What is an algorithm?

As an algorithm we call an ordered and finite set of simple operations through which we can find the solution to a problem.

The word algorithm comes from late Latin alborarismus, and this in turn is an abbreviation of classical Arabic ḥisābu lḡubār, which means ‘calculation using Arabic numerals’.

Algorithms allow us to carry out an action or solve a problem through a series of defined, ordered and finite instructions. Thus, given an initial state and an input, and following the successive steps indicated, the final state is reached and a solution is obtained.

Characteristics of an algorithm

Every algorithm must comply with these basic characteristics:

  • They have a beginning and an end: every algorithm begins in an initial state with a series of specific data, and ends with a solution or exit.
  • They work in sequence: an algorithm is made up of a series of ordered steps.
  • The sequences are concrete: each step is clear and leaves no room for ambiguity.
  • Algorithms are abstract: they are models or guides for ordering processes.
  • The number of steps in an algorithm is finite.

Examples of algorithms

Although it is a common term in areas such as mathematics, computer science, logic and other related disciplines, the truth is that in everyday life we ​​also use algorithms to solve questions, for example

Kitchen Recipes

They explain the step by step to create a meal with a finite number of ingredients. The initial state would be the raw ingredients and the final state the prepared food.


They serve as a guide for executing processes, from how to build a library to how to activate a mobile phone. In these cases, the final state is the product assembled, installed, turned on, in operation, etc.

Mathematical operations

In mathematics, some examples of algorithms are multiplication, where we follow a sequence of operations to obtain a product; or division, which allows us to determine the quotient of two numbers. Euclid's algorithm, with which we obtain the greatest common divisor of two positive integers, is another example of an algorithm.

The algorithms can be represented graphically through a flow chart.

See also Flowchart.

Algorithm in computing

In computing or programming, the algorithm is the sequence of instructions by which we can solve a problem or question.

In fact, all the tasks performed by the computer are based on algorithms. A software or computer program is designed based on algorithms, so that we can introduce a task in it and solve it.

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