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Differences Between Heuristics Vs. Algorithms

Differences Between Heuristics Vs. Algorithms: Problem-Solving Strategies

Problems are bound to spring up in any setting. We face family, work, and mathematical-related problems, etc. The magnitude of the problem or difficulty in finding a solution shouldn’t matter. What should matter to the problem-solver is finding a lasting solution to the problem. 

In finding a solution to a problem, people may choose to apply various procedures. Procedures used can also determine the speed and ease at which you can solve a problem. 

Two popular procedures used in problem-solving are heuristics and algorithms. And in this post, we’ll be discussing the differences between both methodologies for better understanding. Read on. 

What Algorithms Are

An algorithm refers to a problem-solving methodology that entails a step-by-step instruction, which you can follow to achieve the desired outcome. It consists of a set of highly detailed instructions, which, when followed, delivers similar results whenever it’s performed. 

What Heuristics Are

Heuristics refer to a mental shortcut, which enables individuals to make judgments and solve problems efficiently, and faster. 

Heuristic technique or way of solving problems uses a process that isn’t guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but is sufficient to achieve a short-term goal or immediate result. 

A Handy Tip: Both algorithm and heuristics are techniques used to solve problems. And they’re used to solve problems in a wide range of subjects. But an algorithm is associated with mathematical problems more, while you can apply heuristics to a range of problems involving experiential processes. 

Differences Between Algorithm Vs Heuristics

The differences that exist between Algorithms and heuristics are there in the definition of both terms. There’s nothing much to discuss regarding similarities, as both methodologies are used to solve varied problems.

So, what are the differences between heuristics and algorithms? The first you should know is their application. While algorithms are commonly used to solve mathematical problems, heuristics aren’t. Instead, heuristics are used to solve a plethora of problems, especially those that entail experiential processes. 

Another difference is that the algorithm follows a step-by-step process, which comprises highly detailed instructions. Heuristic doesn’t follow a step-by-step process or guide. It also doesn’t include detailed instructions but shortcuts. 

Additionally, algorithm problem-solving strategy is relatively slow. Since it involves following a step-by-step guide, you may waste more time trying to solve a problem. Heuristic is quick and convenient. It uses shortcuts, so you can expect the process to be faster. There is no step-by-step process with heuristic. 

Again, the outcomes are always guaranteed because of the step-by-step process, and highly detailed instructions algorithm uses. Heuristic is the direct opposite. It doesn’t entail a step-by-step process, so the outcomes are not guaranteed. 

The algorithm entails a defined procedure, which doesn’t leave any room for error when followed to the latter. But there’s no guarantee that there won’t be errors in processes involving heuristics. As you already know, these techniques of solving problems involve making an educated guess, not following a laid down procedure. 

So, you have seen the differences between algorithms and heuristics. Now let’s give some explicit examples to broaden our understanding of both problem-solving techniques. 

Solving An Everyday Problem Using Algorithms And Heuristics 

Most of the time, we solve problems using either algorithms or heuristics. Many people use either of these methods without knowing. So here, we’re going to explain both procedures, using an everyday problem. 

Here’s the problem:

After preparing for work, you discovered your car keys aren’t where you used to keep them. You have been keeping your car keys there ever since you bought the car. Now, you can’t find them there anymore. 

But one thing is certain. You are sure the keys are in the house. You drove the car home by yourself and you haven’t left the house with it since then. So, the problem now is locating your car keys. You can solve the problem using an algorithm or heuristic. 

Using an algorithm to solve the problem:

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure. So, solving your car keys problem using an algorithm, you need to check every nuke and cranny of the house. And you need to do so step by step. 

With this problem-solving technique, you have to start from one corner of the house and expand out. Don’t skip any section of your apartment. By the way, if you search everywhere in the apartment, there’s a guarantee that you may find your car keys, as long as they’re in the apartment. 

However, searching every area of your apartment is going to be tiring and time-consuming. The only advantage here is that you’ll likely find the keys at the end. 

Using heuristic to solve the problem:  

If you’re using the heuristic technique to solve your missing car keys problem, you have to check only crucial areas in the apartment. The heuristic procedure will make you feel like you shouldn’t be looking at some places because your car keys will not be there. 

This procedure is quite fast because it entails the use of shortcuts. For instance, instead of checking the entire apartment step by step, you may go to your pants and check the pocket for your keys or check a few other places you’re almost sure that the keys would be in. 

If you find the keys after searching those places, then you have saved time. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find your keys in one of those three or four places you searched. 

In the end, if you’re not able to find your car keys using heuristics, you’ll still revert to the algorithm technique, which is more thorough, though it could be slower.    

Features Of A Good Algorithm

Here are the things that make a good algorithm 

  • You should be able to execute a good algorithm efficiently, using a fewer number of steps. 
  • A good algorithm should be designed simpler so that other people can understand and alter it, if need be, to solve more problems without breaking a sweat. 
  • For any set of inputs, a good algorithm should give you precise outputs. 


This Heuristics vs. algorithm comparison is straightforward for all to see. We defined both problem-solving strategies and gave practical examples of both. However, it’s also crucial to pick the right plans when solving problems.

If you’re using heuristics, endeavor to pick the right one. Create your strategy in a way that lets you solve the problem in record time. That’s what it means. 

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