Linear vs Nonlinear Data Structures
A data structure is a method for organizing and storing data, which would allow efficient data retrieval and usage. Linear data structure is a structure that organizes its data elements one after the other. Linear data structures are organized in a way similar to how the computer’s memory is organized. Nonlinear data structures are constructed by attaching a data element to several other data elements in such a way that it reflects a specific relationship among them. Nonlinear data structures are organized in a different way than the computer’s memory.
Linear data structures
Linear data structures organize their data elements in a linear fashion, where data elements are attached one after the other. Data elements in a liner data structure are traversed one after the other and only one element can be directly reached while traversing. Linear data structures are very easy to implement, since the memory of the computer is also organized in a linear fashion. Some commonly used linear data structures are arrays, linked lists, stacks and queues. An arrays is a collection of data elements where each element could be identified using an index. A linked list is a sequence of nodes, where each node is made up of a data element and a reference to the next node in the sequence. A stack is actually a list where data elements can only be added or removed from the top of the list. A queue is also a list, where data elements can be added from one end of the list and removed from the other end of the list.
Nonlinear data structures
In nonlinear data structures, data elements are not organized in a sequential fashion. A data item in a nonlinear data structure could be attached to several other data elements to reflect a special relationship among them and all the data items cannot be traversed in a single run. Data structures like multidimensional arrays, trees and graphs are some examples of widely used nonlinear data structures. A multidimensional array is simply a collection of one-dimensional arrays. A tree is a data structure that is made up of a set of linked nodes, which can be used to represent a hierarchical relationship among data elements. A graph is a data structure that is made up of a finite set of edges and vertices. Edges represent connections or relationships among vertices that stores data elements.
Difference between Linear and Nonlinear Data Structures
Main difference between linear and nonlinear data structures lie in the way they organize data elements. In linear data structures, data elements are organized sequentially and therefore they are easy to implement in the computer’s memory. In nonlinear data structures, a data element can be attached to several other data elements to represent specific relationships that exist among them. Due to this nonlinear structure, they might be difficult to be implemented in computer’s linear memory compared to implementing linear data structures. Selecting one data structure type over the other should be done carefully by considering the relationship among the data elements that needs to be stored.