[Algorithm] Largest prime factor of a number


Here's the best algorithm I know of (in Python)

def prime_factors(n):
    """Returns all the prime factors of a positive integer"""
    factors = []
    d = 2
    while n > 1:
        while n % d == 0:
            n /= d
        d = d + 1

    return factors

pfs = prime_factors(1000)
largest_prime_factor = max(pfs) # The largest element in the prime factor list

The above method runs in O(n) in the worst case (when the input is a prime number).

Below is the O(sqrt(n)) version, as suggested in the comment. Here is the code, once more.

def prime_factors(n):
    """Returns all the prime factors of a positive integer"""
    factors = []
    d = 2
    while n > 1:
        while n % d == 0:
            n /= d
        d = d + 1
        if d*d > n:
            if n > 1: factors.append(n)
    return factors

pfs = prime_factors(1000)
largest_prime_factor = max(pfs) # The largest element in the prime factor list

What is the best approach to calculating the largest prime factor of a number?

I'm thinking the most efficient would be the following:

  1. Find lowest prime number that divides cleanly
  2. Check if result of division is prime
  3. If not, find next lowest
  4. Go to 2.

I'm basing this assumption on it being easier to calculate the small prime factors. Is this about right? What other approaches should I look into?

Edit: I've now realised that my approach is futile if there are more than 2 prime factors in play, since step 2 fails when the result is a product of two other primes, therefore a recursive algorithm is needed.

Edit again: And now I've realised that this does still work, because the last found prime number has to be the highest one, therefore any further testing of the non-prime result from step 2 would result in a smaller prime.

Here is my approach to quickly calculate the largest prime factor. It is based on fact that modified x does not contain non-prime factors. To achieve that, we divide x as soon as a factor is found. Then, the only thing left is to return the largest factor. It would be already prime.

The code (Haskell):

f max' x i | i > x = max'
           | x `rem` i == 0 = f i (x `div` i) i  -- Divide x by its factor
           | otherwise = f max' x (i + 1)  -- Check for the next possible factor

g x = f 2 x 2

JavaScript code:

'option strict';

function largestPrimeFactor(val, divisor = 2) { 
    let square = (val) => Math.pow(val, 2);

    while ((val % divisor) != 0 && square(divisor) <= val) {

    return square(divisor) <= val
        ? largestPrimeFactor(val / divisor, divisor)
        : val;

Usage Example:

let result = largestPrimeFactor(600851475143);

Here is an example of the code:

#python implementation
import math
n = 600851475143
i = 2
while i<math.sqrt(n):
   while n%i==0:
print factors
print largest

All numbers can be expressed as the product of primes, eg:

102 = 2 x 3 x 17
712 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 89

You can find these by simply starting at 2 and simply continuing to divide until the result isn't a multiple of your number:

712 / 2 = 356 .. 356 / 2 = 178 .. 178 / 2 = 89 .. 89 / 89 = 1

using this method you don't have to actually calculate any primes: they'll all be primes, based on the fact that you've already factorised the number as much as possible with all preceding numbers.

number = 712;
currNum = number;    // the value we'll actually be working with
for (currFactor in 2 .. number) {
    while (currNum % currFactor == 0) {
        // keep on dividing by this number until we can divide no more!
        currNum = currNum / currFactor     // reduce the currNum
    if (currNum == 1) return currFactor;    // once it hits 1, we're done.

It seems to me that step #2 of the algorithm given isn't going to be all that efficient an approach. You have no reasonable expectation that it is prime.

Also, the previous answer suggesting the Sieve of Eratosthenes is utterly wrong. I just wrote two programs to factor 123456789. One was based on the Sieve, one was based on the following:

1)  Test = 2 
2)  Current = Number to test 
3)  If Current Mod Test = 0 then  
3a)     Current = Current Div Test 
3b)     Largest = Test
3c)     Goto 3. 
4)  Inc(Test) 
5)  If Current < Test goto 4
6)  Return Largest

This version was 90x faster than the Sieve.

The thing is, on modern processors the type of operation matters far less than the number of operations, not to mention that the algorithm above can run in cache, the Sieve can't. The Sieve uses a lot of operations striking out all the composite numbers.

