What Is a Basic Data Structure?


Scott Campbell

A data structure is a way of organizing and storing data in a computer system. It provides a means to efficiently manipulate and access the data.

There are several basic data structures that are commonly used in computer programming. In this article, we will explore these basic data structures and their characteristics.

Arrays: An array is a collection of elements of the same type that are stored in contiguous memory locations. Elements in an array can be accessed using their index value.

For example, if we have an array of integers, we can access the third element by using its index value of 2 (arrays are zero-based). Arrays have a fixed size and are best suited for situations where the size of the data is known in advance.

Linked Lists: A linked list is a collection of nodes where each node contains both data and a reference to the next node in the sequence. Unlike arrays, linked lists do not require contiguous memory allocation.

This makes it easier to insert or delete elements in a linked list as it only requires changing references. However, accessing an element at a specific position in a linked list has linear time complexity.

Stacks: A stack is a Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) data structure where elements are added and removed from the same end, called the top. Elements can only be added or removed from the top of the stack. This makes stacks suitable for solving problems that involve depth-first search or reversing sequences.

Queues: A queue is a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) data structure where elements are added at one end (rear) and removed from another end (front). Queues are commonly used to implement algorithms like breadth-first search or simulate real-world scenarios such as waiting lines.


Trees are hierarchical data structures consisting of nodes connected by edges. The topmost node is called the root, and each node can have zero or more child nodes. Trees are widely used to represent hierarchical relationships such as file systems or organization charts.

Binary Trees:

A binary tree is a special type of tree where each node can have at most two children. The left child is called the left subtree, and the right child is called the right subtree. Binary trees are often used in search algorithms, such as binary search trees, where elements can be efficiently searched, inserted, and deleted.


A graph is a collection of nodes (vertices) connected by edges. Graphs are versatile data structures that can represent various real-world scenarios like social networks or transportation networks. They can be directed (edges have a specific direction) or undirected (edges have no direction).

  • Adjacency Matrix: An adjacency matrix represents a graph using a 2D matrix where each cell represents an edge between two vertices.
  • Adjacency List: An adjacency list represents a graph using an array of linked lists. Each element in the array corresponds to a vertex, and its linked list contains all the adjacent vertices.

In conclusion, understanding basic data structures is fundamental for any programmer. Arrays provide efficient random access to elements, while linked lists offer flexibility for insertion and deletion operations.

Stacks and queues provide specialized ways of organizing data based on their specific behavior. Trees allow us to represent hierarchical relationships efficiently, and graphs capture complex relationships between entities. By mastering these basic data structures, programmers can solve various problems effectively and efficiently.

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