Almost all programmers have written a prime detection function in their Progamming 101 stage. This problem seems to be easily solved by a beginner and and you’re right it is an easy problem, but many of us approach it the wrong way. The most obvious way would be to make a function that classifies a number as prime or not and then another function that loops through all the numbers upto a million and then checks each number. There’s nothing wrong with this but depending on the prime classifier function, calculating sum of all prime numbers upto 1 million can take anywhere from 1 second to 10 minutes ! Let me write a prime classifier function first …

function classifyPrime(num) {
    if (num < 2) return false;
    else {
        for (let i = 2; i < num; i++) {
            if (num % i === 0) return false
    return true;

Now to get the sum we loop over all numbers upto 1 million

let sum = 0;
for ( let i = 2; i < 1000000; i++ ) {
    if (classifyPrime(i)) {
        sum += i;

Lets see what’s wrong with this approach. To classify a prime number say 11, we divide 11 by all the numbers starting from 2 upto 10. To classify 13 we repeat the same process, divide it by all numbers from 2 to 12. You can see where this is going. As the number increases, each classification will take more time than the previous one. In CS term the Big O of this approach is O(n2) which is really really bad for an algorithm.


We can optimize this by not classifying Even numbers since they are for sure not prime. By increasing the counter up by 2 in the two for loops we can ignore all the even numbers. That would decrease the processing time by half. But that’s still way off from being a good algorithm.

We can further optimize by taking divisors upto square root of num. In our for loop of checkPrime function the loop should only continue up to the √num. We have now significantly decreased the amount of divisors but this is still no good for large value of N.

Primality Test

There’s another much much better way to classify prime and that is “Primality Test Algorithm”. This algorithm does not give prime factors but only state whether the input number is prime or not. Hence there’s much less computation to do.

function primality(num) {
    if (num <= 1) return false
    else if (num <= 3) return true
    else if (num % 2 === 0 || num % 3 === 0) return false

    let i = 5;
    while (i * i <= num) {
        if (num % i === 0 || num % (i + 2) === 0) {
            return false
        i = i + 6;
    return true;

I used both the algorithms to classify the 50 millionth prime number 982,451,653 and the result was:

# first Algorithm: 2952.744ms
# primality: 0.527ms

Similary, I used those two algorithms to get the sum of all primes below 1 million and this was the result

for (let i = 0; i < 1000000; i++) {
    if (classifyPrime(i)) { // primality(i)
        sum += i;
# First algorithm : 705403.287ms // About 11 minutes
# Using Primality algorithm : 117.574ms

Wot !! 11 minutes and 1 second !! Primality Test is in fact considered to be the fastest prime detection algorithm. But wait there’s another even better algorithm for this type of prime calculations. This next algorithm gets the same result in 50ms.

Sieve’s Algorithm

The *Sieve of Eratosthenes is a simple, ancient algorithm for finding all prime numbers up to any given limit. Keep in mind - this algorithm can only generate list of prime numbers but cannot classify a given number as prime number or not.

Sieve's AlgorithmSieve’s Algorithm

In theory this is very easy but in programming minor complexities occur due to array mapping. Here’s how it works. Let’s say we need to get all the prime numbers upto a number N.

Step 1: We generate an array of numbers starting from 2 to N-1. So now we have N-2 elements in the array.

Step 2: Then all the elements of the array are set to boolean value TRUE. True means they are prime (yet). But as we proceed we’ll have many False values. It’s analogous to how we filter out unwanted particles using a sieve. At first all of them are in the sieve machine (set to True) and then at last only the required particles (prime numbers) are present.


Step 3: Now starting from the 2nd index of the array to the last, we remove the multiples of the number. But first we need to check if the current number ( or index of array ) is TRUE of false. If the value is TRUE, we calculate its multiple and if it’s false we don’t.

So what do we do once we find the multiples? We set the boolean value of that index to FALSE. Don’t worry if this sounds confusing right now ( I’m not very good at explaining ) but this example will clear up everything - I promise!

Example: We start with 2nd index of the array (everytime). Its value in the array is TRUE. Hence we proceed to calculate its multiples i.e. 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, … in the array and set them to false. Then we get to 3. Again, the value in the 3rd index is TRUE and so we proceed in a similar manner setting all the multiple of 3 i.e. 9, 12, 15, 18, … to false. Now comes 4. But remember the 4th index is already set to false since it was one of the multiples of 2. So we do not need to find its multiples. We keep proceeding in this manner until the end.

Notice that I didn’t include 6 in the multiples of 3. It so happens that, for a number n we can start counting its multiple from n^2. Example: for n = 5, we do not need to look for 10, 15, 20. These numbers are already cut out by previous numbers and excluding them will save a tiny bit of processing time.

Step 4: Now we have an array with mixed values of True and False. True indicates that the number is a prime and false indicates the number isn’t prime. We loop through the array and add the index value whose value is set to True. And finally we will have the sum of all required Primes.

// Eratosthenes algorithm to find all primes under n
const eratosthenes = (n) => {
    let array = []
    let output = [];
    let upperLimit = Math.sqrt(n)

    // We need to make an array from 2 to (n - 1)
    // For easy indexing we add extra two elements 0, 1 hence the length = n
    for (let i = 0; i < n; i++) {

    // Remove multiples of primes starting from 2, 3, 5,...
    for (let i = 2; i <= upperLimit; i++) {
        if (array[i]) {
            for (let j = i * i; j < n; j += i) {
                array[j] = false;

    // All array[i] set to true are primes
    sum = 0;
    for (let i = 2; i < n; i++) {
        if(array[i]) {
            sum += i;

    return sum;

Downside of Sieve’s Algorithm

You must have probably guessed the problem with this algorithm. Yes, it’s the memory consumption! For N = 1million we need an array of size 1million! In Node for large values of N, we see the classic javascript error - “ heap out of memory “. But Node can easily handle upto N = 50 million.

<--- JS stacktrace --->

==== JS stack trace =========================================

FATAL ERROR: CALL_AND_RETRY_LAST Allocation failed - JavaScript heap out of memory

If you’ve read this far I hope you enjoyed it :)