Binary Search in Every Language

Published on 25 October 2019 (Updated: 02 May 2020)

Binary Search in Every Language

In this article, we lay out all the requirements for a binary search program.


Binary search is a special type of search function which relies on a few properties of the search space. First, the search space must have constant time random access (i.e. an array). In addition, the search space must be sorted by some attribute. As a consequence, we’re able to navigate the search space in O(log(N)) instead of O(N).

Jargon aside, binary search works by taking advantage of a sorted collection. As a result, we don’t have to search every element in the collection. Instead, we can try the middle. If the middle element is greater than the element we want to find, we know that the element must be “to the left” of that element—assuming the collection is sorted least to greatest. From there, we can try the element in the middle of the left half, and so on.

Eventually, we’ll find the element we’re looking for, or we’ll reach the end of our search. In either case, we’ll only explore O(log(N)) elements. This gives us a dramatic improvement over linear search.


For the purposes of this project, we’ll assume that the search space is a list of integers. Specifically, we’ll accept two inputs on the command line: the list of integers and the integer to find:

./binary-search.lang "1, 4, 5, 11, 12" "4"

If successful, the script should return true. Otherwise, the script should return false. If any user input errors occur, the script should output the following usage message: Usage: please provide a list of sorted integers ("1, 4, 5, 11, 12") and the integer to find ("11").


Description List Input Target Integer Input Output
No Input     error*
Missing Input: List 1, 2, 3, 4   error*
Missing Input: Target "" 5 error*
Out of Order Input 3, 5, 1, 2 3 error*
Sample Input: First True 1, 3, 5, 7 1 true
Sample Input: Last True 1, 3, 5, 7 7 true
Sample Input: Middle True 1, 3, 5, 7 5 true
Sample Input: One True 5 5 true
Sample Input: One False 5 7 false
Sample Input: Many False 1, 3, 5, 6 7 false

*The error string to print: Usage: please provide a list of sorted integers ("1, 4, 5, 11, 12") and the integer to find ("11")


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