Solving the Josephus problem in Kotlin

I recently stumbled upon a post telling about the Josephus problem and trying to solve it in different scripting languages. For the sake of brevity, here’s the problem (taken from the referenced post):

Flavius Josephus was a roman historian of Jewish origin. During the Jewish-Roman wars of the first century AD, he was in a cave with fellow soldiers, 40 men in all, surrounded by enemy Roman troops. They decided to commit suicide by standing in a ring and counting off each third man. Each man so designated was to commit suicide…​Josephus, not wanting to die, managed to place himself in the position of the last survivor. In the general version of the problem, there are n soldiers numbered from 1 to n and each k-th soldier will be eliminated. The count starts from the first soldier. What is the number of the last survivor?

It seemed like a good challenge to test my building Kotlin skills. Here’s the solution I’ve come up with. First, the test class, using TestNG and a data provider - it’s the perfect use-case:

class JosephusTest {

    fun data(): Array<Array<Int>> {
        return arrayOf(
                arrayOf(2, 1, 0),
                arrayOf(3, 1, 0),
                arrayOf(10, 1, 0),
                arrayOf(3, 2, 0),
                arrayOf(4, 2, 1)

    @Test(dataProvider = "data")
    fun circle_of_size_and_step_should_survive_position(size: Int, step: Int, expectedPosition: Int) {
        val circle = Circle(size, step)
        val survivor = circle.findSurvivor()
        assertEquals(survivor.position, expectedPosition)

Now, the code:

class Soldier(val position: Int) {

    var state = State.Living

    lateinit var next: Soldier

    fun suicide() {
        state = State.Dead

    fun isDead() = state == State.Dead

enum class State {
    Living, Dead

class Circle(private val size: Int, private val step: Int) {

    private val first = Soldier(0)

    init {
        var person = first
        while (person.position < size - 1) {
            person = createNext(person)
        val last = person
        last.next = first

    private fun createNext(soldier: Soldier): Soldier {
        val new = Soldier(soldier.position + 1)
        soldier.next = new
        return new


    fun findSurvivor(): Soldier {
        var soldier: Soldier = first
        var numberOfDead = 0
        while (numberOfDead < size - 1) {
            var count: Int = 0
            while (count < step) {
                soldier = nextLivingSoldier(soldier)
        return nextLivingSoldier(soldier)


    private fun nextLivingSoldier(soldier: Soldier): Soldier {
        var currentSoldier = soldier.next
        while (currentSoldier.isDead()) {
            currentSoldier = currentSoldier.next
        return currentSoldier

This code works fine and the tests are successful.

However, while trying to code the solution, I realized that there were no data-structure implementing circular linked lists neither in Java nor in Kotlin. I had thus to implement my own circular data-structure, but without implementing common collection features.

Now, my problem with the above code is that while the Soldier class looks fine by me, the Circle class doesn’t. There are too many var in Circle and it feels too much like imperative programming. The lack of for(;;) in Kotlin forces me to use a while with an outside variable - twice: count and numberOfDead.

I’ve been thinking that I could improve the situation by changing the data-structure. I just don’t know how…​ Now, Kotlin and FP gurus, do you have any proposal?

Nicolas Fränkel

Nicolas Fränkel

Developer Advocate with 15+ years experience consulting for many different customers, in a wide range of contexts (such as telecoms, banking, insurances, large retail and public sector). Usually working on Java/Java EE and Spring technologies, but with focused interests like Rich Internet Applications, Testing, CI/CD and DevOps. Also double as a trainer and triples as a book author.

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Solving the Josephus problem in Kotlin
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