What Is Intrusive Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

Intrusive data structures are a powerful concept in computer science that allow for more efficient data manipulation and storage. These data structures differ from traditional ones because they embed the necessary links or pointers directly into the data elements themselves, rather than storing them separately. This unique approach provides several advantages, including improved performance and reduced memory overhead.

Advantages of Intrusive Data Structures

By embedding the links or pointers within the data elements, intrusive data structures eliminate the need for additional memory allocation to store these connections. This results in significant memory savings, especially when dealing with large datasets.

Moreover, intrusive data structures often exhibit better performance compared to their non-intrusive counterparts. Since the links are embedded within the elements, accessing adjacent elements can be done more efficiently without extra indirection steps. This can lead to faster traversal and manipulation operations.

Examples of Intrusive Data Structures

There are several commonly used intrusive data structures:

  • Doubly Linked List: In a traditional doubly linked list, each node contains two pointers—one pointing to the previous node and another pointing to the next node. In an intrusive doubly linked list, these pointers are embedded directly within each element of the list.
  • Binary Search Tree: An intrusive binary search tree stores left and right child pointers within each node instead of maintaining separate nodes for internal connections.
  • Red-Black Tree: Similar to a binary search tree, a red-black tree embeds color information along with left and right child pointers in each node.

Implementing an Intrusive Data Structure

To implement an intrusive data structure in your code, you need to carefully design your data elements by including the necessary links or pointers. Additionally, you will need to handle the manipulation of these links directly within your code, ensuring consistency and correctness.

Let’s consider the example of an intrusive linked list:

struct Node {
  int data;
  Node* prev;
  Node* next;

In this case, each node of the linked list contains both data and pointers to the previous and next nodes. By managing these pointers correctly, you can efficiently traverse, insert, and delete elements from the list.


Intrusive data structures offer an alternative approach to traditional data structures by embedding links or pointers directly within the data elements themselves. This approach provides advantages in terms of memory efficiency and performance. However, implementing intrusive data structures requires careful design and management of the embedded links to ensure consistency and correctness.

By understanding and utilizing intrusive data structures effectively, you can optimize your code for improved performance and reduced memory usage in various applications.

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