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List (abstract data type)
In computer science, a list or sequence is an abstract data type that represents a countable number of ordered values, where the same value may occur more than once. An instance of a list is a computer representation of the mathematical concept of a finite sequence; the (potentially) infinite analog of a list is a stream. Lists are a basic example of containers, as they contain other values. If the same value occurs multiple times, each occurrence is considered a distinct item.
Many programming languages provide support for list data types, and have special syntax and semantics for lists and list operations. A list can often be constructed by writing the items in sequence, separated by commas, semicolons, and/or spaces, within a pair of delimiters such as parentheses '()', brackets '[]', braces '{}', or angle brackets '<>'. Some languages may allow list types to be indexed or sliced like array types, in which case the data type is more accurately described as an array. In object-oriented programming languages, lists are usually provided as instances of subclasses of a generic "list" class, and traversed via separate iterators. List data types are often implemented using array data structures or linked lists of some sort, but other data structures may be more appropriate for some applications. In some contexts, such as in Lisp programming, the term list may refer specifically to a linked list rather than an array.
The standard way of implementing lists, originating with the programming language Lisp, is to have each element of the list contain both its value and a pointer indicating the location of the next element in the list. This results in either a linked list or a tree, depending on whether the list has nested sublists. Some older Lisp implementations (such as the Lisp implementation of the Symbolics 3600) also supported "compressed lists" (using CDR coding) which had a special internal representation (invisible to the user). Lists can be manipulated using iteration or recursion. The former is often preferred in imperative programming languages, while the latter is the norm in functional languages.
Lists can be implemented as self-balancing binary search trees holding index-value pairs, providing equal-time access to any element (e.g. all residing in the fringe, and internal nodes storing the right-most child's index, used to guide the search), taking the time logarithmic in the list's size, but as long as it doesn't change much will provide the illusion of random access and enable swap, prefix and append operations in logarithmic time as well.
Some languages do not offer a list data structure, but offer the use of associative arrays or some kind of table to emulate lists. For example, Lua provides tables. Although Lua stores lists that have numerical indices as arrays internally, they still appear as dictionaries.
In computing, lists are easier to implement than sets. A finite set in the mathematical sense can be realized as a list with additional restrictions; that is, duplicate elements are disallowed and order is irrelevant. Sorting the list speeds up determining if a given item is already in the set, but in order to ensure the order, it requires more time to add new entry to the list. In efficient implementations, however, sets are implemented using self-balancing binary search trees or hash tables, rather than a list.