Data structures

In computer science, a data structure is a data organization, management, and storage format that enables efficient access and modification. More precisely, a data structure is a collection of data values, the relationships among them, and the functions or operations that can be applied to the data.

Different types of data structures are suited to different kinds of applications, and some are highly specialized to specific tasks. For example, relational databases commonly use B-tree indexes for data retrieval, while compiler implementations usually use hash tables to look up identifiers. Usually, efficient data structures are key to designing efficient algorithms.

There are numerous types of data structures, generally built upon simpler primitive data types:

  • An array is a number of elements in a specific order, typically all of the same type (depending on the language, individual elements may either all be forced to be the same type, or may be of almost any type). Elements are accessed using an integer index to specify which element is required. Typical implementations allocate contiguous memory words for the elements of arrays (but this is not always a necessity). Arrays may be fixed-length or resizable.
  • A linked list (also just called list) is a linear collection of data elements of any type, called nodes, where each node has itself a value, and points to the next node in the linked list. The principal advantage of a linked list over an array is that values can always be efficiently inserted and removed without relocating the rest of the list. Certain other operations, such as random access to a certain element, are however slower on lists than on arrays.
  • A record (also called tuple or struct) is an aggregate data structure. A record is a value that contains other values, typically in fixed number and sequence and typically indexed by names. The elements of records are usually called fields or members.
  • A union is a data structure that specifies which of a number of permitted primitive types may be stored in its instances, e.g. float or long integer. Contrast with a record, which could be defined to contain a float and an integer; whereas in a union, there is only one value at a time. Enough space is allocated to contain the widest member datatype.
  • A tagged union (also called variant, variant record, discriminated union, or disjoint union) contains an additional field indicating its current type, for enhanced type safety.
  • An object is a data structure that contains data fields, like a record does, as well as various methods which operate on the data contents. An object is an in-memory instance of a class from a taxonomy. In the context of object-oriented programming, records are known as plain old data structures to distinguish them from objects.

In addition, graphs and binary trees are other commonly used data structures.

JavaScript has primitive (built in) and non-primitive (not built in) data structures. Primitive data structures and data types are native to the programming language. These include boolean, null, number, string, etc. Non-primitive data structures are not defined by the programming language but rather by the programmer.

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