Data structures are used to store and organize information. They’re used in all programming languages and are fundamental to good web development. Data structures store information in a way that makes it easy for computers to access, modify, and use.
In web development, knowledge of data structures is necessary for all developers. From web designers to back-end developers, the ability to identify the proper data structure and leverage its functionality will be a vital asset when building successful user interfaces.
This article will further explain why web developers need to know data structures. We’ll also cover some of the most common data structures used in web development, how to use them and why they’re important.
Data Structures Are Crucial in Web Development
Data structures are the building blocks of any computer program, and web development is no exception. Without data structures, your website or application would not be able to process or store any information. This can make it impossible for users to interact with your site and difficult for you to manage your content.
As a web developer, you must understand how data structures work to build your website efficiently.
A good data structure allows you to organize your information so that it’s easy for people to understand what they’re looking at when using your website or software product.
You might also want to consider how specific data structures affect performance—how quickly they run—and whether they’re appropriate for different types of uses (for example, if you need something that multiple users can access at once).
Knowledge of Data Structures Needed for Different Types of Developers
There are three types of web developers: front-end, back-end, and full stack. Depending on the type, understanding a certain level of data structure is necessary.
Front-End Developers and Data Structures
Front-end developers must know about data structures to create intuitive user interfaces and make them responsive and compatible with different devices. They aren’t concerned with how the site works, so they only need to know the basics.
Here’s a quick overview of the basic data structures that are used in front-end web development:
- Arrays. These are a group of data that can be retrieved by index. Arrays are effective at holding a limited amount of data and are simple to utilize.
- Stacks. Stacks are recursive structures that store items in LIFO (Last In, First Out) order—much like a stack of plates. They have two operations: Push and Pop.
- Queues. Queues are linear structures that store items in FIFO (First In, First Out) order—like a line at the grocery store. They have two operations: Enqueue and Dequeue.
- Linked. These dynamic arrays have no defined order but feature some unique properties (like insertion/deletion). They have two operations: Add and Remove from the beginning or end of the list.
These data structures are regarded as linear because its elements are set up one after another in sequence. The elements are simple to use because they are set up in a specific order.
Back-End Developers and Data Structures
Back-end developers work with databases and servers—they’re the ones who write the code that makes websites work behind the scenes. They need to have a strong understanding of how databases work and how to store information in them to write effective code for their projects.
As a back-end developer, you will be responsible for building up an application that can handle user requests and return information in response to those requests.
In addition to the fundamental data structures we mentioned above, a back-end developer must also be proficient in the following data structures:
- Hashes. Hashes are used to store a large number of data items. It is accessed using a hash function.
- Trees. These hierarchical structures allow for efficient searching and sorting. They have two operations: Insert and Delete.
- Graphs. Graphs are networks of nodes where each edge connects two nodes. They have no specific operations but can be traversed in different ways depending on their structure.
Trees and graphs are considered non-linear data structures. In contrast to linear data structures, the elements of non-linear data structures are not in any particular sequence. Instead, they are placed in a hierarchical order, where one element will be linked to one or more other elements.
Full-Stack Developers and Data Structures
Full stack developers do front-end and back-end development. They’re responsible for creating both user interfaces and databases. They need to understand both sides of these processes well enough to create something that works seamlessly together when needed.
Consequently, they must be well-versed in the data structures mentioned above (and all the others!).
Practice is the key to understanding data structures. Numerous internet tools are available for practice. Online coding challenges are another resource that can help you hone your skills.
Arrays are the type of basic data structures that I use daily as a full-stack web developer. Hashes, trees, and graphs are not that important if you want to become a junior web developer. But you will need to learn them with time. Don’t worry if they seem complicated at first. With enough daily usage, they become second nature to you.
If you want to get a first job as a front-end developer (my recommended route. You can learn backend during your work time and slowly transition to full stack web dev. This is exactly the route I took and it allowed me to get my first job experience faster), then the article I wrote on: How Fast Can You Become a Front End Web Developer will be a perfect read for you.
Other Reasons Why Web Developers Need To Know Data Structures
We’ve talked about almost all of the reasons why a web developer needs to know about data structures. Here are another four:
- It will help you improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- It will help you become a better web developer who writes efficient, stable, and fast code.
- It helps you do well in job interviews, as data structures are asked about in most web development job interviews.
- You learn software development fundamentals and can easily use other programming languages besides web development technologies.
Web developers need to know data structures, but the required knowledge level depends on whether they are front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers.
If you are a front-end developer, you may find yourself using basic data structures such as arrays and stacks.
If you are creating the back-end of a website, you will probably want to learn more complex data types like binary trees and graphs.
Finally, to become a full-stack developer, you need to know about all these things and how they fit together within an overall system architecture.