Tree – Introduction, Terminologies and Explanation

A tree is a hierarchical data structure, unlike array and linked list(which are known as a linear data structure).

Saying hierarchy means nodes(or vertices) are ordered in top to down order, i.e. topmost node is referred as Root node.
For example in image below-

  • 8 is the root node.
  • Node 5 and 10 are said to be children of node 8( immediate parent).
  • Node 5 and 10 are the siblings to each other.

Trees and Graphs – Trees can also be generalized as a graph which is acyclic and connected provided any two vertices are connected only through one path.

Binary tree and Ternary tree

Binary tree and Ternary tree

A tree, with each node having at most 2 children is a Binary Tree.
A tree, with each node having at most 3 children is a Ternary Tree.
A tree, with each node having at most n children is an n-ary Tree.

Although there can be an n-ary tree, but in practice, binary trees are more widely used. Further, various modifications of binary trees are also available such as Binary search tree, AVL Tree, Red-Black tree etc.

Advantages of using Tree:

  • Widely used operation searching is better optimized with tree data structure. Like balanced binary search tree always takes O(logn) for searching.
  • Insertion to a tree is faster than Linked list and slower than the arrays. Interestingly, a binary tree is also implemented using array referred as Heap.
  • In case of deletion, it is like a linked list. Deletion is faster against an array.

Necessary conditions for a tree:

  • It should not contain any cycle.
  • A node should not contain self-loop.
  • A child will have only one parent.
  • Any two nodes in a tree are connected through only one possible path.


tree terminologies

Terminologies in a tree

  1. Root node – The topmost node of a tree,
  2. Leaf node – Node having no children, <B, I, K, F, G, H>
  3. Internal/parent node – all node except leaf node <C, D, E, J>
  4. Degree of node X– the number of nodes in neighbor of X or number of subtrees of node X
    e.g. degree(E) = 3 {C, I, J}; deg(B) = 1; deg(J) = 2
  5. Edge – Connectivity between two node
  6. Path – Sequence of nodes connected one after other through edges.
    e.g. A-D-G, A-C-E-I
  7. Height of a node – The longest path from the node X to the reachable leaf node.
    e.g. height(C) = 3 {C-E-J-K}
  8. Height of tree – Height of root node is referred as the height of a tree i.e. the maximum no of edges in the greatest path from root node to the leaf node.
    e.g. height of the given tree is 4
  9. Level of tree – Level of a tree is the number of nodes from the node to root.
    e.g. level of root A is 1,
    level of node B, C, D is 2,
    level of node E, F, G, H is 3
  10. Descendant and Ancestor – As name justified, Descendant of a node is its children and grand children. Similarly, ancestor of a node is its parent and grand parents.


Almost every languages already have the in-built library for trees and it’s multiple implementations as it has very vast applications and is used almost everywhere. In C, it’s implemented using structure. Following is the declaration of a node of a binary tree, left and right pointer represent left subtree and right subtree respectively whereas the data holds the value of the current node.

struct binaryTree{
   int data;
   struct binaryTree *left;  // pointing left subtree
   struct binaryTree *right; // pointing right subtree

Applications of Trees :-

  1. Router algorithm
  2. Social networking based application
  3. File system, Directory implementation
  4. Maps typically uses tree data structure
  5. In games especially, when the requirement is multi-stage decision-making.

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