What Is Linear Searching in Data Structure?


Heather Bennett

What Is Linear Searching in Data Structure?

The linear search is a simple and straightforward searching algorithm used in data structures. It sequentially checks each element of the data structure until a match is found or the entire structure has been traversed. This algorithm is also known as sequential search.

How Does Linear Searching Work?

In linear searching, the elements of a data structure are examined one by one, starting from the first element and continuing until either a match is found or all elements have been checked. This process can be visualized as scanning through a list of items to find a specific item.

To perform a linear search, follow these steps:

  • Start at the beginning of the data structure.
  • Compare each element with the Target value.
  • If a match is found, return the index or position of the element.
  • If no match is found after checking all elements, return an indication that the Target value was not found in the data structure.

Advantages of Linear Searching

The linear search algorithm has several advantages:

  • Simplicity: Linear searching is easy to understand and implement, making it suitable for small datasets or situations where efficiency is not critical.
  • Flexibility: It can be used on various types of data structures such as arrays, linked lists, and even files. The only requirement is that the elements are accessible sequentially.

Disadvantages of Linear Searching

Despite its simplicity, linear searching has some drawbacks:

  • Inefficiency: In worst-case scenarios, where the Target element is at the end of the data structure or not present at all, the linear search algorithm has to traverse through all elements.
  • Time Complexity: The time complexity of linear searching is O(n), where n represents the number of elements in the data structure. This makes it less suitable for large datasets.


Let’s consider an example to understand linear searching better:

We have an array of integers: [10, 5, 8, 2, 6]. We want to find the position of the element ‘8’ in this array using linear search.

The linear search algorithm will start from the first element and compare it with ‘8’. As it does not match, it moves on to the next element.

The second element is also not a match. The third element matches our Target value ‘8’, so we return its position as 3.

If we wanted to find the position of an element that does not exist in the array, such as ‘4’, we would traverse through all elements and return an indication that ‘4’ was not found.


Linear searching is a basic and intuitive algorithm used to find a specific element within a data structure. While it may not be suitable for large datasets due to its time complexity, linear searching provides simplicity and flexibility in scenarios where efficiency is not critical. Understanding this fundamental searching technique is essential for any programmer or computer science student.

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