Data Structures Quick Summary

Over the last 4 weeks I have been working through a Data Structures and Algorithms course, that has given me quite extensive exposure to a number of different concepts. In an effort to solidify that learning, I wanted to produce this “cheat sheet” as a reference to why each type might be used.

  • Arrays
  • Single Linked Lists
  • Double Linked Lists
  • Stacks
  • Queues
  • Trees
  • Tree Traversal
  • Dynamic Arrays
  • Priority Queues
  • Binary Trees
  • Heap Sorting
  • Disjoint Sets
  • Hash Tables


Contiguous area of memory consisting of equal-sized elements indexed by contiguous integers.

Pros: Constant time access any element. Constant time to add and remove elements at the end of the array.

Cons: Linear time to add, find and remove at any arbitrary location.

Usages: Great for iterating, and sorting data.

Singly Linked Lists

List where each element node in the list, has a key and a next pointer. Head node exists to point to the first element in the list, tail node is optional, but can improve efficiency of some operations.

Pros: Constant time for actions at the front of the list, and back of the list when a tail is present.

Cons: Linear time for finding, and addding/erasing in any other location.

Doubly Linked Lists

List where each element node in the list, has a key, a next pointer and a prev pointer.

Pros: Over Singly linked lists, Doubly Linked Lists are constant time for “AddBefore” operations and “PopBack” operations.

Cons: Same as Singly Linked Lists, linear for many other operations, including find.

Linked Lists vs Arrays

  • Arrays are constant time to add and remove elements at the end of the array.
  • Linked Lists are constant time to add and remove elements at the front of the array.
  • Linked Lists are constant time to add and remove elements at the end of the array, providing they have a tail node, or are Doubly Linked Lists.
  • Arrays are constant time to find arbitrary element.
  • Linked Lists are linear time to find arbitrary element.
  • Arrays are contiguous, Linked Lists need not be.
  • Doubly Linked Lists are constant time to add and remove at any location in a list.

Arrays are good for random access, linked lists for sequential access. Arrays use a defined amount of memory and have a capacity, linked lists can grow indefinitely.


Data Structure that operates as Last In First Out queue. Four operations, Top(), Pop(), Empty() and Push(). They can be implemented as an array or a linked list.

Pros: All operations are constant time.

Cons: Cannot see any data under the top element.

Usage Examples: Balanced Brackets problem, for text editors.


Data structure similar to Stacks in terms of operations, but with a key difference in that they are First In First Out. Operations include Enqueue(), Dequeue() and Empty(). Queues can be implemented as an array, or a linked list (must have a tail pointer). Array implementation is bounded based on the array capacity, same for stack implementation.

Pros: All operations are constant time.

Cons: Access to data is only to the least recently added element.

Usage Examples: Message Queues, for maintaining order of requests.


A tree is either empty, or a node with a key and a list of child trees. Binary tree specifically only has a left or right child.

Tree traversal types: Depth First or Breadth First. Multiple types of depth first. Often traversal is done recursively in trees, however with large trees stack overflow errors can occur.

Pros: Tree traversal operations allow nodes to be visited in particular orders as required.


Usage: Hierarchical data storage. Equations, ordering of names etc.

Dynamic Arrays

Problem with static arrays, is that they are static. Once declared the don’t change size, and you need to determine that size at compile time. Solution is Dynamic Arrays, allow size to be determined at runtime.

Pros: Get, Set and Size operations are constant time. PushBack is often constant time.

Cons: PushBack and Remove are linear time. Some space is wasted in storage since the array size is often doubled.

Usages: When you need to put of decision of the max size of an array until runtime.

Priority Queues

A priority queue is a generalisation of a queue, where each element in the queue is assigned a priority. So the element with the highest priority is popped first.

Implementations are possible, but not recommended in arrays and linked lists. Variations with unsorted and sorted versions produce the following:

  Insert Extract Max
Unsorted Array/Linked List O(1) O(n)
Sorted Array/Linked List O(n) O(n)

Usage: Processing jobs in order of priority. Heap Sort algorithm uses priority queues, as do a number of others.

Binary Heaps

One of the most common ways to implement a priority queue.

Binary Max-Heap states that the value of any node must be at least equal if not greater than it’s children.

Pros: GetMax, the most useful operation is constant time.

Cons: All other operations are linear time, linear to the tree height. As such, we want heaps to be as shallow as possible.

Usages: Priority Queues.

Complete Binary Trees

Complete Binary Trees are are method to maintain a shallow tree, ideal for priority queues as discussed above.

Pros: All operations are O(log n). ExtractMax is constant time. Also, complete binary trees can be stored as arrays so they are space efficient. Parent and child nodes can be computed real-time. Easy to implement.

Cons: You must keep the tree complete, so operations that change the shape of the tree (anything that implements ExtractMax) must be taken care of.

Usages: Priority Queues.

Heap Sort

You can use a naive implementation, but constantly extracting max into a new array, and then that array will essentially be the priority queue, however, this is not space efficient and takes O(n log n).

The heap sort algorithm is a asymptotically optimal algorithm for finding the maximum or minimum value in an array. Is if efficient not only in speed, but in space since it can be carried out in-place on an array.

Pros: Running time of this sorting algorithm is O(log n), as opposed to the selection sort algorithm that is O(n).

Cons: A heap must be built around the array first, before it can be operated on.

Usages: Combining heap sort with the binary heap allows for a very efficient priority queue.

Disjoint Sets

A disjoint-set data structure supports, MakeSet(), Find() and Union(). Can be implemented naively as arrays and linked lists, but as expected they are most efficient when implemented as trees.

Use the root of a tree as the set ID.

Pros: Practical tree sizes dictate that operations are constant time.

Cons: Heuristics of Union by Rank and Path Compression must be used to achieve these operation times.

Usages: Maze solutions.

### Hash Tables

Hash Tables can be implemented in a number of ways.

Direct Addressing utilises an array sized to cover all the possible values of a particular item. As such, it can be very memory inefficient. For example storing IPv4 address, we need 2^32 indexes in memory.

List-based mapping is more memory efficient, but is considerably slower for operations like find and erase, due to sequential access.

Chaining Scheme allows for the two methods above to be combined, with the use of a hashing function. The cardinality of a set of objects, is the range into which their representation will be reduced to. This is then the size of the direct address array.

A hash table is an implementation of a set or a map using hashing. Chaining is the most common method of implementing a hash table. C is the length of the longest list, m is the cardinality. A chaining hash table is memory efficient to O(n + m) and operationally efficient to O(c + 1).

Pros: Memory efficient if chaining is used. Operations are also very very fast, for add, find, remove.

Cons: Not good for sorting data, or if you want to iterate over data.

Usages: When fast lookup is required for any element. Also where strong relationships in the data are seen.