Find The Nearest Prime

August 25, 2017

The trick to this exercise is to realize that it’s a problem about binary search rather than a problem about prime numbers. Enumerate the first hundred primes in an array, then perform binary search. Here’s a simple Sieve of Eratosthenes to compute the primes less than n:

(define (primes n)
  (let ((sieve (make-vector n #t)) (ps (list)))
    (do ((p 2 (+ p 1))) ((= n p))
      (when (vector-ref sieve p)
        (set! ps (cons p ps))
        (do ((i (* p p) (+ i p))) ((<= n i))
          (vector-set! sieve i #f))))
    (list->vector (reverse ps))))

For our application, we need the primes to 541, which is the hundredth prime:

(define ps (primes 542))

Normal binary search fails if the desired item isn’t in the input. We need a version of binary search that finds the nearest item if the requested item isn’t in the array:

(define (bsearch x xs)
  (let loop ((lo 0) (hi (- (vector-length xs) 1)))
    (let ((mid (+ lo (quotient (- hi lo) 2))))
      (cond ((< hi lo)
              (if (< (- (vector-ref xs hi) x)
                     (- x (vector-ref xs lo)))
                  (vector-ref xs lo)
                  (vector-ref xs hi)))
            ((< x (vector-ref xs mid)) (loop lo (- mid 1)))
            ((< (vector-ref xs mid) x) (loop (+ mid 1) hi))
            (else (vector-ref xs mid))))))

Now we binary search the array of primes for the desired value:

(define (find-prime x) (bsearch x ps))

We take the lower number in case of a tie. Here are some examples:

> (find-prime 123.7)
> (find-prime 4)
> (find-prime 1000)
error: out of bounds

You can run the program at

Pages: 1 2

5 Responses to “Find The Nearest Prime”

  1. Paul said

    In Python. This function returns the last prime, if x > last prime. bisect_left is from the bisect module.

    def closest_prime(x, prs):
        index = bisect_left(prs, x)
        return min(prs[max(index-1, 0):index+1], key=lambda p: abs(p-x))
  2. John Cowan said

    I’m glad to see you providing a pragmatic solution. To be even more pragmatic, though, I’d just Google up a list of primes and copy and paste the first hundred of them.

  3. Zack said

    Implementation in Julia. If it doesn’t look right for some reason, let me know and I’ll post a screenshot instead.

    global P = primes(1000)[1:100] # first 100 primes

    function NearestPrime(x::Int64)
    if x > P[end]
    return P[end]
    d = abs(P – x)
    return P[indmin(d)]

    Quite a nifty little problem. It would be more of a challenge if the scope of it were larger though. Thanks

  4. programmingpraxis said

    @Zack: I’m not familiar with Julia. Is `primes` a built-in function? Or part of the standard library? Does Julia provide integer factorization?

  5. Paul said

    An alternative solution using a lazy prime generator. Generate primes until the distance between the pime and target increases.

    def primegen():
        yield from (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13)
        ps = primegen()
        p = and
        q, sieve, n = p**2, {}, 13
        while True:
            if n not in sieve:
                if n < q:
                    yield n
                    next, step = q + 2*p, 2*p
                    while next in sieve:
                        next += step
                    sieve[next] = step
                    p =
                    q = p**2
                step = sieve.pop(n)
                next = n + step
                while next in sieve:
                    next += step
                sieve[next] = step
            n += 2
    def closest_prime(x, limit=542):
        prs = lazyprimegen()
        last_prime = next(prs)
        dist = abs(x - last_prime)
        for prime in prs:
            d = abs(x - prime)
            if d >= dist or prime > limit:
                return last_prime
            dist, last_prime = d, prime

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