What Is a Heap Data Structure Java?


Heather Bennett

A heap data structure in Java is a complete binary tree that satisfies the heap property. It is a popular data structure used to efficiently manage and organize elements, especially when dealing with priority-based operations.

What is a Binary Tree?

A binary tree is a hierarchical data structure that consists of nodes connected by edges. Each node can have at most two children nodes, referred to as the left child and the right child. The topmost node of the tree is called the root node.

Heap Property

The heap property determines the order in which elements are stored in a heap. In a max heap, for example, each parent node has a value greater than or equal to its children nodes. In contrast, a min heap ensures that each parent node has a value less than or equal to its children nodes.

Complete Binary Tree

A complete binary tree is a binary tree in which all levels except possibly the last level are completely filled, and all nodes are as far left as possible on each level. This property makes it easy to represent heaps using arrays.

Operations on Heap

The most common operations performed on heaps include:

  • Insertion: Adding an element to the heap while maintaining the heap property.
  • Deletion: Removing an element from the heap while maintaining the heap property.
  • Peek/Find-Max/Find-Min: Retrieving the maximum or minimum element from the heap without removing it.
  • Heapify: Converting an array into a valid heap by rearranging its elements.
  • Merge: Combining two heaps into a single heap.

Applications of Heap Data Structure

Heap data structures find applications in various algorithms and problems, including:

  • Priority Queues: Heaps are commonly used to implement priority queues, where elements are removed in order of their priority.
  • Graph Algorithms: Heaps are used in algorithms like Dijkstra’s algorithm and Prim’s algorithm to efficiently select the next vertex or edge based on their weights.
  • Sorting Algorithms: Heap sort is an efficient sorting algorithm that utilizes the heap data structure.
  • Job Scheduling: Heaps can be used to schedule jobs based on their priorities or deadlines.


A heap data structure is a powerful tool for managing and organizing elements based on their priorities. By satisfying the heap property and utilizing complete binary trees, heaps enable efficient operations such as insertion, deletion, and finding maximum or minimum values. Understanding the heap data structure is essential for developing efficient algorithms and solving various problems in Java.

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