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8 min
A data structure is a set of rules for organizing data in a computer to be utilized efficiently. Data structures allow programmers to develop algorithms that can be used to solve complex problems. Data structures are at the core of computer science, providing a way for computers to store and retrieve data efficiently.
When first starting your computer programming career as a software engineer, understanding which data structure to use for a given problem is typically one of the most challenging concepts to grasp.
Using the wrong data structure is common, which can lead to inefficient code that is difficult to debug. Whether using JavaScript, Python, or any other programming language, you will need to know which data structures are best suited for different tasks.
To best understand data structures, starting at the primitive form is imperative. These are called data types.
If data structures are the building blocks of programs, data items are the bricks those structures are made of.
Here is a list of some of the different data types:
The following attributes commonly characterize data structures:
Linear or nonlinear: Linear data structures traverse the data elements sequentially, while nonlinear data structures allow random access to the data.
Static or dynamic: Static data structures have a fixed size, structure, and memory, while dynamic data structures can grow and shrink as needed.
Heterogeneous or homogeneous: Heterogeneous data structures store dissimilar types of information, while homogeneous data structures store similar types of information.
The data structure type used in a particular scenario is determined by the types of operations required or the sorts of algorithms needed.
Structures can be broken down into two main categories, linear and nonlinear. The following data structure types are available:
FIFO, which is the same as Last in, Last out – LILO.
Data structures can be implemented using different programming languages. Some languages, such as C++ and Java, provide built-in support for common data structures. Other languages, such as Python and Ruby, do not have built-in support for data structures but offer libraries that implement them.
Managing resources and services: Data structures can be used to keep track of resources and services in a computer system. For example, hash tables can use the IP addresses of all the computers on a network to store data.
Maintaining information about users: Data structures can store information about a software application's users. For example, you can use a linked list to store the names and contact information of all the users of a social networking site.
Storing data from sensors: Data structures can store data like temperature sensors or motion detectors. For example, you can use an array to store the temperatures recorded by a thermometer over time.
Indexing: Indexing is a way of accessing data. Indexing is often used to speed up searches. For example, you can use a binary search tree to index the words in a dictionary so that you can quickly find the definition of a word.
Searching: Data structures can be used to search for data. For example, a binary search tree can quickly find a person's contact information in an extensive database.
Next, we will look at some of the most common data structure operations.
Data structure operations are the methods used to manipulate the data in a data structure. The most common data structure operations are:
Now that we have gone over the basics of data structures, it is time for you to learn when to use each type of data structure. The choice of data structure depends on the following factors:
The operations that will be performed: The choice of data structure should be based on the operations performed. For example, you should use a linked list if you need to perform insertions and deletions. If you need to perform indexing, then you should use an array.
The time complexity of the operations: The choice of data structure should be based on the time complexity of the operations that will be performed. For example, if you need to perform searches frequently, you should use a binary search tree.
The space complexity of the operations: The choice of data structure should be based on the space complexity of the operations that will be performed. For example, if you need to store a lot of data, you should use an array.
Memory usage: The choice of data structure should be based on the amount of memory used. For example, if you need to store a lot of data in memory, you should use a linked list.
Data structures are the building blocks of algorithms. To understand algorithms, you must first understand data structures.
Data structures are how data is organized in memory. They define the relationship between pieces of data and enable efficient access and modification of that data.
If you want to know about data structures in-depth, we recommend reading a book such as "Introduction to Algorithms" by Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein.
Finally, when you are ready to start implementing data structures, we recommend using a language such as Java or C++. These languages will allow you to implement data structures in any way you want.
We hope this article has helped you understand data structures and how they can be used to solve problems. If you have any questions on how you can get started with data structures, feel free to reach out.