What is Linked List?
A Linked list is a linear data structure that contains sequence of elements such that each element links to its next element in the sequence. Each element in a linked list is called as “Node”. Each Node consists of its own data and the address of the next node and forms a chain.
You have to start somewhere, so we give the address of the first node a special name called HEAD. Also, the last node in the Linked list can be identified because its next portion points to NULL. A linked list has the following properties.
- Successive elements are connected by pointers.
- The last element points to NULL.
- Can grow or shrink in size during execution of a program
- Can be made just as long as required (until systems memory exhausts)
- Does not waste memory space (but takes some extra memory for pointers). It allocates memory as list grows.
Linked Lists ADT
The following operations make linked lists an ADT:
Main Linked Lists Operations
- Insert: Inserts an element into the list.
- Delete: Removes and returns the specified position element from the list.
Auxiliary Linked Lists Operations
- Delete List: removes all elements of the list.
- Count: returns the number of elements in the list.
- Find nth node from the end of the list.
Why Linked Lists?
There are many other data structures that do the same thing as Linked lists. Before discussing linked lists it is important to understand the difference between linked lists and arrays. Both linked lists and arrays are used to store collections of data, and since both are used for the same purpose, we need to differentiate their usage. That means in which cases arrays are suitable and in which cases linked lists are suitable.
What is an Array?
An array is an indexed collection of fixed number of homogeneous data elements. The main advantage of array is we can represent multiple values under the same name. So that readability of the code will be improved. But the main disadvantage of array is fixed in size. i.e., once we created the array with some size then there is no chance of increasing or decreasing the size based on our requirement. Hence to use arrays compulsory we should know the size in advance which may not possible always. Hence memory point of view arrays not recommended to use. Using collections, we can resolve this problem.
One memory block is allocated for the entire array to hold the elements of the array. The array elements can be accessed in constant time by using the index of the particular element as the subscript.
To access an array element, the address of an element is computed as an offset from the base address of the array and one multiplication is needed to compute what is supposed to be added to the base address to get the memory address of the element. First the size of an element of that data type is calculated and then it is multiplied with the index of the element to get the value to be added to the base address. This process takes one multiplication and one addition. Since these two operations take constant time, we can say the array access can be performed in constant time.
Advantages of Linked Lists
Linked lists have both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of linked lists is that they can be expanded in constant time. To create an array, we must allocate memory for a certain number of elements. To add more elements to the array when full, we must create a new array and copy the old array into the new array. This can take a lot of time.
We can prevent this by allocating lots of space initially but then we might allocate more than we need and waste memory. With a linked list, we can start with space for just one allocated element and add on new elements easily without the need to do any copying and reallocating.
Disadvantages of Linked Lists
There are a number of issues with linked lists. The main disadvantage of linked lists is access time to individual elements. Array is random-access, which means it takes O(1) to access any element in the array. Linked lists take O(n) for access to an element in the list in the worst case. Another advantage of arrays in access time is spacial locality in memory. Arrays are defined as contiguous blocks of memory, and so any array element will be physically near its neighbors. This greatly benefits from modern CPU caching methods.
Although the dynamic allocation of storage is a great advantage, the overhead with storing and retrieving data can make a big difference. Sometimes linked lists are hard to manipulate. If the last item is deleted, the last but one must then have its pointer changed to hold a NULL reference. This requires that the list is traversed to find the last but one link, and its pointer set to a NULL reference. Finally, linked lists waste memory in terms of extra reference points.