Which Data Structure Is Best for Merge Sort?


Larry Thompson

Which Data Structure Is Best for Merge Sort?

Merge sort is a popular sorting algorithm that works on the principle of divide and conquer. It is efficient, stable, and has a consistent time complexity of O(n log n) for worst-case scenarios.

One crucial aspect of merge sort is the data structure used to store and manipulate the elements during the sorting process. In this article, we will explore different data structures and determine which one is best suited for merge sort.


Arrays are a fundamental data structure in programming. They provide direct access to elements using indices and have a fixed size.

For merge sort, arrays are commonly used due to their simplicity and efficiency in terms of memory usage. The merging step in merge sort can be implemented easily using two arrays, one for each subarray.

However, arrays do have some limitations. One major drawback is that resizing an array can be costly, as it requires creating a new array with a larger size and copying all elements from the old array to the new one.

This can affect performance when dealing with large datasets.

Linked Lists

Linked lists are another option for implementing merge sort. Unlike arrays, linked lists provide dynamic memory allocation, allowing for efficient resizing without the need to copy all elements.

Additionally, linked lists offer constant time insertion and deletion at both ends.

However, linked lists have their own downsides when it comes to merge sort. The merging step becomes more complex with linked lists compared to arrays.

Merging two sorted linked lists requires traversing both lists simultaneously while rearranging pointers accordingly.

Binary Trees

Binary trees are hierarchical data structures that consist of nodes, each having at most two children: a left child and a right child. They offer efficient searching, insertion, and deletion operations.

For merge sort, binary trees can be used to store the elements while ensuring sorted order.

While binary trees provide efficient sorting, they have some drawbacks for merge sort. The space complexity of binary trees is higher compared to arrays and linked lists.

Additionally, maintaining a balanced binary tree can be challenging and may require extra algorithms or structures.


In conclusion, each data structure has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to implementing merge sort. Arrays are simple and efficient in terms of memory usage but can be costly when resizing.

Linked lists offer dynamic resizing capabilities but require more complex merging operations. Binary trees provide efficient sorting but have higher space complexity and may require additional algorithms for balancing.

Ultimately, the best data structure for merge sort depends on the specific requirements of the application at hand. It is crucial to consider factors such as input size, memory constraints, and performance goals when choosing the appropriate data structure for implementing merge sort.

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