What is the most efficient/elegant way to parse a flat table into a tree?

Assume you have a flat table that stores an ordered tree hierarchy:

Id   Name         ParentId   Order
 1   'Node 1'            0      10
 2   'Node 1.1'          1      10
 3   'Node 2'            0      20
 4   'Node 1.1.1'        2      10
 5   'Node 2.1'          3      10
 6   'Node 1.2'          1      20

Here’s a diagram, where we have [id] Name. Root node 0 is fictional.

                       [0] ROOT
                          /    \ 
              [1] Node 1          [3] Node 2
              /       \                   \
    [2] Node 1.1     [6] Node 1.2      [5] Node 2.1
 [4] Node 1.1.1

What minimalistic approach would you use to output that to HTML (or text, for that matter) as a correctly ordered, correctly indented tree?

Assume further you only have basic data structures (arrays and hashmaps), no fancy objects with parent/children references, no ORM, no framework, just your two hands. The table is represented as a result set, which can be accessed randomly.

Pseudo code or plain English is okay, this is purely a conceptional question.

Bonus question: Is there a fundamentally better way to store a tree structure like this in a RDBMS?


To answer one commenter’s (Mark Bessey’s) question: A root node is not necessary, because it is never going to be displayed anyway. ParentId = 0 is the convention to express “these are top level”. The Order column defines how nodes with the same parent are going to be sorted.

The “result set” I spoke of can be pictured as an array of hashmaps (to stay in that terminology). For my example was meant to be already there. Some answers go the extra mile and construct it first, but thats okay.

The tree can be arbitrarily deep. Each node can have N children. I did not exactly have a “millions of entries” tree in mind, though.

Don’t mistake my choice of node naming (‘Node 1.1.1’) for something to rely on. The nodes could equally well be called ‘Frank’ or ‘Bob’, no naming structure is implied, this was merely to make it readable.

I have posted my own solution so you guys can pull it to pieces.

14 s

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