Which Data Structure Should Be Used for Implementing a LRU Cache?


Angela Bailey

Implementing a Least Recently Used (LRU) cache is a common problem in computer science and software engineering. It involves efficiently managing a fixed-size cache where the least recently used items are removed when the cache reaches its capacity. To achieve this, choosing the right data structure is crucial.

The Importance of an Efficient Data Structure

An LRU cache requires fast lookup, insertion, and removal of elements. The chosen data structure should provide these operations with low time complexity to ensure optimal performance.

Linked List for Simplicity

One simple and popular choice for implementing an LRU cache is using a doubly-linked list. Each node in the list represents an item in the cache, with pointers to the previous and next nodes.


  • Simplicity: Linked lists are straightforward to implement and understand.
  • Efficient Removal: Removing an element requires updating only two pointers.


  • Inefficient Lookup: Searching for an element in a linked list takes O(n) time complexity since we need to traverse the entire list.
  • Inefficient Insertion: Inserting an element at the end of the list requires traversing from the head to the tail, resulting in O(n) time complexity as well.

Combining a Linked List with a Hash Map

To overcome the inefficiencies of using just a linked list, we can combine it with another data structure – a hash map or dictionary. This combination allows us to achieve efficient lookup, insertion, and removal of elements.


  • Efficient Lookup: The hash map provides O(1) time complexity for searching elements.
  • Efficient Insertion: Inserting an element at the end of the linked list and updating the hash map can be done in O(1) time complexity.
  • Efficient Removal: Removing an element involves updating the adjacent nodes in the linked list and removing the corresponding entry from the hash map, all in O(1) time complexity.

The LRU Cache Implementation

In practice, a common approach is to use a combination of a doubly-linked list and a hash map. The doubly-linked list keeps track of the order of items based on their usage.

The head represents the most recently used item, while the tail represents the least recently used item. The hash map stores references to each node in the linked list, allowing efficient lookup by key.

To implement LRU cache, we need to consider two scenarios:

  1. Cache Hit: When accessing an item that already exists in the cache, we move it to the head of the linked list since it has been recently used.
  2. Cache Miss: When trying to access an item that doesn’t exist in the cache, we insert it at the head of the linked list. If inserting it exceeds the cache’s capacity, we remove the tail node (the least recently used item) both from the linked list and hash map.

In Conclusion

An LRU cache requires a data structure that efficiently supports lookup, insertion, and removal operations. While a doubly-linked list provides simplicity, combining it with a hash map offers optimal performance. The combination of these data structures ensures efficient LRU cache management in terms of time complexity.

By choosing the right data structure for implementing an LRU cache, you can optimize your application’s memory usage and improve overall performance.

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