Monotonic Stack

To understand the concept of a Monotonic Stack, let's break it down using first principles, starting with the basics of a stack, the idea of monotonicity, and then combining these concepts.

Basic Concept of a Stack

A stack is a linear data structure that follows a particular order in which operations are performed. The order is LIFO (Last In, First Out), which means the last element added to the stack is the first one to be removed. Think of it like a stack of plates; you can only take the top plate off or put a new plate on top.

Key Operations in a Stack:

  1. Push: Add an element to the top of the stack.
  2. Pop: Remove the top element of the stack.
  3. Top/Peek: View the top element of the stack without removing it.
  4. IsEmpty: Check if the stack is empty.

Concept of Monotonicity

Monotonicity in mathematics describes a function or sequence that is entirely non-increasing or non-decreasing. In simple terms:

  • Monotonically Increasing: Each term is greater than or equal to the one before it.
  • Monotonically Decreasing: Each term is less than or equal to the one before it.

Monotonic Stack

A Monotonic Stack is a stack that maintains its elements in a sorted order (either increasing or decreasing) throughout its operations. It's not a standard stack; it's a specialized version used for specific problems, especially in the field of algorithms and data structures.

There are two types:

  1. Monotonically Increasing Stack: Each new element pushed into the stack is greater than or equal to the top element of the stack.
  2. Monotonically Decreasing Stack: Each new element pushed into the stack is less than or equal to the top element of the stack.


Monotonic Stacks are used in problems where we need to maintain a sorted order of elements with fast insertions and deletions, such as:

  • Finding the next greater (or smaller) element for each element in an array.
  • Solving histogram-based problems (like the largest rectangle in a histogram).

How Does a Monotonic Stack Work?

When you push an element into a Monotonic Stack, you must maintain the monotonic property. This might involve popping several elements from the stack until the monotonic condition is met.

Example: Monotonically Increasing Stack

Let's say we have a stack, and we want to keep it in increasing order.

  1. Push elements: If the new element is greater than or equal to the top element, we push it.
  2. Pop elements: If the new element is smaller, we keep popping the stack until the top element is less than or equal to the new element, and then we push the new element.

This process ensures that the stack is always sorted in increasing order.

Code Example

class MonotonicStack:
    def __init__(self):
        self.stack = []

    def push(self, value):
        # While stack is not empty and the top element is smaller than value
        while self.stack and self.stack[-1] < value:
            self.stack.pop()  # Pop elements to maintain monotonicity
        self.stack.append(value)  # Push the new value

    def pop(self):
        return self.stack.pop() if self.stack else None

    def top(self):
        return self.stack[-1] if self.stack else None

    def is_empty(self):
        return len(self.stack) == 0

In this example, MonotonicStack is designed to be a monotonically increasing stack. The push method ensures that the stack maintains its increasing order by popping smaller elements before pushing a new, larger element.


A Monotonic Stack is a powerful data structure that extends the concept of a standard stack by enforcing an order (either increasing or decreasing) on its elements. It's particularly useful in scenarios where this order needs to be maintained efficiently for quick access to certain types of data, especially in algorithmic challenges and data processing tasks.