Check if a tree is balanced

August 15, 2015

Given a binary tree, determine if it is height-balanced. For this problem, a height-balanced binary tree is defined as a binary tree in which the depth of the two subtrees of every node never differ by more than 1.


In the O(N^2) solution you naively traverse the left and right subtrees for every node in the tree. But this can be improved, because you could return the depth and the say that the tree from that nodeit is balanced in the same function. However, I’ve struggled with the fact that I should have returned a pair of a boolean (is the tree balanced) and int (the height of the tree). The trick in Cracking the Coding Interview is to return -1 if the tree is unbalanced, and from that the code simplifies a lot.

 * Definition for a binary tree node.
 * struct TreeNode {
 *     int val;
 *     TreeNode *left;
 *     TreeNode *right;
 *     TreeNode(int x) : val(x), left(NULL), right(NULL) {}
 * };
class Solution {
    int checkDepth(TreeNode *node) {
        if (node == nullptr) return 0;
        int left = checkDepth(node->left),
            right = checkDepth(node->right);
        if (left < 0 || right < 0) return -1;
        int diff = abs(left - right);
        if (diff > 1) return -1;
        return 1 + max(left, right);

    bool isBalanced(TreeNode * root) {
        if (root == nullptr)
            return true;
        return checkDepth(root) > 0;