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Programming with Data Structures

Linked Lists (Story No :: 1)

By Ravi ShankarPublished about a year ago 5 min read
Linked List's structure in computer memory

Linked Lists: A Comprehensive Guide

Linked lists are one of the most fundamental data structures in computer science. They are used to store a collection of elements in a way that allows for efficient insertion and deletion of elements anywhere in the list. In this article, we will explore what linked lists are, how they work, and why they are useful.

What is a Linked List?

A linked list is a collection of nodes that are connected by pointers. Each node in the list contains a data element and a pointer to the next node in the list. The first node in the list is called the head node, and the last node in the list is called the tail node. The pointers create a chain-like structure, linking the nodes together.

Linked lists have several advantages over other data structures such as arrays. Unlike arrays, linked lists do not require contiguous memory space, which allows for efficient memory usage. Linked lists are also easier to modify than arrays because they can be resized dynamically without the need for copying or moving data.

How Does a Linked List Work?

Linked lists work by creating a sequence of nodes, where each node contains a data element and a pointer to the next node in the list. The last node in the list contains a null pointer.

To access the elements in a linked list, we start at the head node and traverse the list using the pointers until we reach the desired element. For example, if we want to access the third element in the list, we start at the head node and follow the pointers to the second and third nodes.

Linked lists can be manipulated by adding or removing nodes from the list. To add a node to the list, we create a new node and link it to the appropriate nodes using pointers. To remove a node from the list, we update the pointers of the surrounding nodes to skip over the removed node.

Types of Linked Lists:

There are several types of linked lists, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The most common types of linked lists are:

    1. Singly Linked List

A singly linked list is a type of linked list where each node points to the next node in the list. In a singly linked list, each node contains a data element and a pointer to the next node in the list. The last node in the list contains a null pointer.

Singly linked lists are efficient for adding and removing elements from the beginning of the list. However, they are less efficient for adding and removing elements from the end of the list.

2. Doubly Linked List

A doubly linked list is a type of linked list where each node points to the next node and the previous node in the list. In a doubly linked list, each node contains a data element, a pointer to the next node, and a pointer to the previous node.

Doubly linked lists are efficient for adding and removing elements from both the beginning and the end of the list. However, they require more memory than singly linked lists.

3. Circular Linked List

A circular linked list is a type of linked list where the last node points back to the first node in the list, creating a loop. In a circular linked list, each node contains a data element and a pointer to the next node in the list.

Circular linked lists are useful for implementing data structures such as queues and buffers. They are also efficient for traversing the list repeatedly.

Applications of Linked Lists:

Linked lists are used in a wide range of applications, including:

Data Structures: Linked lists are used to implement various data structures such as stacks, queues, and hash tables.

File Systems: File systems use linked lists to maintain a list of files and directories on a disk.

Video Games: Linked lists are used in video game

programming to maintain lists of game objects, such as enemies or power-ups.

Music Players: Music players use linked lists to maintain a playlist of songs.

Web Browsers: Web browsers use linked lists to maintain a history of visited web pages.

Compiler Design: Compilers use linked lists to store information about variables and functions in a program.

Operating Systems: Operating systems use linked lists to maintain various data structures, such as process control blocks and free memory lists.

Linked lists are an essential data structure in computer science, providing a flexible and efficient way to store and manipulate collections of data. They offer several advantages over other data structures, such as arrays, including efficient memory usage and dynamic resizing.

Singly linked lists, doubly linked lists, and circular linked lists are the most common types of linked lists, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Singly linked lists are efficient for adding and removing elements from the beginning of the list, while doubly linked lists are efficient for adding and removing elements from both the beginning and end of the list. Circular linked lists are useful for implementing data structures such as queues and buffers.

Linked lists are used in a wide range of applications, from data structures and file systems to video games and music players. They are an essential tool in the programmer's toolkit and a valuable skill for any computer science student to learn.

In addition to their practical applications, linked lists are also frequently used in coding interviews and algorithm design questions. Understanding how linked lists work and how to manipulate them is a crucial skill for any aspiring software engineer.

It's important to note that linked lists are not always the best data structure for every situation. While they offer advantages over arrays in certain cases, they can also be less efficient for other operations, such as searching for an element in the list.

When choosing a data structure for a particular application, it's important to consider the specific requirements of the problem and choose the data structure that best meets those requirements.

In conclusion, linked lists are a fundamental data structure in computer science, offering a flexible and efficient way to store and manipulate collections of data. By understanding how linked lists work and how to manipulate them, programmers can build more efficient and effective software. Whether you're building a web browser, a video game, or a compiler, linked lists are an essential tool in the programmer's toolkit.

Read My Next Story for the algorithms used in linked lists with the detailed implementation.

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    RSWritten by Ravi Shankar

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