What Is a Stack Data Structure Used For?


Larry Thompson

A stack data structure is a fundamental concept in computer science and is widely used in programming. It is an abstract data type that follows the Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) principle. In other words, the last element inserted into the stack is the first one to be removed.

What are the applications of a stack?

A stack has various applications due to its unique characteristics. Let’s explore some of the common use cases:

1. Function Calls

One of the primary uses of a stack is managing function calls in a program. When a function is called, its return address and local variables are pushed onto the stack. As each function completes its execution, it is popped off the stack, allowing the program to return to the previous function call.

2. Expression Evaluation

A stack is instrumental in evaluating arithmetic expressions, especially those containing parentheses. The operators and operands are pushed onto separate stacks based on their precedence and evaluated accordingly. This approach ensures that expressions are evaluated correctly following mathematical rules.

3. Undo/Redo Operations

Stacks are commonly used in software applications that require undo/redo functionality. Each action or operation performed by a user can be stored on a stack as a command object. When undoing or redoing an action, commands are executed or reversed based on their order on the stack.

4. Browser History

The back button functionality in web browsers leverages stacks to keep track of visited pages. Each page visit adds a new URL to the stack, allowing users to navigate back through their browsing history sequentially.

Implementing Stacks

In programming, stacks can be implemented using various data structures such as arrays or linked lists.

Array Implementation

An array-based implementation of a stack is straightforward. The top of the stack is represented by an index, and elements are inserted and removed from this index. The push() operation increments the top index and assigns the new element at that position, while the pop() operation retrieves and decrements the top index accordingly.

Linked List Implementation

A linked list implementation provides dynamic memory allocation for a stack. Each node in the linked list consists of two parts – data and a pointer to the next node. The top of the stack is represented by the head of the linked list, and elements are added or removed by modifying the head pointer accordingly.


A stack data structure is a versatile tool used in various applications, ranging from function calls to undo/redo operations. Understanding how stacks work and their implementations can greatly enhance your problem-solving abilities as a programmer.

Now that you have learned about stacks, you can confidently explore their applications in different programming scenarios.

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