Explain the Difference Between Linear and Non-linear Data Structure

In this post, we will understand the difference between linear data structure and non-linear data structure.

Linear Data Structure

  • The elements of such a structure are arranged sequentially.

  • Every element can be accessed by traversing through the linear structure.

  • All the elements of a linear structure are at a single level, i.e there is no hierarchy.

  • They are easy to implement and use.

  • They utilize more memory, hence they are not very memory-friendly.

  • The time complexity of linear data structure usually increases when the size of the structure increases.

  • Examples include- list, array, stack

The below shows an example of a list in Python.

my_list = [45, 42, 12, 34, 56, 7]


[45, 42, 12, 34, 56, 7]

Non-linear Data Structure

  • The elements are stored in a hierarchical fashion.

  • They are connected to each other using ‘nodes’.

  • The elements of this structure are present at different levels, not a single level.

  • Their implementation is not easy.

  • They can’t be traversed easily- it requires multiple iterations to completely walk through a non-linear data structure.

  • They are memory-friendly, i.e they use memory efficiently.

  • The time complexity of a non-linear data structure remains same even when the size of the data increases.

  • Examples include- Map, tree, graph

The below example shows how a graph is defined- it indicates that node interconnection also has to be defined.


graph = {'A': ['B', 'C'],
         'B': ['C'],
         'C': ['D', 'E'],
         'D': ['C'],
         'E': ['F', 'G'],
         'F': ['C']}

Updated on: 23-Mar-2021


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