Learn The Basics Of A Linked List Data Structure

Learn The Basics Of A Linked List Data Structure

Chances are, in the giant world of computer science and software development, you will stumble across something called a linked list data structure, whether it be implemented in your future company’s software, or if it’s the topic of a question in your upcoming coding interview.

Chances are, in the giant world of computer science and software development, you will stumble across something called a linked list data structure, whether it be implemented in your future company’s software, or if it’s the topic of a question in your upcoming coding interview. If like me, you’re relatively new to coding and software development you may be thinking “I barely even know what a data structure is let alone a *Linked List *data structure.”

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Hopefully, by the end of this short article, your curiosity for learning about data structures will be piqued and you’ll understand the basics of a linked list data structure.

What’s a Data Structure?

Before we can comprehend the details of a linked list we must understand what a data structure is. Although at first this term can be intimidating and overwhelming, in its simplest form a data structure is fundamentally a method or scheme to assist in the organization of data. With our organized data we can use algorithms to interact with these data structures.

The topic of data structures boils down into two types, linear data structures, which include arrays, linked lists, and stacks, as well as hierarchical data structures which include trees, graphs, and heaps. For this article, we will be focusing on linear data structures. A linear data structure is when the data elements are sequentially attached to the previous and subsequent elements.

What’s a Linked List?

Now, let’s take a shallow dive into the details of a linked list. A linked list is a linear storage method that can structure many data elements. Each element is contained as a node(a basic unit of a data structure). The nodes have a pointer, or also known as a link, that can reference the “next“ node in the sequence. Using the pointer to access nodes, we can implement algorithms to traverse through the linked list.

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Each linked list has a head that represents the starting point of the list, and a tail whose pointer references the value null if the “next” node is nonexistent.

Another way to visualize this if you’re familiar with other programming languages is to picture how arrays are traversed using the index of the elements.

//JS syntax
const array = [1, 2, 3]

array[0]              // outputs => 1 
array[array.length-1] // outputs => 3

But, in comparison to how arrays in other programming languages function, with linked lists, you don’t have random access available to all elements as you must sequentially iterate through the list.

A unique feature of linked lists is how they’re stored into memory. Although a linked list is a linear data structure, each node could have different physical locations in memory. Unlike most data structures, the nodes of a linked list point to the subsequent node so they don’t physically have to be touching or be next to each other.

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