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# The Climbing Staircase Problem: How to Solve It, and Why the Fibonacci Numbers are Relevant

Alisa Bajramovic
・5 min read

Today's algorithm is the Climbing Stairs problem:

You are climbing a stair case. It takes n steps to reach to the top. Each time you can either climb 1 or 2 steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb to the top?
Note: Given n will be a positive integer.

For example, if the input were 2 (there's 2 stairs in the staircase), then there are 2 distinct ways to climb to the top. You can either climb one step at a time, or climb both steps at once.

This is one of those problems where there's a lot of ways to solve it--including recursion and memoization, and dynamic programming--but the solution I like the most involves the Fibonacci number. In this post, I'll explain what the Fibonacci numbers are, their relevance to this problem, and how to solve the algorithm.

## The Fibonacci Numbers

### What are they?

The Fibonacci numbers (also known as the Fibonacci sequence) are a series of numbers defined by a recursive equation:

Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2

The sequence starts with F0 = 0, and F1 = 1. That means that F2 = 1, because F2 = F1 + F0 = 1 + 0. Then, F3 = 2, because F3 = F2 + F1 = 1 + 1. The sequence continues on infinitely: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34...

You can read more about Fibonacci numbers here.

### Why are Fibonacci numbers relevant in the staircase problem?

Let's look at a few examples of the expected output of the staircase problem. We can start with n = 0. That means the staircase has 0 steps. There's 0 ways to climb this staircase, so when n = 0, the output = 0.

When n = 1, the staircase has 1 step. There's 1 way to climb this staircase, so when n = 1, the output = 1.

When n = 2, the staircase has 2 steps. Since we can either climb 1 or 2 stairs at a time, there's 2 ways to climb this staircase. So, when n = 2, the output = 2.

When n = 3, the staircase has 3 steps. There are 3 ways we can climb this staircase.

We can keep doing this for when n = 4 (output = 5)...

... and n = 5 (output = 8).

Notice any pattern in the output?

We can see the Fibonacci sequence in our outputs! Each time we increment n, the number of ways to climb the staircase is the sum of the previous two ways. That means that we can solve the staircase problem by solving for the Fibonacci number at each stair, until we get to n.

## Solving the Algorithm

Now that we've recognized the pattern in the output, we can go ahead and solve the algorithm. To start, we need to write out a few base cases. When n is 0, 1, and 2, the number of ways to climb the stairs 0, 1, and 2 (in that order) -- so if n is one of those numbers, we can just return n.

``````function climbStairs3(n) {
if (n < 3) return n;
//...
}
``````

We need to initialize two constants, one called `first` and one called `second`. We'll start by setting `first` equal to 1, and `second` equal to 2. We'll be using these numbers to add up to the current number we're on, and will continue to change them.

``````function climbStairs3(n) {
if (n < 3) return n;
let first = 1;
let second = 2;
//...
}
``````

Now, starting at the number 2, and going until we reach `n`, we can have a for loop incrementing one number at a time. Inside the for loop, we'll initiate a new variable called `current` which will store the sum of `first` and `second`. Then, we can move `first` over to equal `second`, and `second` to equal `current`.

Once the for loop ends, we'll want to return whatever the `second` number was.

``````function climbStairs3(n) {
if (n < 3) return n;
let first = 1;
let second = 2;
for (let i = 2; i < n; i++) {
const current = first + second;
first = second;
second = current;
}

return second;
}
``````

--

Please let me know if you have any questions or other ways of solving this!

## Discussion (7)

CGenie

Could use a proof that this indeed makes a Fibonacci sequence. Couting to 5 and concluding it must be that sequence is wrong. Just look at how many possible (named) sequences are there:
oeis.org/search?q=0%2C1%2C2%2C3%2C...

Harry Wood

What does the i and the i++ mean in the final image? I don't see any explanation for it. I was with you up until that point. Thanks.

Alisa Bajramovic

Hi Harry,
"For loops" are great for if you want to do something a certain number of times. In this case, we wanted to alter the variables `first`, `second`, and `current` until we reached the number `n` (which is the input value). For loops have this syntax where you declare a variable (in this case, `i`), initialize its starting index (in this case, 2), set its condition to keep executing (in this case, keep executing as long as `i < n`), and state how the variable will be updated each time we go through the loop (in this case, `i` increments every time we go through the loop). The syntax `i++` is the shorthand for `i = i + 1`. You can find a longer explanation here. Hope this helps!

Harry Wood

Ah, I think I understand now. It's sort of like a counter ?

Javier Salcedo

Well explained!
This particular problem was really hard for me the first time I encountered it.
I still have a little hate towards it hahaha