I have a list of integers of the form

Nmax = 17000;
list1 = Join[Table[0, 560], 
   FoldList[Min[Nmax, Plus[#1, #2]] &, 0, 
    RandomChoice[{0, 1, 2}, Nmax + 8100]]];

(the numbers are kind of arbitrary--I just wanted to construct a list with many 0's at first, a sorted middle and then a large plateau above some fixed value, here Nmax). My question is the following: I would like to find the indices corresponding to the last 0 and the first Nmax. Or, equivalently, I want to find the indices between which the list is not 0 or Nmax, which corresponds to the maximum index whose element is 0 and the minimum element whose value is Nmax. This can be accomplished pretty simply with the following code:

{lower, upper} = {1 + (Last@Position[list1, 0])[[1]], -1 + (First@
      Position[list1, Nmax])[[1]]}

However, I would like to run this code on many thousands of different lists, and the above code seems to take longer than necessary to find lower and upper, since Position makes no use of the fact that list1 is sorted. Is there a way to get these two indices in a more efficient way?

  • $\begingroup$ The answer provided by user293787 is optimal for generic sorted lists. If the list is not sorted then, as it seems you are ultimately interested in the elements between the two plateaus rather than their positions, you could use Pick[list1, Unitize[list1*(Nmax - list1)], 1] which is about 20 times faster than list1[[Position[list1, 0][[-1, 1]] + 1 ;; Position[list1, Nmax][[1, 1]] - 1]] for the list1 used in the benchmarks. As I understand, the speed of the former is due to vectorization as Unitize is applied to the entire list at once which allows the computer to use multi-threading. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2022 at 23:40

4 Answers 4


OP may want to use binary search. There are many posts here on Mathematica SE relating to binary search, including this which also contains compiled code. See also this.

Code. To find the highest index with entry zero, one can use

(* list must be a sorted list of integers >= 0 *)




{0.0671354, 92178}

{0.0000641912, 92178}

So OPs code takes about 50 milliseconds, maxindex0 takes about 0.05 milliseconds.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Exactly what I needed, and the extra resources were really helpful for generalizing the code for any target value. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – az123p
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @az123p Great that you found a way to generalize it. There is also a resource function in the wolfram repository here. There also seems to be a package that does this but according to this answer the package is deprecated and cause shadowing of symbols but it might still work. The package is Combinatorica but the resource function is probably better (from wolfram staff and from 2021) $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2022 at 8:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @userrandrand thanks for the link! I'll test it out to compare to my current result. $\endgroup$
    – az123p
    Sep 13, 2022 at 23:58

Graphical explanation of what I understood OP's wants:

list1= {0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 15, 15, 16, 16, \
     17, 18, 20, 21, 21, 21, 21, 21, 21}

The list above was generated using OP's code.

Plotting the list:

ListPlot[{list1, {{5, 0}, {24, Nmax}}}, 
 PlotMarkers -> {Automatic, 0.04}, ImageSize -> Small]

positions in the lists that OP wants as I understand

With a list that has more points:

max = 1000;
size = 100;
test = Clip[
   Sort@RandomInteger[{-Floor[2*max], Floor[2*max]}, size], {0, 

more points

As I understand, the abscissas of the two squares are the values requested by OP. That is, the position of the last 0 of the initial plateau and the position of the first point in the last plateau (the first Nmax using OP's notation).

If speed is not much of a concern:

The solution proposed by @Syed is in my opinion rather convenient. Here is another possibility:

  last0=LengthWhile[list, # == 0 &]

  firstNmax= First@FirstPosition[list, Nmax]

If you want the quickest method in the generic case :

See @293787's answer.

If the length of one plateau is relatively small (smaller than Log2[Length[list]])

and so your case is not generic, then the following can be of use.

TL;DR: If the length of the first plateau is small use LengthWhile. If the length of the last plateau is small, then reverse the order of the elements in the list and use LengthWhile

As you would like something that is fast, the Position function might not be the best option as it will search the entire list. That is unneeded in your case as your lists are sorted. For example, it is clear that, starting from the first element of the list list[[1]], it is no longer necessary to scan the list after the first encountered non zero element.

Test list :

max = 1000;
size = 100;
ratio = 1;
test = Clip[
   Sort@RandomInteger[{-Floor[2*max], Floor[2*max*ratio]}, size], {0, 

Changing "ratio" you may change the ratio between the lengths of the first and last plateaus.

