Chapter III.5. Graphs and Trees

Most data structures (such as arrays, dictionaries, and queues) store data in a linear format with one chunk of data neatly sandwiched in between exactly two other chunks of data. Linear data structures can be fine for just storing data, but what if you want a data structure that can model a real-life problem?

Picking the right data structure to model a real-life problem can greatly simplify programming. One advantage of a queue is that it closely mimics a line of people (or orders on a Web site) that need to be handled one at a time, starting with the oldest item. Using a queue data structure to handle incoming orders from a Web site makes logical sense but using a dictionary or even an array makes less sense because dictionaries require keys assigned to each data (which isn't needed) and arrays need to be resized constantly.

So if you have a problem that doesn't mimic a linear data structure, using a linear data structure can just make programming harder, much like trying to use a screwdriver to pound in a nail when you really need a hammer.

For example, suppose you're creating a chess game. You could use a collection data structure to represent each space on the chessboard, but a more intuitive data structure would just be a two-dimensional array.

Modeling a chessboard with a two-dimensional array works because both a two-dimensional array and a chessboard are a regular shaped grid. Now what if you need to model a real-life problem that doesn't neatly ...

Get Beginning Programming ALL-IN-ONE DESK REFERENCE FOR DUMMIES® now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.