What Is Adjacency Data Structure?


Scott Campbell

What Is Adjacency Data Structure?

The adjacency data structure is a way to represent relationships between elements in a graph. It is commonly used in computer science and is particularly useful for solving problems related to graphs and networks.

Understanding Graphs

Before diving into the adjacency data structure, let’s first understand what a graph is. In simple terms, a graph consists of a set of nodes or vertices connected by edges. Nodes can represent various entities such as cities, people, web pages, or any other relevant objects, while edges represent the connections or relationships between these entities.

Types of Graphs

There are two main types of graphs:

  • Directed Graph: In a directed graph, the edges have a specific direction. This means that you can only traverse the edges in one direction.
  • Undirected Graph: In an undirected graph, the edges do not have any specific direction. You can traverse the edges in both directions.

The Adjacency Matrix

The adjacency matrix is one way to represent a graph using a two-dimensional array. It provides a compact representation where each cell of the matrix indicates whether there is an edge between two nodes.

To create an adjacency matrix, we assign rows and columns to represent each node in the graph. If there is an edge connecting two nodes, we mark the corresponding cell with 1 or any other value that represents their connection. Otherwise, we mark it with 0 or a suitable value indicating no connection.

An Example:

Let’s consider an undirected graph with four nodes: A, B, C, and D. The adjacency matrix for this graph would look like:

    |   | A | B | C | D |
    | A | 0 | 1 | 1 | 0 |
    | B | 1 | 0 | 0 | 1 |
    | C | 1 | 0 | 0 | 1 |
    | D | 0 | 1 | 1 | 0 |

In this example, there is an edge between nodes A and B, as well as nodes A and C. Nodes B and D are also connected. The absence of an edge is represented by zero in the matrix.

The Adjacency List

The adjacency list is another way to represent a graph. Unlike the adjacency matrix, which uses a two-dimensional array, the adjacency list uses an array of linked lists.

In the adjacency list representation, each node in the graph has a corresponding linked list that contains all its adjacent nodes. This allows for efficient storage of graphs with many nodes and few connections.

Let’s consider the same undirected graph with four nodes: A, B, C, and D. The adjacency list representation for this graph would be:

A: [B, C]
B: [A, D]
C: [A, D]
D: [B, C]

In this example, node A is connected to nodes B and C. Node B is connected to nodes A and D. Node C is connected to nodes A and D. Node D is connected to nodes B and C.

Choosing Between Adjacency Matrix and Adjacency List

Both the adjacency matrix and adjacency list have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice between them depends on the specific requirements of your problem.

The adjacency matrix is easier to implement and allows for quick access to determine if there is an edge between two nodes. However, it requires more memory space, especially for large graphs with many connections.

The adjacency list is more memory-efficient as it only stores information about adjacent nodes. However, determining if there is an edge between two nodes takes longer as it requires traversing the linked lists.


The adjacency data structure provides different ways to represent graphs, each with its own benefits and trade-offs. Whether you choose the adjacency matrix or adjacency list depends on the specific needs of your problem.

Understanding these data structures is crucial for solving graph-related problems efficiently. By utilizing the proper data structure, you can perform operations such as finding paths, detecting cycles, and analyzing relationships among graph entities.

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