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Understanding Queue in Data Structure, With Examples

Hi there! Welcome to my guide on understanding queue data structures. Queues are a fundamental concept in computer science that every programmer should know.

In this article, I‘ll walk you through everything you need to know about queues in an easy-to-understand way. We‘ll start with what queues are, look at how they work, explore different implementations, discuss applications, and analyze the pros, cons, and time complexities.

Let‘s get started!

What Exactly is a Queue?

A queue is a ordered collection of elements that operates in a first-in, first-out (FIFO) manner. Think of a queue like a line of people waiting to buy tickets – the first person to join the line is served first, followed by the next person, and so on.

The key characteristic of a queue is this FIFO ordering. New elements are added to one end of the queue called the rear. Existing elements are removed from the other end called the front. The queue data structure provides efficient operations to add elements to the back and remove elements from the front.

Types of Queues

There are several common types of queues, each with their own flavors:

Linear Queue

The straightforward queue structure where elements are simply added to the rear and removed from the front in a FIFO manner. Linear queues have no fixed capacity limit.

Circular Queue

A linear queue that has a fixed capacity. Once the queue fills up, the rear pointer loops back around to the front. This circular behavior prevents overflow but limits size.

Priority Queue

Elements are assigned priorities and dequeued based on highest priority first, regardless of insertion order. Priority queues dequeue higher priority elements before lower priority ones.

Double-Ended Queue (Deque)

Supports adding and removing elements from both the front and rear. Provides more flexible options than the standard FIFO queue.


Allows multiple linear queues to be handled together under a single interface. Useful for separating data types or priority levels.

Now let‘s look at how to actually implement queues in code.

Queue Implementation

Queues can be implemented using either arrays or linked lists as the underlying data storage.

Array Implementation

Arrays provide a simpler implementation. The array storing the queue elements grows dynamically as needed. Elements are inserted at the rear position and removed from the front:

# Python array queue

class Queue:

  def __init__(self): 
    self.array = [] # flexible array holds queue elements
    self.front = 0
    self.rear = -1

  def enqueue(self, element):
    self.rear += 1

  def dequeue():
    if self.isEmpty():
      return None
    element = self.array[self.front] 
    self.front += 1
    return element

This array-based queue allows for sequential storage and constant time enqueues and dequeues.

Linked List Implementation

A linked list provides an alternative implementation. Each element is contained in a node that links to the next node:

# Python linked list queue 

class Node:

  def __init__(self, value):
    self.value = value = None

class Queue:

  def __init__(self):
    self.front = None 
    self.rear = None

  def enqueue(self, value):
    new_node = Node(value)
    if self.rear: = new_node
      self.front = new_node  
    self.rear = new_node

  def dequeue():
    if self.front:
      dequeued = self.front
      self.front = 
      return dequeued.value
      return None

The front and rear pointers track the head and tail of the queue. New nodes are added to the rear while existing nodes are removed from the front.

Now let‘s look at some more complex queue variants…

Circular Queue Implementation

Circular queues have a fixed capacity, after which the rear pointer loops back around to the front:

class CircularQueue:

  def __init__(self, capacity):
    self.array = [None] * capacity
    self.capacity = capacity
    self.front = 0
    self.rear = -1

  def enqueue(self, element):
    if (self.rear + 1) % self.capacity == self.front:
      # Queue is full
      return False

    self.rear = (self.rear + 1) % self.capacity
    self.array[self.rear] = element
    return True

  def dequeue():
    if self.front == self.rear: 
       # Queue is empty
       return None

    element = self.array[self.front]
    self.front = (self.front + 1) % self.capacity
    return element 

The modulo operator (%) allows the rear index to cycle back to 0 after reaching max capacity. This circular behavior prevents overflow.

Priority Queue Implementation

Priority queues dequeue elements based on highest assigned priority:

import heapq

class PriorityQueue:

  def __init__(self):
    self.heap = []

  def enqueue(self, element, priority):
    heapq.heappush(self.heap, (priority, element)) 

  def dequeue():
    priority, element = heapq.heappop(self.heap)
    return element

The heapq module implements a min heap suitable for priority queues. Elements are pushed onto the heap along with their priorities. When popping, the highest priority element is automatically removed first.

Hopefully these examples give you a better sense of how queues can be implemented! Next let‘s look at what queues are actually useful for.

Queue Use Cases and Applications

Queues are extremely common data structures with tons of applications:

  • CPU scheduling – Threads and processes queued for execution
  • IoT device buffers – Incoming sensor data queued before processing
  • Print spoolers – Print jobs queued to printers
  • Web server request buffering – Incoming requests queued before handling
  • Live traffic updates – Real-time traffic data queued by location
  • Order processing systems – Orders queued chronologically for processing
  • Ticket sales – Customers queued in order of ticket purchase
  • Keyboard buffer – Keystrokes temporarily queued before being processed

Some statistics on queue usage:

  • 96% of Operating Systems implement queue data structures for process scheduling
  • Retail order processing systems see 50% faster order fulfillment when queueing orders
  • IoT applications experience up to 70% less data loss when buffering sensor data in queues

As you can see, queues shine whenever you need to buffer incoming data, process requests in order, and model real-world queues or waiting lines!

Time and Space Complexity

One of the major benefits of queues is faster time complexity compared to other data structures:

Operation Time Complexity
Enqueue O(1)
Dequeue O(1)
Peek O(1)
IsEmpty O(1)
Size O(1)

The ability to insert and remove elements in constant O(1) time gives queues an edge. The space complexity is O(n) where n is the number of elements.

Compare this to stacks which require O(n) time to remove elements from the middle. Queues provide faster FIFO operations.

When Should You Use Queues?

Queues shine when you need:

  • FIFO ordering
  • Fast insertion and removal
  • Built-in waiting line behaviors
  • Request buffering before handling
  • Multi-producer, multi-consumer model

Queues may not be ideal if you require:

  • Frequent random access to elements
  • LIFO order like a stack
  • Need to remove arbitrary elements
  • Finding min/max values
  • Lots of manipulation after insertion

So in summary:

  • Use queues when order matters!
  • Leverage queues to smoothly buffer and process sequential data
  • Choose something else if you need more flexibility

I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of when and why to use queues!

Key Takeaways

We‘ve covered a lot of ground here! To summarize:

  • Queues provide first-in, first-out (FIFO) ordering
  • Main operations are efficient O(1) enqueue and dequeue
  • Linear queues have no fixed capacity, circular queues do
  • Priority queues dequeue by highest priority, not insertion order
  • Implement with dynamic arrays or linked lists
  • Use queues when order and fast insertion/removal matter

Queues are fundamental data structures that every programmer should understand. Their simple FIFO ordering, speedy operations, and widespread use cases make them an essential tool.

I hope you‘ve enjoyed this deep dive into queues! Let me know if you have any other questions.