(data structure)

**Definition:**
A *tree* (usually a *binary tree*) in which each *internal node* has a *hash* of all the information in the *leaf* nodes under it. Specifically, each internal node has a hash of the information in its *children*. Each leaf has a hash of the block of information it represents. All leaf nodes are at the same *depth*. All nodes are as far left as possible.

To add a block (leaf) to a *full* tree, a new *root* is created with the old root as its left child. Its right child is a degenerate tree (only left subtrees) all the way to the leaf level.

**Also known as** hash tree.

**Generalization** (I am a kind of ...)

*tree*.

**Aggregate child** (... is a part of or used in me.)

*hash function*.

**See also**
*Merkle tree [Wikipedia]*.

*Note:
Usually the branching is two, making it a binary tree, but it can be a k-ary tree. *

Merkle's paper describes a conceptually infinite (binary) tree with blocks (documents) at each internal node. To add a new block, use the next node in a *level-order traversal*. (A level-order traversal is the same order as a *breadth-first search* from the root.)

Given two copies of possibly-the-same information represented by Merkle trees, one can check whether the copies are the same by just comparing the hashes at the root. A single difference between the copies can be found by just comparing the hashes at internal nodes on a path to the different leaf. This is logarithmic in the number of leaves.

* A complete tree has all nodes as far left as possible, too, but every level is filled.*

Author: PEB

Average space required and complexity for search, traversal, insert, delete, and synchronize.

**Ralph C. Merkle**, *Method of providing digital signatures*, U.S. Patent 4309569, filed 5 September 1979. PDF image available at http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=04309569. Text version available at http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm enter 4309569 and click Search.

**Ralph C. Merkle**, *A Digital Signature Based on a Conventional Encryption Function*, in C. Pomerance (ed) Advances in Cryptology — CRYPTO ’87. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 293:369-378, 1988. doi:10.1007/3-540-48184-2_32

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Entry modified 23 February 2018.

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Cite this as:

Paul E. Black, "Merkle tree", in
*Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures* [online], Vreda Pieterse and Paul E. Black, eds. 23 February 2018. (accessed TODAY)
Available from: https://www.nist.gov/dads/HTML/MerkleTree.html