How to Reverse Linked List in K Group

Translator: Justin​

Author: labuladong​

We talked about the way how to reverse the part of linked list recursively in previous article. Some readers may wonder how to reverse the whole linked list. We also need to use the function of linked list reversion in this article, so we might as well use the recursive method to solve it.

The problem we need to solve is Reverse Nodes in k-Group. It's easy to understand what that means.

Given a linked list, reverse the nodes of a linked list k at a time and return its modified list.

k is a positive integer and is less than or equal to the length of the linked list. If the number of nodes is not a multiple of k then left-out nodes in the end should remain as it is.


Given this linked list: 1->2->3->4->5 For k = 2, you should return: 2->1->4->3->5 For k = 3, you should return: 3->2->1->4->5

We may often encounter this problem in interview and its difficulty is Hard on LeetCode. But is it really so tough?

Actually, the problems of basic data structure are not difficult. We can solve them by splitting the big problem into the small one step by step. I will show you how to do that below.


As mentioned in the previous article the thinking framework of learning data structure, linked list is a kind of data structure with recursion and iteration. On second thought, we can find that this problem can be solved by recursion.

What does recursion mean? We can try to understand it with the help of the example below.

We call reverseKGroup(head, 2) on the linked list so that we can reverse the linked list with 2 nodes as a group.

What should we do next to deal with the remaining nodes after reversing the first two nodes?The remaining nodes also form a linked list but it's shorter than origin linked list.It turns out to be a subproblem of primal problem.

We can call reverseKGroup(cur, 2) recursively because there is the same structure between primal problem and subproblem. So, this is so called recursion.

We can find out the basic procedure of algorithm to solve the problem after understand recursion.

1.Reverse the first k nodes

2. Reverse list with k+1 node as head by calling reverseKGroup recursively

3. Merge the results of above two steps

Note, there usually is a base case in recursion function. The base case of this problem is If the number of nodes is not a multiple of k then left-out nodes in the end should remain as it is. I will emphasize it in code.


First, we need to implement a reverse function to reverse the elements in a interval. Before that, let's simplify the problem and consider that how to reverse the linked list with a given head node.

// reverse the linked list with node a as head
ListNode reverse(ListNode a) {
ListNode pre, cur, nxt;
pre = null; cur = a; nxt = a;
while (cur != null) {
nxt =;
// reverse node one by one = pre;
// update pointer
pre = cur;
cur = nxt;
// return head node of the reversed linked list
return pre;

It's easy to understand the iteration with the help of animation above.

When we reverse the linked list with node a as head, indeed, we reverse nodes between node a and null.

How should we do to reverse nodes between node a and b?

Just change the function signature and change null tob in the above code

/** reverse the nodes of interval [a, b), which is left-closed and right-open */
ListNode reverse(ListNode a, ListNode b) {
ListNode pre, cur, nxt;
pre = null; cur = a; nxt = a;
// just change the condition of quit
while (cur != b) {
nxt =; = pre;
pre = cur;
cur = nxt;
// return head node of the reversed linked list
return pre;

So far, we have finished the function of reversing the part of the linked list. Next, we will work on the function of reverseKGroup according to the previous design.

ListNode reverseKGroup(ListNode head, int k) {
if (head == null) return null;
// interval [a, b) includes k nodes to be reversed
ListNode a, b;
a = b = head;
for (int i = 0; i < k; i++) {
// base case
if (b == null) return head;
b =;
// reverse first k nodes
ListNode newHead = reverse(a, b);
// merge all reversed internals = reverseKGroup(b, k);
return newHead;

Note that the interval of reverse function is [a, b).

We will not give more details about the recursive part again. The result fully meets the meaning of the question:


Only a few people read the algorithm articles related to basic data structure according to the page view. Most of people tend to read the articles related to dynamic programming because they often show up in interview. But what I want to share is basic data structure and algorithm matter a lot and all complicated problems evolve from simple problems.

By the way, remember that practice makes perfect.

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