Searching for a Minimum

We may also want to search through a data structure to find an item with a specific property. For example, we could search for the student with the maximum age, or the minimum GPA. For this example, let’s consider the case where we’d like to find the minimum value in an array of integers.

Searching for the minimum number in an unordered array is a different problem than searching for a specific number. First of all, we do not know what number we are searching for. And, since the array is not ordered, we will have to check each and every number in the array.

The input parameters of our new function will be different from the find function above, since we do not have a number to search for. In this case, we only have an array of numbers as an input parameter. The output parameter, however, is the same. We still want to return the index of the minimum number in the array. In this case, we will return -1 if there is no minimum number, which can only happen if there is no data in the array when we begin.


  • The data in the array can be sorted


  • The function returns the minimum number of the data in the array
  • The function returns -1 if the array is empty

Our preconditions and postconditions are also simple. Our precondition is simply that we have an array whose data can be sorted. This is important, because it means that we can compare two elements in the array and determine which one has a smaller value. Otherwise, we couldn’t determine the minimum value at all!

Our postcondition is that we return the minimum number of the data in the array, or -1 if the array is empty.

The function findMin is shown below. First, we check to see if the array is empty. If it is, we simply return -1 in line 3. If not, we assume the location 0 contains the minimum number in the array, and set min equal to 0 in line 5. Then we loop through each location in the array (starting with 1) in line 6 and set min equal to the minimum of the array data at the current index and the data at min. (Note: if the array only has a single number in it, the for loop will not actually execute since index will be initialized to 1, which is already larger than the size of the array – 1, which is 0.) Once we complete the loop, we will be guaranteed that we have the index of the minimum number in the array.

 1function FINDMIN(ARRAY)
 2    if ARRAY is empty then
 3        return -1
 4    end if
 5    MIN = 0
 6    loop INDEX from 1 to size of ARRAY - 1
 7        if ARRAY[INDEX] < ARRAY[MIN]
 8            MIN = INDEX
 9        end if
10    end for
11    return MIN
12end function

Next, we will walk through the algorithm using our example array in the figure below. Step 1 shows the initial time through the loop. In line 5, min is set to 0 by default and in line 6, index is set equal to 1. Line 7 then computes whether array[1] < array[0]. In this case, it is and we set min = 1 (which is reflected in the next step where min has the value 1).

Finding Minimum Diagram Finding Minimum Diagram

Step 2 will end up comparing array[2] < array[1], since min is now 1 and index has been incremented to 2 via the for loop. In this case, array[2] is less than array[1] so we update min again, this time to 2.

Step 3 follows the same process; however, this time the value in array[3] is 55, which is greater than the current minimum of 3 in array[2]. Therefore, min is not updated. Step 4 finds the minimum value in the array of -3 at index 4 and so updates min to 4. However, steps 5, 6, and 7 do not find new minimum values. Thus, when the loop exits after Step 6, min is set to 4 and this value is returned to the calling program in line 11.