Storing data is more than just putting things in boxes. Are you ready to learn the secrets of super-efficient data organization?

Data structures and algorithms are like the superpowers of programming. They help computers store, find, and change information in the smartest ways possible. If you’re new to coding, learning about basic data structures is a huge step towards solving problems like a pro. Let’s start by diving into two of the most important tools: arrays and linked lists.

Arrays: Data in a Row

Think of an array as a row of boxes lined up next to each other. Each box holds a single item of data. To find what’s inside a box, you use its number (called the index). Arrays are super fast when you know exactly which box you’re looking for!

  • Key Points:
    • Ordered: Items in an array have a specific order (index 0, index 1, index 2, etc.).
    • Fast Access: If you know the index, you can directly grab the item.
    • Fixed Size: Arrays are created with a set size, making it a little tricky to add or remove items in the middle.
  • Example
test_scores = [90, 85, 76, 88]  # Array of scores 
print(test_scores[1])  #  Access score at index 1 (would output: 85) 
  • When to Use Arrays: Arrays are awesome when you need to quickly access items by their position and you know the size of your data beforehand.

Linked Lists: The Connected Nodes

Linked lists are made up of pieces of data called nodes. Each node has two parts:

  1. Data: The actual information you want to store.
  2. Link (or Pointer): A reference to the next node in the list.

Think of it like a chain where each link knows where to find the next one. This makes linked lists incredibly flexible.

  • Key Points:
    • Flexible: Adding or removing items is easy, just adjust the links between nodes.
    • No Fixed Size: Linked lists can grow or shrink as needed.
    • Slower Access: To find a specific item, you usually have to start at the beginning and follow the links until you reach the desired node.
  • Code Example (Python):
class Node:
    def __init__(self, data): = data = None  # Initialize link to None

head = Node(90)  # Create the first node (head)
second = Node(85)  # Create another node
third = Node(76)  # One more node = second  # Link first node to second = third # Link second to third  

Explanation of the Code:

  • Node Class: This defines a blueprint for each node in the list, with space for data and a link.
  • Creating Nodes: We create individual nodes (head, second, third) each storing some data.
  • Linking Nodes: The .next part of each node is used to create the chain.
  • When to Use Linked Lists: Linked lists are perfect when you need to constantly add or remove items or if you don’t know how big your data will be. They are also useful when you need to have precise control over how the data is arranged in memory.

Arrays vs. Linked Lists: When to Use Which

Now that you understand arrays and linked lists, let’s figure out when to choose one over the other.

Key Differences

  • Access: Arrays offer lightning-fast access to items by index. Linked lists require you to start from the beginning and follow the links.
  • Insertion/Deletion: Linked lists excel at adding or removing items anywhere in the list. Arrays are less flexible, making insertions/deletions in the middle more complicated.
  • Memory: Arrays have a fixed size, even if not fully used. Linked Lists only use memory for the data they contain.

Choosing the Right Tool

  • Need fast access by index? Choose an array.
  • Lots of insertions/deletions? Linked lists are your friend.
  • Is memory usage a big concern? Linked lists can be more efficient.
  • Unsure about the size of your data? Linked lists offer flexibility.

Sometimes, it makes sense to combine data structures! You could use an array to quickly access items but use a linked list within that array for flexible insertions and deletions at specific locations.

Below is a comparison table summarizing the key points about Arrays vs. Linked Lists:

FeatureArraysLinked Lists
StorageContiguous memory blocksNodes scattered throughout memory
AccessDirect access by index (very fast)Sequential access from the beginning (slower)
Insertion/DeletionDifficult (especially in the middle)Easy, just adjust links
Memory UsageFixed size, potential for wasted spaceDynamic allocation, uses only what’s needed
Best ForFast access by index, known data sizeFrequent insertions/deletions, unknown data size


So, in this article, you’ve learned the basics of arrays and linked lists – two incredibly powerful data structures and algorithms for any beginner programmer.


  • Arrays are your lightning-fast access when you know your data size.
  • Linked lists help when you need flexible growth or lots of insertions and deletions.