Note, also, that my dividing out factors as they are identified reduces the space that must be tested.

I'm aware this is not a fast solution. Posting as hopefully easier to understand slow solution.

 public static long largestPrimeFactor(long n) {

        // largest composite factor must be smaller than sqrt
        long sqrt = (long)Math.ceil(Math.sqrt((double)n));

        long largest = -1;

        for(long i = 2; i <= sqrt; i++) {
            if(n % i == 0) {
                long test = largestPrimeFactor(n/i);
                if(test > largest) {
                    largest = test;

        if(largest != -1) {
            return largest;

        // number is prime
        return n;

The simplest solution is a pair of mutually recursive functions.

The first function generates all the prime numbers:

  1. Start with a list that consists of 2 and all odd numbers greater than 2.
  2. Remove all numbers that are not prime. That is, numbers that have no prime factors (other than themselves). See below.

The second function returns the prime factors of a given number n in increasing order. The strategy is to try to divide n by each prime that could possibly be its divisor:

  1. Take a list of all the primes in increasing order (see above).
  2. Let p be a prime in that list, and ps be the prime factors of n/p (see step 1).
    • If p squared is greater than our number n, then n is prime. We are done.
    • If p divides n, then p is a prime factor of n. The other factors are ps.
    • Otherwise p is not a prime factor of n.

The largest prime factor of n is the last number given by the second function.

For clarification, here is the code for the above, in Haskell:

import Control.Monad

-- All the primes
primes = 2 : filter (ap (<=) (head . primeFactors)) [3,5..]

-- Gives the prime factors of its argument
primeFactors = factor primes
  where factor [] n = []
        factor xs@(p:ps) n =
          if p*p > n then [n]
          else let (d,r) = divMod n p in
            if r == 0 then p : factor xs d
            else factor ps n

-- Gives the largest prime factor of its argument
largestFactor = last . primeFactors

This is probably not always faster but more optimistic about that you find a big prime divisor:

  1. N is your number
  2. If it is prime then return(N)
  3. Calculate primes up until Sqrt(N)
  4. Go through the primes in descending order (largest first)
    • If N is divisible by Prime then Return(Prime)

Edit: In step 3 you can use the Sieve of Eratosthenes or Sieve of Atkins or whatever you like, but by itself the sieve won't find you the biggest prime factor. (Thats why I wouldn't choose SQLMenace's post as an official answer...)

Here is my attempt in c#. The last print out is the largest prime factor of the number. I checked and it works.

namespace Problem_Prime
  class Program
    static void Main(string[] args)
       The prime factors of 13195 are 5, 7, 13 and 29.

      What is the largest prime factor of the number 600851475143 ?
      long x = 600851475143;
      long y = 2;
      while (y < x)
        if (x % y == 0)
          // y is a factor of x, but is it prime
          if (IsPrime(y))
          x /= y;


    static bool IsPrime(long number)
      //check for evenness
      if (number % 2 == 0)
        if (number == 2)
          return true;
        return false;
      //don't need to check past the square root
      long max = (long)Math.Sqrt(number);
      for (int i = 3; i <= max; i += 2)
        if ((number % i) == 0)
          return false;
      return true;


Python Iterative approach by removing all prime factors from the number

def primef(n):
    if n <= 3:
        return n
    if n % 2 == 0:
        return primef(n/2)
    elif n % 3 ==0:
        return primef(n/3)
        for i in range(5, int((n)**0.5) + 1, 6):
            #print i
            if n % i == 0:
                return primef(n/i)
            if n % (i + 2) == 0:
                return primef(n/(i+2))
    return n

Not the quickest but it works!

    static bool IsPrime(long num)
        long checkUpTo = (long)Math.Ceiling(Math.Sqrt(num));
        for (long i = 2; i <= checkUpTo; i++)
            if (num % i == 0)
                return false;
        return true;

#include <time.h>

factor(long int n)
long int i,j;
if(n%2==0) {  n=n/2;   i=2;   }

 { i=3;
return i;

 void main()
  clock_t start = clock();
  long int n,sp;
  printf("enter value of n");
  printf("largest prime factor is %ld",sp);

  printf("Time elapsed: %f\n", ((double)clock() - start) / CLOCKS_PER_SEC);