Applications of linked list data structure

A linked list is a linear data structure, in which the elements are not stored at contiguous memory locations. The elements in a linked list are linked using pointers as shown in the below image:

Applications of linked list in computer science

  1. Implementation of stacks and queues
  2. Implementation of graphs : Adjacency list representation of graphs is most popular which is uses linked list to store adjacent vertices.
  3. Dynamic memory allocation : We use linked list of free blocks.
  4. Maintaining directory of names
  5. Performing arithmetic operations on long integers
  6. Manipulation of polynomials by storing constants in the node of linked list
  7. representing sparse matrices

Applications of linked list in real world-

  1. Image viewer – Previous and next images are linked, hence can be accessed by next and previous button.
  2. Previous and next page in web browser – We can access previous and next url searched in web browser by pressing back and next button since, they are linked as linked list.
  3. Music Player – Songs in music player are linked to previous and next song. you can play songs either from starting or ending of the list.

Applications of Circular Linked Lists:

  1. Useful for implementation of queue. Unlike this implementation, we don’t need to maintain two pointers for front and rear if we use circular linked list. We can maintain a pointer to the last inserted node and front can always be obtained as next of last.
  2. Circular lists are useful in applications to repeatedly go around the list. For example, when multiple applications are running on a PC, it is common for the operating system to put the running applications on a list and then to cycle through them, giving each of them a slice of time to execute, and then making them wait while the CPU is given to another application. It is convenient for the operating system to use a circular list so that when it reaches the end of the list it can cycle around to the front of the list.
  3. Circular Doubly Linked Lists are used for implementation of advanced data structures like Fibonacci Heap.

An example problem:

Design a data structure that supports following operations efficiently.

  1. getMin : Gets minimum
  2. extractMin : Removes minimum
  3. getMax : Gets maximum
  4. extractMax : Removes maximum
  5. insert : Inserts an item. It may be assumed that the inserted item is always greater than maximum so far. For example, a valid insertion order is 10, 12, 13, 20, 50.

Doubly linked list is the best solution here. We maintain head and tail pointers, since inserted item is always greatest, we insert at tail. Deleting an item from head or tail can be done in O(1) time. So all operations take O(1) time.

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