To check the validity of the codes below you may add indices to the test list and maybe decrease the size :



The fastest method will depend on the lengths of the plateaus. If we subdivide the previous plot in 3 parts:

Big Plateau 1 (BP1), Rocky Hill (RH), Big Plateau 2 (BP2)

Then, for example, it could be advantageous to scan the list backwards if Length[BP2] is a lot smaller than Length[BP1] or Length[RH]. Specifically, you have 3 scenarios:

  1. If : you already know beforehand that Length[BP1]/Length[list] is very small (smaller than Log2[Length[list]])

    Then : you can obtain the last 0 efficiently with

        last0=LengthWhile[list, # == 0 &]

    (* Remark : using FirstPosition[list, _?(#!=0 &)] or Position[list1, 0][[-1, 1]] takes a lot more time in this case)

  2. If : you already know beforehand that Length[BP2]/Length[list] is very small (smaller than Log2[Length[list]]) Then: you can obtain the first Nmax efficiently with


    firstNmax = listLength - LengthWhile[list1[[-1 ;; 1 ;; -1]], # == Nmax &]+1

  3. Else: In the the generic case, a C-Compiled version of the method provided by @user293787 will likely be optimal.

BenchMarking the methods proposed so far:

The following benchmarks are for the generic case where the length of both plateaus are large. If one of the plateaus is relatively tiny use LengthWhile (see discussion of the previous section).

For a more complete comparison I will include a C compiled function (you may remove CompilationTarget -> "C" if you do not have a Compiler with Mathematica). The function below does a forward scan and works with an integer list. As discussed above, if the last plateau is shorter than the first plateau it can be advantageous to do a backward scan instead :

edgeplateau = Compile[{{list, _Integer, 1}, {Nmax, _Integer}},
  Module[{index1 = 0, index2 = 0, a = 0}, 
   While[a == 0, index1 += 1; a = list[[index1]]];
   index2 = index1; 
   While[a < Nmax, index2 += 1; a = list[[index2]]]; {index1-1, 
    index2}], CompilationTarget -> "C"]

output of edgeplateau: {last 0, first Nmax}

Test List:

Nmax = 200000;
list1 = Join[Table[0, 3000000], 
      FoldList[Min[Nmax, Plus[#1, #2]] &, 0, 
        RandomChoice[{0, 1, 2}, Nmax + 3000000]]];

Properties of test list: the length of the first plateau is roughly the same as the last plateau and rocky hill climb between the two is relatively quite thin (like a cliff).

Methods for finding the last 0:

AbsoluteTiming[last0=First@FirstPosition[list1, _?(#!=0 &)]-1;]

{0.799981, Null}

*Below: Method by @UlrichNeumann*

AbsoluteTiming[last0 = Position[list1, 0][[-1, 1]];]

{0.631989, Null}

AbsoluteTiming[LengthWhile[list1, # == 0 &];]

{0.588371, Null}

*Below: maxindex0 is defined in @user293787's answer, see also links *


{0.000104, Null}

*C compiled maxindex0 with where the list elements are expected to be integers*

 {0.000043, Null}

Methods for finding the first Nmax:

Position[list1, Nmax][[1, 1]]; // AbsoluteTiming

{0.636139, Null}

FirstPosition[list1, Nmax]; // AbsoluteTiming

{0.164197, Null}

last0 + FirstPosition[list1[[last0 ;;]], Nmax] - 1; // AbsoluteTiming

{0.106541, Null}

LengthWhile[list1, # != Nmax &] + 1; // AbsoluteTiming

{0.782357, Null}

last0 + LengthWhile[list1[[last0 ;;]], # != Nmax &]; // AbsoluteTiming

 {0.055123, Null}

An equivalent of maxindex0 to find the first Nmax will have similar speed when compared to the timing of maxindex0

Methods for finding both the last 0 and the first Nmax:

* @Syed's answer *

{Last@First@#, First@Last@#} &@PositionIndex[list1] // AbsoluteTiming

{0.148351, Null}

*compiled edgeplateau*

AbsoluteTiming[edgeplateau[list1, Nmax];]

{0.026304, Null}

*uncompiled edge plateau*

{1.77486, Null}
  • $\begingroup$ I am rather surprised how fast the PositionIndex method is. I remembered a post here that was made around 10 years ago or something where people said that PositionIndex is very slow. I suppose it has changed since. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2022 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the thorough analysis! I'm wondering why it takes so much longer to find the first Nmax than the last 0. For finding the first Nmax, could another option be to consider list1-Nmax, so that all of the Nmax values go to 0, and apply a similar code as is used with the first variable? Maybe then finding the first Nmax would not be much slower than finding the last 0. $\endgroup$
    – az123p
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @az123p I am not sure I understood. Which methods are you comparing ?. If you are referring to the method maxindex0 then the lack of a fast method for the first Nmax is just due to the fact that the benchmark did not include an equivalent version of maxindex0 for that case. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2022 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I see! Sorry, I misunderstood. $\endgroup$
    – az123p
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @az123p sorry i edited my answer but it's mainly an attempt to shorten it and make things more clear. The content is more or less the same as in the previous version. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2022 at 16:06

What about

last0 = Position[list1, 0][[-1, 1]] (* 562*)
firstN = Position[list1, Nmax][[1, 1]](*17626*)
Nmax = 17000;
list1 = Join[Table[0, 560], 
   FoldList[Min[Nmax, Plus[#1, #2]] &, 0, 
    RandomChoice[{0, 1, 2}, Nmax + 8100]]];

{Last@First@#, First@Last@#} &@PositionIndex[list1]

{561, 17629}


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.