Shortest path by breadth-first search

Given an undirected unweighted graph that has no loop, we can use a basic breadth-first search algorithm to determine the shortest path from a specified vertex to any (other) one in the graph.

In the previous post I showed a way to store a graph in a C++11 STL container (a vector of forward list of unsigned int). This is the Graph class you are going to see in the code below. Besides, Vertex is a typedef for unsigned int, meaning that we identify a vertex simply by an unsigned number, starting from zero.

This is the class I want to develop:
class BreadthFirstSearch
    std::vector<Vertex> parents_; // 1
    Vertex start_; // 2
    BreadthFirstSearch(const Graph& graph, Vertex start); // 3
    std::vector<Vertex> path(Vertex end); // 4
    std::vector<Vertex> backpath(Vertex end); // 5
    void printPath(Vertex end); // 6
1. As a result of the breadth-first search algorithm I want to put in this vector the closest ancestor to the start one of any vertex in the associated graph.
2. This is the vertex that I want to use as starting point for BFS algorithm.
3. The ctor gets in input a Graph and one of its vertex and fills the parents_ vector as expected.
4. This method returns the path from the start vertex, as specified by the ctor, to the passed end one.
5. Not strictly a necessity, it could be a private method. Provides the shortest path in reversed order, from end to start.
6. Utility method, dump to standard output a shortest path.

The BreadthFirstSearch constructor implements the BFS algorithm in this way:
BreadthFirstSearch::BreadthFirstSearch(const Graph& graph, Vertex start) :
        parents_(graph.vertices_.size(), std::numeric_limits<Vertex>::max()), start_(start) // 1
    if (start >= graph.vertices_.size()) // 2

    std::vector<bool> seen(graph.vertices_.size()); // 3
    std::queue<Vertex> queue; // 4

    queue.push(start); // 5
    seen[start] = true;
    while (!queue.empty()) // 6
        Vertex vertex = queue.front();

        for (auto it = graph.vertices_[vertex].begin(); it != graph.vertices_[vertex].end(); ++it) // 7
            Vertex next = *it;
            if (!seen[next]) // 8
                seen[next] = true;
                parents_[next] = vertex;
1. Initially, the parents_ vector contains just "no parent" elements. I used the largest value available for a Vertex to represent such state.
2. Event though this code is not production ready, I couldn't help to put at least a minimal error handling in it. The vertex passed as starting point should be an actual Graph element.
3. This vector keep track of all the vertices that have been already checked in a previous step of the algorithm. Initially no one is, so we could rely on the default behavior for the vector ctor that sets to false all its elements.
4. On this queue I'll put all the vertices that are connected to the one is currently checked.
5. Let's put the control variables in the initial condition. The start vertex is enqueued, and it is marked as seen.
6. Loop until all the elements in the queue are processed.
7. Loop on all the vertices connected to the current one.
8. If this vertex has not already processed, push it in queue, mark it as seen, set as its next the current vertex.

The BreadthFirstSearch ctor has filled the parents_ vector, now we can use it to create the shortest path from the start vertex to a specific one:
std::vector<Vertex> BreadthFirstSearch::path(Vertex end)
    std::vector<Vertex> backtrace = backpath(end); // 1
    return std::vector<Vertex>(backtrace.rbegin(), backtrace.rend()); // 2
1. Actually, the real job is delegated to backpath().
2. Since backpath() returns a reversed path, the only real task of this method is reverting the vector to return a "stright" one.

If you want the path to be stored in a vector, you will find that it is in the nature of the problem to generate a reversed solution. Or maybe you could use a deque, filling it from the front. Anyway, this is my solution:
std::vector<Vertex> BreadthFirstSearch::backpath(Vertex end)
    std::vector<Vertex> backtrace; // 1
    if (end >= parents_.size()) // 2
        return backtrace;

    for (Vertex cur = end; cur != std::numeric_limits<Vertex>::max(); cur = parents_[cur])
        backtrace.push_back(cur); // 3
    return backtrace;
1. I am going to backtracing from the passed graph vertex up to the starting one, pushing each parent in this vector.
2. Better to ensure the caller won't pass a nonexistent vertex.
3. Each ancestor is pushed back in the vector, until the "no parent" element is found.

The utility method that dumps the path to standard shows how to use backpath():
void BreadthFirstSearch::printPath(Vertex end)
    std::vector<Vertex> vxs = backpath(end);
    std::copy(vxs.rbegin(), vxs.rend(), std::ostream_iterator<Vertex>(std::cout, " "));
    std::cout << std::endl;
Here is a piece of code that uses my BreadthFirstSearch class:
BreadthFirstSearch bfs(graph, 0); // 1
bfs.printPath(3); // 2
1. I pass to bfs the graph object as created in the previous post example, and I specify zero as the starting vertex.
2. Ask to print the shortest path from zero to three.

The expected result is:
0 4 3 

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