Persistence Made Simple - Tutorial

This assumes you already have a basic knowledge of segment trees.
For this discussion, I want to show everyone that persistence can actually be made simple just by changing our way of thinking.

Money Grows on the Tree of Persistence


Usually, persistence is treated as a “really hard” kind of data structure. After all, it’s like a dream data structure with robust version control. It’s the crowd favorite for long challenges because of its fame to as the “hardest to implement”, especially when appended with truly hard concepts in other topics. In reality, persistence can actually be made simple, as it is literally only one step away from the non-persistent version.


Why does the idea of a persistent data structure seem so hard for most programmers? I think this is because most of us started with imperative programming languages like C++, Java, and Python, where changing values of variables is the norm. We are familiar with having the power to mutate a value anytime we want. In contrast, most of us cringe whenever we deal with immutables. Hail C++ mutable std::string, screw Java’s immutable String. Nothing beats plain simple assignment operator (s[i] = c) compared to the read-only (s.charAt(i)). Most, if not all of us, grew with the mutable mindset. We live and breathe mutability in our code. It is our intuitive art.

Immutable Programming

But when you think about it, persistence is all about staying immutable. Being persistent means we discard our powers of mutability. Just like how Java’s String class is immutable, we avoid changing individual values directly. Though at first this seems dumb and inefficient, when you think about it it’s the straightforward way to do version control. Since original content stays the same, having a new version of the content won’t damage the version of the original. For immutables, the way to “change” is to “create”. The truth is persistence == immutability, hence we can summarize the act of staying persistent with one golden rule.


Create new nodes instead of changing them.

That’s it? Yes, that’s it! The way to be persistent is to stop using the assignment operator, and instead focus on recreation of nodes during a change. We return new nodes instead of mutating. That’s the only additional step we need to transform from mutable to persistent. In REMOVING our capability to be mutable, we force ourselves to CREATE a new way to do version control. In effect, original content can stay the same.

The secret is that there is no secret

Persistence is actually straightforward. There’s no need to fancy things around. Just replace all assignment operators with a new node() expression or similar. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a mere few lines of code away from the mutable version. The “god data structure” everyone thinks is so complicated is in truth something with removed powers than the original. But with this irony of a removed power, we instead gain a new power called efficient version control.


Let’s demonstrate an example of adding persistence to a segment tree. Suppose we want to solve the range sum query problem, but with a persistent data structure. We could implement it the usual segment tree way as follows:

Build (usual segment tree)

#define M ((L+R)/2)
int st[4*n];
void build(int arr[], int p=1, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (L == R) st[p] = arr[L]; // construct as leaf
    else { // construct as parent
        build(arr, 2*p, L, M);
        build(arr, 2*p+1, M+1, R);
        st[p] = st[2*p] + st[2*p+1];

Now how do we make this persistent? What we do is that we replace every assignment operator st[p] = ... with a new() operator. See my example below for the details.

Build (persistent segment tree)

#define M ((L+R)/2)
int build(int arr[], int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (L == R) return newleaf(arr[L]); // construct as leaf
    else return newparent(build(arr, L, M), build(arr, M+1, R)); // construct as parent

// Usage: int root = build(arr, 0, n - 1);

We abstract the idea of “change” via “creation”, as per the golden rule of persistence. Isn’t it really simple? In fact, in some cases, we can achieve shorter code than the mutable version if we do it this way! Of course, this depends on the problem, but it is not wrong to say that it can be achievable.

Creating New Nodes

If you think about it, the difference between the non-persistent and the persistent version is that the former mutates an array called st[] while the latter returns a new node at every build. You can implement this a couple of ways. A famous way is to use a node class. But for me, the way I usually implement it is by allocating a pooled array:

int l[SIZE], r[SIZE], st[SIZE], NODES = 0;
int newleaf(int value) {
    int p = ++NODES;
    l[p] = r[p] = 0; // null
    st[p] = value;
    return p;
int newparent(int lef, int rig) {
    int p = ++NODES;
    l[p] = lef;
    r[p] = rig;
    st[p] = st[lef] + st[rig]; // immediately update value from children
    return p;

There are two operations, newleaf() and newparent(). We either construct nodes as a leaf or as a parent, where being a parent already pulls values from the children. In the same way as the mutable version, we have an array called st[] that stores the segment tree values depending on our queries. Each node also has pointer to the left and the right children stored at l[] and r[] respectively. For the size, I usually allocate around SIZE \approx 8N \lceil log N \rceil. In practice I do this because it’s faster than using classes. But of course, it all depends on your groove :slight_smile:

What about updating nodes? When there’s no persistence, we usually directly manipulate our segment tree array st[] like so:

Point Update (usual segment tree)

void update(int i, int x, int p=1, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (L == R) {st[p] = x; return;}
    if (i <= M) update(i, x, 2*p, L, M);
    else update(i, x, 2*p+1, M+1, R);
    st[p] = st[2*p] + st[2*p+1];

If we want to add persistent update, we simply need to create new nodes via our newleaf() or newparent() functions instead of the usual assignment operators:

Point Update (persistent segment tree)

// return an int, a pointer to the new root of the tree
int update(int i, int x, int p, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (L == R) return newleaf(st[p] + x);
    if (i <= M) return newparent(update(i, x, l[p], L, M), r[p]);
    else        return newparent(l[p], update(i, x, r[p], M + 1, R));

// Usage:
// int new_version_root = update(i, x, root);
// Both roots are valid, you can query from both of them!

