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Stack Vs. Queue: A Detailed Comparison

If you wish to be a software developer, understanding the concepts of stack and queue in data structures and algorithms is important. Based on a recent survey conducted by Stack Overflow, 90% of software developers consider the domain and concepts of computer programming necessary for their job profiles. Considering the significance of the knowledge in stack and queue, let’s look into these topics in detail. 

Table of Contents

What is Stack Data Structure?

The stack data structure is a type of linear data structure that is used to store data elements in memory in a hierarchical manner. Stack acts as a container adaptor that works on last in, first out (LIFO) or first in, last out (FILO). In STL, stack containers use encapsulated objects like deque, lists (sequential classes), and vectors.

To use stack data structure and functionalities in your code, you have to include #include<stack> header file. The syntax of stack template<class Type, class Container = deque<Type>> class Stack;


Type: It is the type of element contained in the stack.

  • value_type: It is the first parameter that defines the type of the data element.
  • container_type: It is the second parameter that defines the type of the container.  
  • size_type: Unsinged integral type 

Underflow: It refers to a condition in which you try to remove elements from an empty stack.

Overflow: Overflow is a condition in which you try to add elements to an already full stack.

#include <stack>
// Declare a stack of integers
std::stack<int> myStack;
// Push an element onto the stack
// Pop the top element from the stack
// Check if the stack is empty
if (myStack.empty()) {
    // Stack is empty
// Access the top element without removing it
int topElement = myStack.top();
// Get the number of elements in the stack
int stackSize = myStack.size();

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What is Queue Data Structure?

A queue data structure is a fundamental concept in computer science, serving as a collection of elements with a specific order and set of operations. Queues follow the First-In-First-Out (FIFO) principle, meaning that the first element added is the first one to be removed. 

A queue is akin to a real-life queue or line, where individuals join at the rear and are served from the front. Similarly, in a queue data structure, elements are enqueued (added) at the rear and dequeued (removed) from the front. This ensures that elements are processed in the order they are added.

C++ provides a powerful implementation of queues through the STL, offering a convenient way to work with queues in programming.

  • To use a queue in C++ STL, include the `<queue>` header: #include <queue>
  • Declaration: std::queue<DataType> myQueue;
  • Enqueue (Push):  myQueue.push(element);
  • Dequeue (Pop): myQueue.pop();
  • Front (Access the Front Element): DataType frontElement = myQueue.front();
  • Rear (Access the Rear Element): DataType rearElement = myQueue.back();
  • Size (Number of Elements): int size = myQueue.size();
  • Empty (Check if Queue is Empty): bool isEmpty = myQueue.empty();

Queue data structures find applications in various scenarios, including:

  • Task scheduling: Managing processes in an operating system
  • Print spooling: Handling print job orders in printers
  • Web server request handling: Processing incoming requests in a sequential manner
  • Breadth-First Search (BFS) algorithm: Exploring graphs level by level

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Real-Life Applications of Stack and Queue

Let’s explore the real-life applications of both stack and queue data structures, showcasing their versatility and significance in solving practical problems.

Applications of Stack Data Structure

Here are the real-life applications of stack data structures:

  • Function Call Management:
    • Stacks play a crucial role in programming languages for managing function calls. 
    • When a function is called, its execution context is pushed onto the stack, allowing for the orderly execution of nested functions. 
    • The stack is popped upon return, efficiently managing memory and control flow.
  • Undo and Redo Operations:
    • Many software applications, including text editors, graphic design tools, and databases, employ stacks to implement undo and redo functionalities. 
    • Each user action is pushed onto the stack, enabling users to revert or redo changes sequentially.
  • Expression Evaluation:
    • Stacks are essential in evaluating arithmetic expressions and ensuring the correct order of operations. 
    • Calculators and mathematical software utilize stacks to accurately parse and calculate complex mathematical expressions.

Applications of Queue Data Structure

Below are the major real-life applications of queue data structure:

  • Print Queue Management:
    • In office settings and printing services, queue data structures are used to manage print jobs. 
    • Print requests are placed in a queue, and the printer processes them in the order they are received (FIFO). It ensures fair access to printing resources.
  • Breadth-First Search (BFS) Algorithm:
    • BFS, a graph traversal algorithm, employs queues to explore and traverse graphs level by level. 
    • It’s used in various applications, such as network routing, social network analysis, and shortest path calculations in maps.
  • Call Center Systems:
    • Call centers to handle incoming customer calls using a queue-based approach. 
    • Calls are queued and answered in the order they are received, ensuring fair customer service and efficient call management.

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What are the Advantages of Using Stack?

