Sublinear algorithms in the external memory model

Alexandr Andoni*, Piotr Indyk, Krzysztof Onak, Ronitt Rubinfeld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


We initiate the study of sublinear-time algorithms in the external memory model. In this model, the data is stored in blocks of a certain size B, and the algorithm is charged a unit cost for each block access. This model is well-studied, since it reflects the computational issues occurring when the (massive) input is stored on a disk. Since each block access operates on B data elements in parallel, many problems have external memory algorithms whose number of block accesses is only a small fraction (e.g. 1/B) of their main memory complexity. However, to the best of our knowledge, no such reduction in complexity is known for any sublinear-time algorithm. One plausible explanation is that the vast majority of sublinear-time algorithms use random sampling and thus exhibit no locality of reference. This state of affairs is quite unfortunate, since both sublinear-time algorithms and the external memory model are important approaches to dealing with massive data sets, and ideally they should be combined to achieve best performance. We show that such combination is indeed possible. In particular, we consider three well-studied problems: testing of distinctness, uniformity and identity of an empirical distribution induced by data. For these problems we show random-sampling-based algorithms whose number of block accesses is up to a factor of 1/√B smaller than the main memory complexity of those problems. We also show that this improvement is optimal for those problems. Since these problems are natural primitives for a number of sampling-based algorithms for other problems, our tools improve the external memory complexity of other problems as well.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProperty Testing - Current Research and Surveys
Number of pages4
StatePublished - 2010
EventMini-Workshop on Property Testing - Beijing, China
Duration: 8 Jan 201010 Jan 2010

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
Volume6390 LNCS
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


ConferenceMini-Workshop on Property Testing


  • distribution testing
  • external memory
  • sampling


Dive into the research topics of 'Sublinear algorithms in the external memory model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this