The only change you need is wrapping the change in a new node at every update. If we merely consider persistence as a wrapper, we can make the implementation clean and concise.

Range Copy (persistent segment tree)

(Bonus) My favorite operation on a persistent tree is the range copy. This is the ultimate version control technique one can pull off with regards to reverting a range back to a certain version. Imagine doing a range reset back to initial values - what a breakthrough! Although I find it rare to see problems that need range copy (e.g. OAK), it’s one of those operations that can come in handy. Fortunately, for a persistent tree, this can easily be achieved a few lines of code:

// revert range [a:b] of p
int rangecopy(int a, int b, int p, int revert, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (b < L || R < a) return p; // keep version
    if (a <= L && R <= b) return revert; // reverted version
    return newparent(rangecopy(a, b, l[p], l[revert], L, M),
                     rangecopy(a, b, r[p], r[revert], M+1, R));

// Usage: (revert a range [a:b] back to an old version)
// int reverted_root = rangecopy(a, b, root, old_version_root);

We pass in two roots: the current tree root and the old version root. We traverse both side-by-side, and replace only the relevant nodes during our traversal. This meek five-lined function is the foundation of efficient version-control, which is but one of the many operations you can do with a persistent segment tree.


In a usual tree, we change at most O(log N) nodes during an update/query. Therefore, for a persistent tree, we create at most O(log N) nodes as well.


Persistence is a powerful tool, but can also be made simple. After reading this, I hope that you have come to understand persistent data structures in new light. Trust me, the conversion process is really simple since we just convert all assignment operators to new leaves or parents.

Persistence is not only for segment trees - you can in fact use this technique for other data structures, such as BBSTs. By understanding persistence more generally, I purposefully omitted range query since I want you to try and code that on your own. By now, I hope you can find it easier to come up with your own code for various kinds of queries, and even for lazy propagation! Feel free to comment on this thread to open discussion of such techniques.

As for other resources, you can check out Anudeep’s blog or the Wiki page for a more in-depth explanation of persistent trees, explained with problems to solve. With lots of practice, you can be ready hike your way to conquer next month’s long challenge. Remember to stay persistent, and happy coding :slight_smile:

UPD: added usage

UPD2: added list of problems in the comments below!


Very helpful article! You made it simpler than normal segment tree :slight_smile:
Although, I didn’t properly understand the rangecopy function. What will be the initial parameter passed to the revert variable of this function?
Also, How is revert variable storing the version of the segment tree? Like suppose we build a RSQ segment tree for 6 elements then we will have nodes from 1-11 in the segment tree(6 leaf node and 5 parent nodes). Now if I update an element at position 3 (1 indexed) then we will have 3 new nodes which will be part of 2nd version of the segment tree, right? If I again update element at position 5 then we will have 4 new nodes which will be part of 3rd version and so on… how are you managing these versions using revert variable?
Thanks in advance.


This is so well written !

1 Like

Great tutorial but I need to befriend Recursion, to fully appreciate it. Could anyone please do a ‘Recursion Made Simple’. Its often hard to analyse recursive functions, how actually the function produces the desired behaviour.

1 Like

List of Problems

Here’s a list of problems to practice on. Enjoy!


Path-to-root problems

  • GOT - Gao on Tree
  • COT - Count on Tree
  • PSHTTR - Pishty and Tree
  • GPD - Gotham PD
  • 226E - Noble Knight’s Path


  • PRMQ - Chef and Prime Queries
  • CLONEME - Cloning
  • FIBTREE - Fibonacci Numbers on Tree (Math, HLD, hard)
  • QUERY - Observing the Tree (HLD, hard)
  • OAK - Persistent Oak (HLD, hard)
  • 464E - The Classic Problem (Persistent Convex Hull Trick, hard)

This is community wiki, you can edit. Feel free to add problems you see fit! :smiley:


Okay, i finished reading this after some more brushing up of the topic, and it literally is one of the best tutorial i ever read. It explains the concept very simply and easily. Also, i like your writing style, its not that monotonous one we find in textbooks, so it was a refreshing read.

For suggestion, We dealt with update function and build function here. Is it possible to take up some sample/standard problem and explain the query function as well? I am in doubt that, since we are creating new node instead of updating the old ones, what change in query function is necessary?


This problem is based on Persistent Trie

Dexter’s Random Generator


Awesome article upon this topic. Along with it, by seeing other answers, I wish to add.

