In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a finite sequence of well-defined, computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of specific problems or to perform a computation.Algorithms are always unambiguous and are used as specifications for performing calculations, data processing, automated reasoning, and other tasks. In contrast, a heuristic is a technique used in problem solving that uses practical methods and/or various estimates in order to produce solutions that may not be optimal but are sufficient given the circumstances.

An algorithm can be expressed within a finite amount of space and time, and in a well-defined formal language for calculating a function. Starting from an initial state and initial input (perhaps empty), the instructions describe a computation that, when executed, proceeds through a finite number of well-defined successive states, eventually producing “output” and terminating at a final ending state. The transition from one state to the next is not necessarily deterministic; some algorithms, known as randomized algorithms, incorporate random input.