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Quick reference

Worst Case
space O(n)
push O(1)
pop O(1)
peek O(1)

A stack stores items in a last-in, first-out (LIFO) order.

Picture a pile of dirty plates in your sink. As you add more plates, you bury the old ones further down. When you take a plate off the top to wash it, you're taking the last plate you put in. "Last in, first out."


  • Fast operations. All stack operations take $$O(1)$$ time.


  • The call stack is a stack that tracks function calls in a program. When a function returns, which function do we "pop" back to? The last one that "pushed" a function call.
  • Depth-first search uses a stack (sometimes the call stack) to keep track of which nodes to visit next.
  • String parsing—stacks turn out to be useful for several types of string parsing


You can implement a stack with either a linked list or a dynamic array—they both work pretty well:

Stack Push Stack Pop
Linked Lists insert at head remove at head
Dynamic Arrays append remove last element

Java comes with a built-in stack implementation instead.

The stack implementation has a few big drawbacks: it doesn't have an interface and it extends the Vector class, which has thread synchronization overhead.

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