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[Q] What is the Big-O complexity to retrieve the balance for a user?

Is it O(n), so basically do I have to iterate all utxoset to find matching outputs which correspond to public keys that it has the private key for ("your keys")? or is there any hash machanism that returns all outputs when I just provide my public-key?

Thank you for your valuable time and help.

1 Answer 1


It depends on what data structure you have put the UTXO set into. Different implementations do this in different ways, there is no one way to have the UTXO set.

For instance, one implementation may not maintain a UTXO set but rather iterates through the entire blockchain. This would be O(n) where n is the number of TXOs in the blockchain.

Other implementations may have the UTXO set in a list, so finding a balance would still be O(n) where n is the number of UTXOs because it has to iterate through the list.

An implementation could also make a map keyed on the scriptPubKey. The value would be a list of corresponding outputs (i.e. the amount and location). Then finding the balance of an address would be O(1+k) where k is the number of UTXOs for that address. This is significantly less than O(n) since looking up which UTXOs is O(1), but you still have to iterate through all of them.

So the time complexity of this really depends on the implementation, there is no one way to do it that all software use. In most implementations though, it is probably going to be O(n).

  • 1
    What does miners do to verify balance of an account? For example, I send 1 BTC to Bob as a transaction, and I have 0.99 on my balance. So do miners accomplish this with O(n), in order to check I have enough balance? This will clear a lot in my mind. @Andrew Chow♦
    – alper
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 18:34
  • 1
    There are no accounts in Bitcoin, only UTXOs. To validate a transation miners will sum the UTXOs referenced as inputs to that transaction. In Bitcoin users do not spend from accounts. They spend or use UTXOs. Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 19:04
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    @Alper, the transaction contains the exact place to find the outputs out spends, therefore it really doesn't have to search. It already knows where to find what it is looking for.
    – Jestin
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 0:34
  • So the transaction contains its block number its located? How a transaction knows the exact place to find the outputs to spend? @Jestin
    – alper
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 7:11
  • 1
    No, transaction inputs refer to previous outputs by their txid. Nodes keep a database of all unspent outputs indexed by txid. Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 7:16

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