Directed Graph vs. Undirected Graph

What's the Difference?

Directed graphs and undirected graphs are both types of mathematical structures used to represent relationships between objects. The main difference between the two lies in the presence or absence of directionality in the edges connecting the objects. In a directed graph, the edges have a specific direction, indicating a one-way relationship between the objects. This means that if there is an edge from object A to object B, it does not necessarily imply the existence of an edge from B to A. On the other hand, in an undirected graph, the edges have no direction and represent a bidirectional relationship between the objects. This means that if there is an edge connecting object A and object B, it implies the existence of an edge connecting B and A as well. The choice between using a directed or undirected graph depends on the nature of the relationships being modeled and the specific requirements of the problem at hand.


AttributeDirected GraphUndirected Graph
DefinitionA graph where edges have a specific direction.A graph where edges have no specific direction.
EdgeHas a specific direction.Has no specific direction.
ConnectivityMay not be symmetric. A directed edge from A to B does not imply a directed edge from B to A.Always symmetric. An edge between A and B implies an edge between B and A.
PathPaths can be one-way, following the direction of the edges.Paths are bidirectional, allowing movement in both directions.
CyclesMay contain directed cycles.May contain undirected cycles.
ConnectivityCan represent asymmetric relationships.Usually represents symmetric relationships.
RepresentationUsually represented using directed edges with arrows.Usually represented using undirected edges without arrows.

Further Detail


Graphs are fundamental data structures used in computer science and mathematics to represent relationships between objects. They consist of a set of vertices (also known as nodes) and a set of edges that connect these vertices. Directed graphs and undirected graphs are two common types of graphs, each with its own unique attributes and applications.

Definition and Representation

A directed graph, also known as a digraph, is a graph where each edge has a specific direction. This means that the edges have an associated source vertex and a target vertex, indicating the flow or relationship between them. On the other hand, an undirected graph is a graph where the edges have no specific direction, and the relationship between vertices is symmetric.

In terms of representation, both directed and undirected graphs can be represented using various data structures such as adjacency matrices or adjacency lists. However, the representation of directed graphs requires additional information to store the direction of each edge, while undirected graphs only need to store the existence of an edge between two vertices.


One of the key differences between directed and undirected graphs is their connectivity. In an undirected graph, if there is a path between any two vertices, it implies that there is an edge connecting them. This means that the relationship between vertices is bidirectional, and information can flow in both directions.

On the other hand, in a directed graph, the presence of a path between two vertices does not necessarily imply the existence of an edge in the opposite direction. This allows for the representation of asymmetric relationships, where information or influence can flow in only one direction. For example, in a social network, a directed graph can represent the "following" relationship, where one user follows another, but the reverse may not be true.

Cyclic and Acyclic Graphs

Another important distinction between directed and undirected graphs is their cyclic or acyclic nature. In an undirected graph, cycles can exist, meaning that it is possible to traverse a path and return to the starting vertex without repeating any edges. This cyclic property allows for the representation of loops or repetitive relationships.

However, in a directed graph, cycles can also exist, but they have a different interpretation. A directed graph that contains no cycles is called a directed acyclic graph (DAG). DAGs are particularly useful in various applications, such as representing dependencies between tasks or events, as they ensure a well-defined order of execution.


Directed and undirected graphs find applications in different domains due to their distinct characteristics. Undirected graphs are commonly used in social network analysis, where they can represent friendships or connections between individuals. They are also used in computer networks to model the flow of data between devices.

Directed graphs, on the other hand, are widely used in modeling systems with dependencies, such as task scheduling, project management, and software engineering. They are also used in representing directed relationships in biological networks, such as gene regulatory networks or neural networks.

Traversal and Algorithms

Traversal algorithms for directed and undirected graphs differ due to the presence or absence of edge directions. In undirected graphs, popular traversal algorithms include depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS). These algorithms explore all connected vertices, ensuring that no vertex is left unvisited.

For directed graphs, traversal algorithms need to consider the direction of edges to avoid getting stuck in cycles or visiting vertices multiple times. Depth-first search and breadth-first search can still be applied, but additional checks are required to handle the directed nature of the graph.

Furthermore, various algorithms are specifically designed for directed graphs, such as topological sorting, which orders the vertices in a DAG based on their dependencies. This algorithm is crucial in scheduling tasks or determining the order of execution in a project.

Weighted Graphs

Both directed and undirected graphs can be extended to include weights on their edges. Weighted graphs are used to represent relationships where the edges have associated values or costs. These values can represent distances, time, or any other relevant metric.

In undirected weighted graphs, the weights are typically symmetric, meaning that the weight of an edge from vertex A to vertex B is the same as the weight from B to A. This symmetry ensures that the relationship is bidirectional and the cost is the same in both directions.

On the other hand, in directed weighted graphs, the weights can be asymmetric, allowing for different costs in each direction. This is particularly useful in modeling scenarios where the cost of moving from one vertex to another is different from the reverse direction, such as one-way streets or transportation networks.


Directed and undirected graphs have distinct attributes and applications. Directed graphs capture asymmetric relationships and allow for the representation of directed dependencies, while undirected graphs represent symmetric relationships and bidirectional flows. The presence of cycles or acyclic nature also differs between the two types of graphs.

Both directed and undirected graphs find applications in various domains, including social networks, computer networks, project management, and biological networks. Traversal algorithms and specific algorithms like topological sorting are designed to handle the characteristics of directed graphs.

Understanding the differences between directed and undirected graphs is essential for choosing the appropriate graph representation and algorithms for a given problem or application. By leveraging the unique attributes of each type, we can effectively model and analyze complex relationships and dependencies.

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