A compressed prefix tree data structure is provided that allows large prefix trees and Virtual Private Network (VPN) trees to be placed in external memory, while minimizing the number of memory reads needed to reach a result. The compressed prefix tree data structure represents one or more bonsai trees, where each bonsai tree is a portion of a prefix tree containing two or more nodes that can be coded into a single data word (codeword). Each codeword is stored in a portion of the external memory (e.g., 16 bytes of DRAM), and retrieved as a unit for processing. Thus, each external DRAM call can retrieve multiple nodes of a prefix tree, reducing the time required for traversing the prefix tree.
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