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8.1 Red-Black Trees

A red-black tree is a binary search tree with one extra attribute for each node: the colour, which is either red or black. We also need to keep track of the parent of each node, so that a red-black tree's node structure would be:
struct t_red_black_node {
    enum { red, black } colour;
    void *item;
    struct t_red_black_node *left,
For the purpose of this discussion, the NULL nodes which terminate the tree are considered to be the leaves and are coloured black.

Definition of a red-black tree

A red-black tree is a binary search tree which has the following red-black properties:
  1. Every node is either red or black.
  2. Every leaf (NULL) is black.
  3. If a node is red, then both its children are black.
  4. Every simple path from a node to a descendant leaf contains the same number of black nodes.

  1. implies that on any path from the root to a leaf, red nodes must not be adjacent.
    However, any number of black nodes may appear in a sequence.
A basic red-black tree
Basic red-black tree with the sentinel nodes added. Implementations of the red-black tree algorithms will usually include the sentinel nodes as a convenient means of flagging that you have reached a leaf node. They are the NULL black nodes of property 2.
The number of black nodes on any path from, but not including, a node x to a leaf is called the black-heightbh(x). We can prove the following lemma: of a node, denoted
A red-black tree with n internal nodes has height at most 2log(n+1).
(For a proof, see Cormen, p 264)

This demonstrates why the red-black tree is a good search tree: it can always be searched in O(log n) time.
As with heaps, additions and deletions from red-black trees destroy the red-black property, so we need to restore it. To do this we need to look at some operations on red-black trees.


A rotation is a local operation in a search tree that preserves in-order traversal key ordering. Note that in both trees, an in-order traversal yields:

A x B y C
The left_rotate operation may be encoded:
left_rotate( Tree T, node x ) {
    node y;
    y = x->right;
    /* Turn y's left sub-tree into x's right sub-tree */
    x->right = y->left;
    if ( y->left != NULL )
        y->left->parent = x;
    /* y's new parent was x's parent */
    y->parent = x->parent;
    /* Set the parent to point to y instead of x */
    /* First see whether we're at the root */
    if ( x->parent == NULL ) T->root = y;
        if ( x == (x->parent)->left )
            /* x was on the left of its parent */
            x->parent->left = y;
            /* x must have been on the right */
            x->parent->right = y;
    /* Finally, put x on y's left */
    y->left = x;
    x->parent = y;


Insertion is somewhat complex and involves a number of cases. Note that we start by inserting the new node, x, in the tree just as we would for any other binary tree, using the tree_insert function. This new node is labelled red, and possibly destroys the red-black property. The main loop moves up the tree, restoring the red-black property.
rb_insert( Tree T, node x ) {
    /* Insert in the tree in the usual way */
    tree_insert( T, x );
    /* Now restore the red-black property */
    x->colour = red;
    while ( (x != T->root) && (x->parent->colour == red) ) {
       if ( x->parent == x->parent->parent->left ) {
           /* If x's parent is a left, y is x's right 'uncle' */
           y = x->parent->parent->right;
           if ( y->colour == red ) {
               /* case 1 - change the colours */
               x->parent->colour = black;
               y->colour = black;
               x->parent->parent->colour = red;
               /* Move x up the tree */
               x = x->parent->parent;
           else {
               /* y is a black node */
               if ( x == x->parent->right ) {
                   /* and x is to the right */ 
                   /* case 2 - move x up and rotate */
                   x = x->parent;
                   left_rotate( T, x );
               /* case 3 */
               x->parent->colour = black;
               x->parent->parent->colour = red;
               right_rotate( T, x->parent->parent );
       else {
           /* repeat the "if" part with right and left
              exchanged */
    /* Colour the root black */
    T->root->colour = black;