An array is a random access data structure, where each element can be accessed directly and in constant time. A typical illustration of random access is a book – each page of the book can be open independently of others. Random access is critical to many algorithms, for example binary search.

A stack is a container of objects that are inserted and removed according to the last-in first-out (LIFO) principle. In the push-down stacks only two operations are allowed: push the item into the stack, and pop the item out of the stack. A stack is a limited access data structure – elements can be added and removed from the stack only at the top. push adds an item to the top of the stack, pop removes the item from the top. A helpful analogy is to think of a stack of books; you can remove only the top book, also you can add a new book on the top.A stack is a recursive data structure. Here is a structural definition of a Stack:

a stack is either empty or
it consists of a top and the rest which is a stack;



In the standard library of classes, the data type stack is an adapter class, meaning that a stack is built on top of other data structures. The underlying structure for a stack could be an array, a vector, an ArrayList, a linked list, or any other collection. Regardless of the type of the underlying data structure, a Stack must implement the same functionality. This is achieved by providing a unique interface:

public interface StackInterface<AnyType>
   public void push(AnyType e);

   public AnyType pop();

   public AnyType peek();

   public boolean isEmpty();

The following picture demonstrates the idea of implementation by composition.

Another implementation requirement (in addition to the above interface) is that all stack operations must run in constant time O(1). Constant time means that there is some constant k such that an operation takes k nanoseconds of computational time regardless of the stack size.

Array-based implementation

In an array-based implementation we maintain the following fields: an array A of a default size (≥ 1), the variable top that refers to the top element in the stack and the capacity that refers to the array size. The variable top changes from -1 to capacity - 1. We say that a stack is empty when top = -1, and the stack is full when top = capacity-1.In a fixed-size stack abstraction, the capacity stays unchanged, therefore when top reaches capacity, the stack object throws an exception.
In a dynamic stack abstraction when top reaches capacity, we double up the stack size.

Linked List-based implementation

Linked List-based implementation provides the best (from the efficiency point of view) dynamic stack implementation.  undefined


  • The simplest application of a stack is to reverse a word. You push a given word to stack – letter by letter – and then pop letters from the stack.
  • Another application is an “undo” mechanism in text editors; this operation is accomplished by keeping all text changes in a stack.
    Backtracking. This is a process when you need to access the most recent data element in a series of elements. Think of a labyrinth or maze – how do you find a way from an entrance to an exit?Once you reach a dead end, you must backtrack. But backtrack to where? to the previous choice point. Therefore, at each choice point you store on a stack all possible choices. Then backtracking simply means popping a next choice from the stack.  
  • Language processing:
    • space for parameters and local variables is created internally using a stack.
    • compiler’s syntax check for matching braces is implemented by using stack.
    • support for recursion