an edge). If it is a weighted graph, then the weight will be associated with each edge.

There are different ways to optimally represent a graph, depending on the density of its edges, type of operations to be performed and ease of use.

1. Adjacency Matrix

  • Adjacency matrix is a sequential representation.
  • It is used to represent which nodes are adjacent to each other. i.e. is there any edge connecting nodes to a graph.
  • In this representation, we have to construct a nXn matrix A. If there is any edge from a vertex i to vertex j, then the corresponding element of A, ai,j = 1, otherwise ai,j= 0.

Note, even if the graph on 100 vertices contains only 1 edge, we still have to have a 100x100 matrix with lots of zeroes.

  • If there is any weighted graph then instead of 1s and 0s, we can store the weight of the edge.


Consider the following undirected graph representation:

Undirected graph representation

Graph Representations

Directed graph represenation

See the directed graph representation:

Graph Representations

In the above examples, 1 represents an edge from row vertex to column vertex, and 0 represents no edge from row vertex to column vertex.

Undirected weighted graph represenation

Graph Representations

Pros: Representation is easier to implement and follow.

Cons: It takes a lot of space and time to visit all the neighbors of a vertex, we have to traverse all the vertices in the graph, which takes quite some time.

2. Incidence Matrix

In Incidence matrix representation, graph can be represented using a matrix of size:

Total number of vertices by total number of edges.

It means if a graph has 4 vertices and 6 edges, then it can be represented using a matrix of 4X6 class. In this matrix, columns represent edges and rows represent vertices.

This matrix is filled with either 0 or 1 or -1. Where,

  • 0 is used to represent row edge which is not connected to column vertex.
  • 1 is used to represent row edge which is connected as outgoing edge to column vertex.
  • -1 is used to represent row edge which is connected as incoming edge to column vertex.


Consider the following directed graph representation.

Graph Representations

3. Adjacency List

  • Adjacency list is a linked representation.
  • In this representation, for each vertex in the graph, we maintain the list of its neighbors. It means, every vertex of the graph contains list of its adjacent vertices.
  • We have an array of vertices which is indexed by the vertex number and for each vertex v, the corresponding array element points to a singly linked list of neighbors of v.


Let's see the following directed graph representation implemented using linked list:

Graph Representations

We can also implement this representation using array as follows:

Graph Representations


  • Adjacency list saves lot of space.
  • We can easily insert or delete as we use linked list.
  • Such kind of representation is easy to follow and clearly shows the adjacent nodes of node.


  • The adjacency list allows testing whether two vertices are adjacent to each other but it is slower to support this operation.

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