Stacks, a fundamental data structure in computer science, offer many advantages that make them indispensable for various applications. Here are the major advantages of stack data structures:

  • Simplicity and Efficiency: 
    • Stacks are inherently simple to implement and manipulate. 
    • Their uncomplicated nature makes them highly efficient for managing data and performing operations. 
    • This simplicity leads to faster execution times, which is crucial in computing.
  • Memory Management:
    • Stacks provide efficient memory management, particularly for function calls and returns. 
    • When a function is called, its execution context is pushed onto the stack, allowing for easy management of variables and control flow. 
    • Upon return, the context is popped, ensuring memory is released promptly.
  • Undo Mechanism:
    • Stacks are employed in implementing “undo” functionality in various applications. 
    • Each action or state change is pushed onto the stack, allowing users to backtrack through their actions, making it a valuable feature in software like text editors and graphic design tools.
  • Expression Evaluation: 
    • Stacks are pivotal in evaluating arithmetic expressions. 
    • They help maintain the correct order of operations, making them an essential component of calculators and mathematical software.
  • Recursive Algorithms: 
    • Many algorithms, such as depth-first search in graph traversal and recursive functions, inherently rely on the stack data structure. 
    • It enables efficient tracking of recursive calls and their results.
  • Browser Navigation: 
    • Stacks are used in web browsers to manage the navigation history. 
    • When users move between web pages, the browser maintains a stack of visited pages, facilitating easy backward and forward navigation.
  • Backtracking in Algorithms: 
    • In algorithm design, stacks assist in backtracking, which is crucial in solving problems like the N-Queens puzzle and maze-solving. 
    • They allow for efficient exploration of possible solutions.

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What are the Advantages of Queue?

As we know, a queue data structure is a core concept in computer science and plays a key role in various applications. Understanding the benefits of a queue is crucial for optimizing processes and ensuring efficient data handling.

  • Orderly Data Processing:
    • One of the primary advantages of a queue is its ability to process data in a structured, first-in-first-out (FIFO) manner. 
    • It ensures that tasks or data elements are handled in the order they are received. In scenarios where maintaining order is critical, such as print job scheduling, task management, or request handling on web servers, a queue excels.
  • Task Synchronization:
    • Queues facilitate synchronization among different parts of a system. In concurrent programming, multiple threads or processes often need to coordinate their activities. 
    • A queue serves as a safe intermediary, ensuring that tasks are executed sequentially, preventing race conditions and data corruption.
  • Buffering: 
    • Queues act as buffers, absorbing temporary surges in data production or processing. 
    • They can absorb bursts of incoming data and smooth out the flow, preventing overload and system crashes. 
    • This is crucial in scenarios like data streaming, where data may be generated faster than it can be processed.
  • Resource Management:
    • Queues aid in resource allocation and management. In operating systems, queues are used to manage processes in a ready state, ensuring fair CPU time allocation. 
    • Similarly, in network routers, queues are employed to prioritize and manage packet traffic efficiently.
  • Asynchronous Communication: 
    • Queues enable asynchronous communication between components of a system. 
    • Producers can add items to a queue without waiting for consumers to process them immediately. 
    • It decouples different parts of a system, enhancing scalability and responsiveness.
  • Error Handling: 
    • Queues provide a mechanism for handling errors and exceptions. 
    • If an error occurs during data processing, the faulty item can be moved to an error queue for later inspection, allowing the system to continue processing without interruption.
  • Load Balancing: 
    • In distributed systems, queues can be employed for load balancing. 
    • Incoming requests are distributed evenly among available resources, preventing the overloading of specific components.

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Grasping the difference between stack and queue data structures is foundational in computer science and software development. Understanding their contrasting behaviors, with stacks following the Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) principle and queues adhering to the First-In-First-Out (FIFO) principle, empowers programmers to choose the right tool for specific tasks.

The significance of this knowledge transcends theory. It forms the bedrock of efficient algorithm design and problem-solving. Whether optimizing memory management, streamlining function calls, or implementing complex data processing systems, the ability to discern when to use a stack or a queue is invaluable. As you dig deeper into the domain of data structures, mastering advanced topics like tree structures, hash tables, and linked lists becomes essential. 

These concepts build upon the fundamentals of stacks and queues, enabling you to tackle complex programming challenges and create innovative solutions. In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, this knowledge is a stepping stone towards becoming a proficient and versatile developer.

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Frequently Asked Questions: FAQs

What is the primary difference between a stack and a queue?

The key difference lies in the order of retrieval. A stack follows the Last-In, First-Out (LIFO) principle, while a queue sticks to the First-In, First-Out (FIFO) principle.

Can a data structure be both a stack and a queue?

Yes, certain data structures, like a deque (double-ended queue) can function as both a stack and a queue, depending on how you use them.

When should I use a stack?

Use a stack when you need to maintain order and prioritize the most recently added elements for retrieval. It’s ideal for managing function calls and implementing undo/redo functionality.

When should I use a queue?

A queue is suitable for scenarios where you need to process elements in the order they were added, like managing print job queues or task scheduling in an operating system.

Are there any limitations to stacks and queues?

One limitation is that stacks and queues have fixed sizes, which can lead to overflow or underflow issues if not managed properly. However, dynamic data structures can address this limitation.

What are some advanced data structures based on stacks and queues?

Advanced data structures like priority queues and stacks with additional functionality (e.g., min-stack) are built upon the basic stack and queue principles to address specific needs.

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