What Is a Linked List Data Structure How Does It Work?


Angela Bailey

A linked list is a popular data structure used in computer science for organizing and storing data. It consists of a sequence of nodes, where each node contains both the data and a reference to the next node in the list. In this article, we will explore what a linked list is and how it works.

What is a Linked List?
A linked list is a linear data structure that stores elements in a non-contiguous manner. Unlike arrays, which store elements in contiguous memory locations, linked lists use nodes to hold the data and maintain reference links to connect these nodes together.

How does it work?
At its core, a linked list consists of nodes that are connected through references. Each node contains two fields: one for storing the data and another for storing the reference to the next node in the list.

Here’s an example of how a simple linked list looks like:

Node 1

Data: 10
Next: -> Node 2

Node 2

Data: 20
Next: -> Node 3

Node 3

Data: 30
Next: -> null

In this example, we have three nodes forming our linked list. The first node contains the value “10” and points to the second node.

The second node contains “20” and points to the third node. Finally, the third node contains “30” but doesn’t point to any other node (represented by “null”).

Linked lists can be singly linked or doubly linked. In a singly-linked list, each node only has a reference to the next node in line. On the other hand, doubly-linked lists have references pointing both forward (to the next node) and backward (to the previous node).

Advantages of Linked Lists:

  • Dynamic Size: Unlike arrays, linked lists allow for efficient insertion and deletion of elements at any position, as they do not require shifting of elements.
  • Flexibility: Linked lists can grow or shrink dynamically based on the number of elements to be stored.
  • Efficient Memory Utilization: Linked lists optimize memory usage by only allocating memory for the required number of nodes.

Disadvantages of Linked Lists:

  • Random Access: Unlike arrays, linked lists do not support direct access to elements by their index. To access a specific element, traversal through the list is required.
  • Extra Memory: Linked lists use additional memory to store the reference links between nodes. This can be considered as overhead compared to arrays.

Linked lists are widely used in various applications and algorithms, including implementing stacks, queues, graphs, and hash tables. Understanding linked lists is fundamental in computer science and can significantly enhance your problem-solving skills.

In conclusion, a linked list is a dynamic data structure that allows for efficient insertion and deletion operations. It consists of nodes connected through references, forming a sequence of data elements.

While linked lists have advantages like flexibility and efficient memory utilization, they also have limitations such as lack of random access. Nonetheless, understanding how linked lists work is essential in building robust software systems.

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