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Mastering Algorithms with Perl by John Macdonald, Jon Orwant, Jarkko Hietaniemi

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Chapter 2. Basic Data Structures

What is the sound of Perl? Is it not the sound of a wall that people have stopped banging their heads against?

Larry Wall

There are calendars that hang on a wall, and ones that fit in your pocket. There are calendars that have a separate row for each hour of the day, and ones that squeeze a year or two onto a page. Each has its use; you don’t use a five year calendar to check whether you have time for a meeting after lunch tomorrow, nor do you use a day-at-a-time planner to schedule a series of month-long projects. Every calendar provides a different way to organize time—and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each is a data structure for time.

In this chapter and the next, we describe a wide variety of data structures and show you how to choose the ones that best suit your task. All computer programs manipulate data, usually representing some phenomenon in the real world. Data structures help you organize your data and minimize complexity; a proper data structure is the foundation of any algorithm. No matter how fast an algorithm is, at bottom it will be limited by how efficiently it can access your data.

As we explore the data structures fundamental to any study of algorithms, we’ll see that many of them are already provided by Perl, and others can be easily implemented using the building blocks that Perl provides. Some data structures, such as sets and graphs, merit a chapter of their own; others are discussed in the chapter that makes ...

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