I don’t know if many of us are aware of less advertised tag feature on CodeChef present at

Ex: These problems are related to persistence directly.

alt text

alt text

alt text

alt text

alt text

PS: Wrote especially as separate answer, to tell about tags, those weren’t knowing about it already. :smiley:


Nice tutorial!!! Can you provide the pseudo code in case we are doing a range update using lazy popagation??


Nice Tutorial man!!!


This is an answer to @blake_786’s question regarding updates with lazy propagation, since my answer would not fit into a comment.

Persistent Lazy Propagation

Lazy propagation is the act of updating by need. To do lazy propagation with a persistent tree, like for regular segment tree, we flag nodes whenever they need to update and subsequently pass them down to the children after visiting. But the difference is, since we are doing things persistently, we create new nodes during update.

The thing is, propagation varies from problem to problem. Range set-value update is different from range increase, range flip, etc. But the template is similar. Let’s make two arrays, hasflag[] and flag[] to mark if a node has a lazy flag or not. Then the code of persistent propagation will look like the following:

bool hasflag[]; // if node has a flag (sometimes, you can omit this)
int flag[];     // the actual value of the flag

// returns a new node with a lazy flag
int newlazykid(int node, int delta, int L, int R);

void propagate(int p, int L, int R) {
    if (hasflag[p]) {
        if (L != R) { // spread the laziness
            l[p] = newlazykid(l[p], flag[p], L, M);
            r[p] = newlazykid(r[p], flag[p], M + 1, R);
        // reset flag
        hasflag[p] = false;

The propagate() method spreads the laziness from parent to children. In doing so, we update the values of the children depending on our flag. But if you notice, we want persistence so the way to update this is to create “new lazy kids” during propagation. (Note, we don’t need to create a “new non-lazy parent” node after propagation, since it’s the same parent that was just too lazy to update).

Lazy Children

To propagate properly, we need a way to create lazy child nodes. That’s what the newlazykid() method is for. I left it blank since the propagation style largely depends on the problem. But by default, the lazy kid should make a new cloned node, update it, then setup its flags. Here’s an example template code:

int newlazykid(int node, int delta, int L, int R) {
    int p = ++NODES;
    l[p] = l[node];
    r[p] = r[node];
    flag[p] = flag[node]; // need this since lazy kid might be lazy before
    hasflag[p] = true;
    /* range increase */
    flag[p] += delta;
    st[p] = st[node] + (R - L + 1) * delta;
    /* edit depending on the problem */
    return p;

After setting up flags, the child needs to know what needs to change based on the flag. It depends on the problem. For example, for range increase the kid can have value st[node] + (R - L + 1)*delta. If it’s range set-value we simply make the kid have value delta, if it’s range minify the value is min(st[p], delta) and so on.

Lazy Range Update/Query

Now that we have propagation, how does the final range update code look like? It’s amazingly succint if you ask me :slight_smile:

// range update on [a:b] with value x, on the tree rooted at p

int update(int a, int b, int x, int p, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (b < L || R < a)   return p;
    if (a <= L && R <= b) return newlazykid(p, x, L, R); 
    propagate(p, L, R); // always do this before going down
    return newparent(update(a, b, l[p], x, L, M),
                     update(a, b, r[p], x, M + 1, R));

Now, every time we query down we should also propagate. We’ll achieve very similar code after.

// range query on [a:b], on the tree rooted at p

int query(int a, int b, int p, int L=0, int R=n-1) {
    if (b < L || R < a)   return 0;
    if (a <= L && R <= b) return st[p];
    propagate(p, L, R); // always do this before going down
    return query(a, b, l[p], x, L, M) + query(a, b, r[p], x, M + 1, R);

Hope that was helpful. I’d like to have your thoughts on this.


Awesome! I mean how can anyone spend lots of time writing these blogs just for the sake of others … great tutorial …

Well I was trying question on spoj mentioned above …

I am using same approach as explained above but not able to implement it … Can someone help me or if possible send me the link of solution to this problem so that it might help me … Thanks in advance!

1 Like

hey @hikarico I’m trying to understand your approach( in June17 CLONEME question. You have used persistent hash tree. but I’m not getting your approach from line 133. If the left or right any of them are not equal then we are searching for leftmost or rightmost, but it could be in between also…? did I misunderstand something here?

I dont have enough karma points to reply to your comment on original post.

1 Like

So well explained.

nice tutorial

1 Like

Has anyone solved [DQUERY][1] or [KQUERY][2] using persistent segment tree?

I have done these using segment tree and offline approach.

Edit: done both using persistent segment tree also.

best tutorial for leaning all about persistent segment tree.

One of the best tutorial I ever saw.
Great work.

Could somebody give me the implimentation of this problem with this code of persistent seg tree please.I don’t know why it gives me wrong answer. This problem

The code

Just a basic knowledge of segment trees is enough? I have just started wth this thing (solved Q on minimum in range [l,r] and other basic ones). Will that be enough to understand it? Or do i need to see/practice more before starting this?