4.2. What Are Linked Structures?

A linked data structure is a data structure which consists of a set of data structures called nodes which are linked together and organized by links created via references or pointers.

Linked data structures include linear linked structures like linked lists as well as a variety of different types of tree data structures. In this chapter we will consider linear linked structures, both ordered and unordered.

When thinking about a linked data structure, one example is timesharing on an operating system. Timesharing is a computer’s way of multitasking. Much like when human’s multitask, computers do not actually handle all of its tasks at the same exact time. If you tried to listen to 3 people talk, read a book, and sing a song then you would fail like most people. What you may notice when attempting such a feat is that you pick up on bits and pieces of each separate task. This is due to your attention switching really fast between tasks.

Observe what happens when you play the following videos simultaneously:

You can hear and see all of these videos simultaneously, but only because your computer switches from one task to another so fast that it appears seamless. Just like you, your computer gives each task some time to use its resources and cycles between them really fast. Timesharing explains why a computer slows down when there are a bunch of tabs open on a browser: the more things you have to switch between, the more time it takes to finish them.

This is accomplished by the operating system’s use of a circular linked list.

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