What’s a subsequence?

Any selection of items from the original array. The selection must respect the order. Meaning for [1,2,3,4,5] only two of the four below are subsequences:

[1,4,3,2,5]  order not respected
[5,1]  order not respected

What’s the difference between a subsequence and a subarray?

Subarray, is just like subsequence, that is order must be respected. Additionally the sub-array has to be made of continuous elements.

[1,2,3,5]  gap 
[2,4]  gap

What’s a longest increasing subsequence?

This is also known as LIS.
For [0, 3, 1, 7, 5, 2, 8] the longest increasing subsequence is: [0,1,7,8].
For [2,2,2,2]. LIS is: [2].
For [3]. LIS is: [3]

In this post, we’re only going to calculate the length of the LIS. We won’t construct the actual subsequence itself. To learn how to construct the path, see here


So this problem can be broken into subproblems i.e.

  • The LIS of index 6, depends on the LIS at indices 0-5.
  • The LIS of index 5, depends on the LIS at indices 0-4.
  • The LIS of index 1, depends on the LIS of index 0
  • The LIS of index 0, is 1. Because every element has a subsequence of 1.

Whenever we can turn our problem into subproblems, then Dynamic programming is a good candidate for finding a solution.
To do this, let’s create an array named dp to represent the the answer to the subproblem for a given index.

let arr = [0, 3, 1, 7, 5, 2, 8] We’ll create an array with the same length of our original array. Default all the values to 1. Example: var dp: [Int] = Array(repeating: 1, count: arr.count).
Let’s just assume we want to calculate the LIS all the way to index 4. And we’ve already updated the value for all previous indexes. How do you think we need to update dp[4] [0, 3, 1, 7, 5, 2, 8] ↑ dp[4]

Which of the following would it be?

  1. The value for dp[4] will be max(dp[0] + 1, dp[1] + 1, dp[2] + 1, dp[3] + 1)
  2. The value for dp[4] will be max(dp[0] + 1, dp[1] + 1, dp[2] + 1)
  3. The value for dp[4] will be max(dp[0] + 1, dp[2] + 1)

The correct answer is the second line.
First line is incorrect because 7 is bigger than 5. dp[3] + 1 shouldn’t be considered.
Third line is incorrect because 1 is smaller than 4, dp[2] + 1 should be considered.
This means that assuming there is at least one item in the array, the default value should then be 1.

In short:

  • For every index, we use compare its value with its previous indices
    • If current index is bigger, then we increase the LIS length between the two indices.
    • At any given index we perform a max between all nodes that were able to increase the subsequence to that point.
  • We do this till the end of the array.
  • Then do a max against our dp array.

Pro tip

Use a paper and go through this example again by yourself. Just compare any two indexes, add to the previous, do a max. I was then able to reason with it a lot lot easier on paper. Here’s what I wrote:

“LIS steps”
Longest Increasing Subsequence Length


func lengthOfLIS(_ nums: [Int]) -> Int {
    var dp: [Int] = Array(repeating: 1, count: nums.count)
    for i in 0...nums.count - 1 {
        for j in 0..<i {
            if nums[j] < nums[i] {
                dp[i] = max(dp[i], dp[j] + 1)
    return dp.max()!

Other Questions that use LIS:

Russian Doll - Envelopes. I plan on posting about it next.