Misra–Gries summary

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In the field of streaming algorithms, Misra–Gries summaries are used to solve the frequent elements problem in the data stream model. That is, given a long stream of input that can only be examined once (and in some arbitrary order), the Misra-Gries algorithm[1] can be used to compute which (if any) value makes up a majority of the stream, or more generally, the set of items that constitute some fixed fraction of the stream.

The term "summary" is due to Graham Cormode.[2][3] The algorithm is also called the Misra–Gries heavy hitters algorithm.

The Misra–Gries summary[edit]

As for all algorithms in the data stream model, the input is a finite sequence of integers from a finite domain. The algorithm outputs an associative array which has values from the stream as keys, and estimates of their frequency as the corresponding values. It takes a parameter k which determines the size of the array, which impacts both the quality of the estimates and the amount of memory used.

algorithm misra-gries:[4]
        A positive integer k
        A finite sequence s taking values in the range 1,2,...,m
    output: An associative array A with frequency estimates for each item in s
    A := new (empty) associative array
    while s is not empty:
        take a value i from s
        if i is in keys(A):
            A[i] := A[i] + 1
        else if |keys(A)| < k - 1:
            A[i] := 1
            for each K in keys(A):
                A[K] := A[K] - 1
                if A[K] = 0:
                    remove K from keys(A)
    return A


The Misra–Gries algorithm uses O(k(log(m)+log(n))) space, where m is the number of distinct values in the stream and n is the length of the stream. The factor k accounts for the number of entries that are kept in the associative array A. Each entry consists of a value i and an associated counter c. The counter c can, in principle, take any value in {0,...,n}, which requires ⌈log(n+1)⌉ bits to store. Assuming that the values i are integers in {0,...,m-1}, storing them requires ⌈log(m)⌉ bits.

Every item which occurs more than n/k times is guaranteed to appear in the output array.[4] Therefore, in a second pass over the data, the exact frequencies for the k−1 items can be computed to solve the frequent items problem, or in the case of k=2, the majority problem. With the same arguments as above, this second pass also takes O(k(log(m)+log(n))) space.

The summaries (arrays) output by the algorithm are mergeable, in the sense that combining summaries of two streams s and r by adding their arrays keywise and then decrementing each counter in the resulting array until only k keys remain results in a summary of the same (or better) quality as compared to running the Misra-Gries algorithm over the concatenation of s with r.


Let k=2 and the data stream be 1,4,5,4,4,5,4,4 (n=8,m=5). Note that 4 is appearing 5 times in the data stream which is more than n/k=4 times and thus should appear as the output of the algorithm.

Since k=2 and |keys(A)|=k−1=1 the algorithm can only have one key with its corresponding value. The algorithm will then execute as follows(- signifies that no key is present):

Example Execution of Misra–Gries
Stream Value Key Value
1 1 1
4 0
5 5 1
4 0
4 4 1
5 0
4 4 1
4 4 2

Output: 4


  1. ^ Misra, J.; Gries, David (1982). "Finding repeated elements". Science of Computer Programming. 2 (2): 143–152. doi:10.1016/0167-6423(82)90012-0. hdl:1813/6345.
  2. ^ Cormode, Graham (2014). "Misra-Gries Summaries". In Kao, Ming-Yang (ed.). Encyclopedia of Algorithms. Springer US. pp. 1–5. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-27848-8_572-1. ISBN 9783642278488.
  3. ^ Graham Cormode, Misra-Gries Summaries
  4. ^ a b Cormode 2014.