Intersection of Two Linked Lists
To find the intersection node of two singly linkedlists, we can use a twopointer approach. This approach ensures that we keep the original structure of the linked lists and does not modify the values in the nodes. Here’s the stepbystep explanation:
Initialize Two Pointers: Start two pointers at the heads of the two linked lists,
pointerA
atheadA
andpointerB
atheadB
.Traverse the Linked Lists: Move both pointers one step at a time until they meet or reach the end of the lists.
Handle Different Lengths: If one pointer reaches the end of its list, move it to the head of the other list. Continue moving the pointers one step at a time.
Intersection Point: If the two pointers meet, they have found the intersection point. If they both reach the end of the lists without meeting, there is no intersection.
Here’s the code for this approach:


This code will handle all cases, including when the linked lists have different lengths or no intersection at all. The time complexity of this solution is O(m + n), where m and n are the lengths of the two linked lists, and the space complexity is O(1).
Identifying Problem Isomorphism
“Intersection of Two Linked Lists” is isomorphic to “Find the Duplicate Number” (#287).
The idea behind the mapping is that both problems deal with finding an intersecting point. In “Intersection of Two Linked Lists”, you’re asked to find the node at which two singly linked lists intersect, while in “Find the Duplicate Number”, you are to find a number that appears more than once in the array.
This mapping is an approximation because the data structures and problem constraints are different. For example, “Intersection of Two Linked Lists” deals with linked lists while “Find the Duplicate Number” uses an array. Moreover, “Intersection of Two Linked Lists” is about finding the intersecting node, not just a duplicate value.
But the core concept that ties these problems together is the detection of a duplicate or intersection, which can be solved using techniques like Floyd’s cyclefinding algorithm (or the tortoise and the hare algorithm) in both cases. It is this conceptual similarity that makes these problems isomorphic to each other at an abstract level.


Problem Classification
Data Structures: The problem involves working with linked lists, which are a fundamental data structure in computer science. The task requires knowledge of how linked lists work, including understanding the concept of a node and the ’next’ pointer.
Stack: The solution approach uses the Stack data structure to hold nodes from linked lists for comparison. Thus, understanding and usage of Stack operations is a key aspect.
Pointers: The problem also requires manipulating and comparing pointers (or references) to linked list nodes.
Intersection of Linked Lists: The problem specifically deals with the concept of the intersection point of two linked lists, which is a common topic in data structure and algorithm design.
Linked List Traversal: Traversing through linked lists is a fundamental operation required in this problem.
This problem is a mixture of data structure manipulation, particularly linked lists and stacks, and algorithm design.
Language Agnostic Coding Drills
Understanding Linked Lists: This is the fundamental step where we need to understand what a linked list is, how it is represented, and its basic operations such as traversal, addition, and removal of nodes.
Stack Data Structure: A stack is a linear data structure which follows a particular order in which the operations are performed. The order may be LIFO(Last In First Out) or FILO(First In Last Out). Understanding the working of stacks is crucial for this problem.
Stack Operations: Familiarity with pushing (adding) and popping (removing) elements from the stack is necessary. These operations are the backbone of this solution.
Traversing Linked Lists and Storing Nodes in a Stack: In this step, we traverse both linked lists simultaneously from the head to the end, storing each node in the respective stack.
Comparing Nodes from the End of Linked Lists: By popping nodes from the stack, we effectively start comparing nodes from the end of the linked lists. We keep doing this until we find a pair of nodes that aren’t equal or until one or both of the stacks are empty.
Understanding the Intersection Node: The intersection node is the node at which the two linked lists intersect. In this problem, we are returning the node just before the node where the mismatch occurred, as that would be the intersection node. If no intersection exists, the function should return None.
The difficulty increases as we go from step 1 to step 6. One can start learning from understanding the basics of linked lists and stacks, gradually moving to more complex operations and combining them to solve the problem.
Targeted Drills in Python
Drill 1: Understanding Linked Lists
We can start with defining a class for a Linked List node.


Drill 2: Stack Data Structure
Python lists can be used as a stack, but let’s create a Stack class for practice.


Drill 3: Stack Operations
Now, let’s do some operations on the Stack.


Drill 4: Traversing Linked Lists and Storing Nodes in a Stack
Next, we traverse a linked list and push each node onto a stack.


Drill 5: Comparing Nodes from the End of Linked Lists
In this step, we will compare the nodes from two stacks.


Drill 6: Understanding the Intersection Node
Finally, let’s modify our compare_nodes
function from the last drill to find the intersection node.


Each of these drills introduces and practices a specific concept. Once comfortable with these concepts, they can be combined into a complete solution to the problem.
Practical Applications
Finding the intersection of linked lists can have several practical applications in software development and data management. Here are a few examples:
Memory Management: Linked lists are used in various memory management schemes. For example, they can represent blocks of memory, and an intersection point could signify a shared memory space being used by two different processes.
Graph Theory and Networks: In graph theory, linked lists can be used to represent connections between nodes or points. An intersection could represent a common node in two separate paths, which might be used in network routing, social network analysis (common friend), or in finding the shortest path algorithms.
Document Similarity and Plagiarism Detection: In text analysis and document processing, linked lists could represent sequences of words or ideas. An intersection could represent shared sequences, which might be useful in detecting similarity or plagiarism.
Software Versioning Systems: In software versioning systems like Git, linked lists (more specifically, doubly linked lists) are used to keep track of different versions or branches of the software. Intersecting nodes could represent a common ancestor of two branches.
File System Analysis: Linked lists can represent directories and files in a file system, and intersection might represent a common directory or file accessed by two separate processes.
These are somewhat abstract examples, as linked list intersection as a standalone operation might not often be directly used in practical applications. However, the concepts involved, like pointer manipulation and traversal, are fundamental to many algorithms and data structures used in practice.