What Is Priority Queue in Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

A priority queue is a type of data structure that stores elements along with their associated priorities. It allows efficient access to the element with the highest priority.

The concept of a priority queue can be found in various real-life scenarios, such as scheduling tasks based on their urgency or managing patients in a hospital based on the severity of their condition.

Basic Operations

A priority queue typically supports the following basic operations:

  • Insertion: Adding an element to the priority queue along with its priority.
  • Deletion: Removing and returning the element with the highest priority.
  • Peek: Returning the element with the highest priority without removing it.
  • IsEmpty: Checking whether the priority queue is empty or not.


There are several ways to implement a priority queue, each with its own advantages and trade-offs. Here are a few commonly used implementations:

Array-based Implementation:

One simple way to implement a priority queue is by using an array. In this implementation, elements are stored in an array in no specific order.

When an element needs to be deleted or peeked, it is searched linearly through the array to find the one with the highest priority. This approach has a time complexity of O(n) for both deletion and peek operations.

List-based Implementation:

Another approach is to use a linked list, where each node contains an element and its associated priority. Elements are inserted at appropriate positions in the list to maintain the order of priorities.

Deletion and peek operations can be performed in O(1) time complexity by simply accessing the head of the list.

Heap-based Implementation:

A commonly used implementation of a priority queue is based on a heap data structure. A heap is a complete binary tree where each node satisfies the heap property, which depends on whether it is a min-heap or max-heap.

In a max-heap, the parent node has a higher priority than its children, while in a min-heap, the parent node has a lower priority than its children. Heap-based implementation provides efficient deletion and peek operations with a time complexity of O(log n).


Priority queues find applications in various areas of computer science and beyond. Some common use cases include:

  • Task scheduling algorithms
  • Network routing algorithms
  • Huffman coding in data compression
  • Event-driven simulations
  • Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm

Understanding priority queues and their implementations is crucial for efficient problem-solving in many domains. By utilizing the appropriate implementation based on your specific requirements, you can effectively prioritize elements and optimize your algorithms.

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