< a quantity that can be divided into another a whole number of time />

Generating partitions

January 9, 2022

In a previous post we showed how to efficiently generate the power set of a given set of elements. Other than its relation to Binomial coefficient as documented on Wikipedia, I don’t know if they are of any use on statistics. We also mentioned the case of partitions, which are more interesting from a statistical point of view since they are at the heart of partitioning methods in cluster analysis. How do we generate all partitions? Don Knuth discusses two algorithms to generate integer (algorithm P) or set (algorithm H) partitions,1 but see also The Algorithm Design Manual (or this older course by Steven Skiena).

The main idea of algorithm H to generate set partition is as follows:

  1. Set $a_1\dots a_n \leftarrow 0\dots 0, b_1\dots b_{n-1} \leftarrow 1\dots 1, \text{and } m \leftarrow 1$.
  2. Visit the restricted growth string $a_1\dots a_n$,2 which represents a partition into $m + [a_n=m]$ blocks. Then go to (4) if $a_n=m$.
  3. Set $a_n \leftarrow a_n + 1$ and return to (2).
  4. Set $j \leftarrow n - 1$; then, while $a_j = b_j$, set $j \leftarrow j - 1$.
  5. Terminate if $j = 1$. Otherwise set $a_j \leftarrow a_j + 1$.
  6. Set $m \leftarrow b_j + [a_j=b_j]$ and $j \leftarrow j + 1$. Then, while $j < n$, set $a_j \ leftarrow 0$, $b_j \leftarrow m$, and $j \leftarrow j + 1$. Finally set $a_n \leftarrow 0$ and go back to (2).

An Haskell solution to multiset partitions is available in Generating Multiset Partitions, by Brent Yorgey.

What about the total number of partitions? The number of partition, $p(n)$, can be formulated using recursion. Let $p_1(k) = 1$ ($1\le k \le n$), then

$$ p_m(k) = \begin{cases} p_{m-1}(k) & \mbox{if } k > n,\cr p_{m-1}(k) + p_m(k-m) & \mbox{if } k \ge m > 1, \end{cases} $$

and we evaluate $p_m(k)$ for $1 \le m \le n$ and $m \ge k \ge n$. Note that $p(n) = p_n(n)$. Berstel et al. offer an implementation in Pascal to compute $p(n)$ as $\alpha 10^4 + \beta$, whose literal translation in C looks like this:3 (untested code)

#include <stdlib.h>

void npartitions(int n, int *alpha, int *beta) {
  int nmax = 100;
  int base = 10000;
  int a[nmax];
  int b[nmax];
  int k, m, s;

  for (k = 0; k < n; ++k) {
    a[k] = 0;
    b[k] = 1;

  for (m = 2; m < n; ++m) {
    for (k = m; k < n; ++k) {
      s = b[k] + b[k - m];
      b[k] = s % base;
      div_t q = div(s, base);
      a[k] = a[k] + a[k - m] + q.quot;

  *alpha = a[n];
  *beta = b[n];

♪ Leisure • Take You Higher

  1. D. E. Knuth. The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms. Addison-Wesley, 2011. ↩︎

  2. A restricted growth string is a string $a_1a_2\dots a_n$ of nonnegative integers in which we have $a_1=0$ and $a_{j+1} \le 1 + \text{max}(a_1,\dots, a_j)$ for $1 \le j < n$. ↩︎

  3. J. Berstel, J.-E. Pin, and M. Pocchiola. Mathématiques et Informatique : Combinatoire et Arithmétique. Ediscience International, 1991. ↩︎

statistics clang

See Also

» Student's t distribution » QR factorization and linear regression » Bootstrap resampling in Lisp » Fisher-Yates shuffling » Statistical software evaluation