FIFO vs. LIFO: 4 Differences | Spiceworks11 min read
- LIFO and FIFO are two types of data structures commonly used in programming. LIFO, which stands for ‘last in, first out,’ is defined as a data structure in which the newest element added to the stack is processed first.
- On the other hand, FIFO, which stands for ‘first in, first out,’ is defined as a data structure wherein the first element added to the queue is processed first.
- This article covers the differences between FIFO and LIFO in programming.
FIFO and LIFO: An Overview
FIFO and LIFO are two types of data structures commonly used in programming.
LIFO vs. FIFO in Programming
LIFO stands for ‘last in, first out’ and uses a stack data structure. In a LIFO data structure, the newest element added to the stack is processed first. On the other hand, FIFO stands for ‘first in, first out’ and uses a queue data structure. In a FIFO data structure, the first element added to the queue is processed first.
What Is FIFO?
The first in, first out data structure is commonly used in programming as a method of managing and manipulating data elements in a computing system. As the name suggests, FIFO prioritizes processes that are ‘first in,’ meaning it will first address the element that entered the system before any other.
FIFO leverages a queue-type data structure wherein the oldest element stays at the front, awaiting preferential processing. Think of FIFO as ‘first come, first served’ for programming elements, like a checkout queue at the supermarket where the first person in line is served first.
The queue-type data structure used by FIFO is a simple and intuitive method of handling data and is used in many applications. It is apt for use cases where processing a large number of requests is required since it allows for these requests to be processed in the order they were received and avoids workflow disruptions. As the oldest request is processed first, FIFO is said to be a ‘fair’ method for data processing.
In FIFO, elements are added to the end of the queue using the ‘enqueue’ operation, and the first element is removed for processing using the ‘dequeue’ operation. Enqueuing and dequeuing in FIFO can be visualized as a conveyor belt where items are added at one end and taken from the opposite end.
A significant advantage of using FIFO is its simplicity. It is a straightforward and easy-to-understand data structure used in many programming languages. Another advantage of FIFO is its suitability for applications where data items need to be processed in a strict order. For instance, in a printer queue, you would want to process the print requests in the order they were received. FIFO ensures that the oldest print request is processed first.
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What Is LIFO?
The last in, first out data processing method is also commonly used in programming. In this method, the system processes the most recent, or ‘youngest,’ entry first. LIFO is common in cases where the most recent data entry is the most important — think undo-redo operations or an internet history list.
The basic principle of LIFO is that the last element to be stored will be the first to be processed. Newer elements are placed above older ones, and the ‘freshest’ ones are removed from the top for processing. As the entrance and the exit for the data is the same, the oldest element, which was the first to encounter the operation, is the last to be processed as it stays at the bottom of the stack.
Think of the LIFO stack as a stack of plates where plates added to the top last are also picked from the top first. This is in sharp contrast to the queue-type data structure used in FIFO, where the first element entering the queue is also the first to be processed. LIFO elements are added to the end of the stack using a push operation. The newest element is processed with a pop operation.
LIFO is better suited for applications that do not focus on the order of processing data and instead give more importance to data recency. For instance, web browsers allow users to navigate back and forth among the web pages visited using the ‘Back’ and ‘Forward’ buttons. This feature uses a LIFO data structure to store the history of visited web pages. Once the ‘Back’ button is tapped, the browser fetches the last web page visited from the top of the data stack and redirects the user back to it.
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FIFO vs. LIFO: 4 Differences
Let’s understand the key differences between the FIFO and LIFO methods in more detail.
1. Data Structures
|A queue is a linear data structure wherein a collection of entities is stored in a sequence.
This data structure follows the FIFO principle, meaning new entities are added to the back of the queue, and the entities at the front of the queue are processed first.
Like a regular queue of people at a movie theater ticket booth or a supermarket checkout counter, the queue-type data structure has two ends. One end is the front, where entities are removed for processing. The other end is the back, where new entities are added.
When a new entity needs to be added to the back of the queue, the ‘enqueue’ process is executed. On the other hand, when an entity needs to be removed from the front of the queue for processing, the ‘dequeue’ process is executed.
Another operation carried out in queue-type data structures is known as ‘peek,’ where the entity at the front of the queue is displayed without its removal.
This data structure is used in many computing systems to store and process data. For instance, network switches, bridges, and routers use FIFO to hold data packets while they are transported to their destination.
Queue implementation takes place using varying data structures, including arrays and linked lists. A queue has no theoretical capacity limit; however, in practice, ‘bounded queues’ might feature a fixed capacity.
Numerous efficient implementations of FIFO queues exist. They can perform entity addition and removal processes in constant time (O(1)). Some programming languages provide in-built queue support; for instance, the ‘queue’ interface in the Java library and the ‘queue’ templated class in the C++ Standard Template Library.
|A stack is an abstract data type that operates as a collection of elements and features two key operations: push and pop.
While the former operation adds an element to the collection, the latter removes the most recently added element yet to be removed. The LIFO order of elements is followed in a stack.
Just like a real-life stack of physical items placed one on top of the other (such as a stack of plates), the data elements on the top must be removed before those deeper in the stack.
Like a queue-type data structure, a stack is also linear. More abstractly, it may be seen as a sequential collection wherein the push and pop operations only occur at one end of the structure — the ‘top’ of the stack.
This data structure allows implementing a stack as a singly linked list and a pointer to the top element.
In several implementations, stacks have more operations than the simple ‘push’ and ‘pop.’ For instance, the ‘top of stack’ operation, similar to the ‘peek’ operation in a queue, allows observing the top element without removing it from the stack.
If an empty stack is encountered, an underflow condition will occur upon execution of the ‘top of stack’ or ‘pop’ operations. Additionally, implementations exist to allow for checks on whether the stack is empty and the size of the stack.
Stack implementation can take place either through a linked list or an array. Stacks can be seen as special cases of lists and are identified not by the implementation but by the interface — the user can only push or pop elements onto the linked list or array with a few other helper operations.
|The FIFO system of processing the oldest element first has applications in different computing fields.
A key application of FIFO is in disk scheduling algorithms where disk controllers use FIFO to set the order of process execution.
Besides this, numerous data structures use FIFO for data processing. The main structure that uses FIFO is the queue; however, other variants also utilize the FIFO technique.
FIFO is also used in communications and networking, where data packets stay between the routers in the required order by leveraging FIFO. This technique allows the router to specify the order in which packets must be transferred.
Finally, FIFO is used in operating system algorithms. Processes are selected for CPU time in the order of arrival. For instance, when several processes are awaiting CPU access, the processes that arrived earlier are prioritized by the operating system. This ensures that all processes receive CPU time fairly.
|The LIFO principle in computing prioritizes the newest data for processing. This has applications in various fields.
A common use of LIFO is in data structures. The stack is the main data structure following the LIFO approach. It is used in several programming languages for data storage and management. The stack data structure has several applications, including expression evaluation, memory management, and function calls.
LIFO also sees usage in memory management. For instance, the stack memory allocation algorithm leverages LIFO. Here, memory allocation and deallocation take place in a stack-like structure. Upon being called, the data of the function is stored in the stack and is removed upon return.
A common application of LIFO is in the ‘History’ feature of web browsers. When a user visits a web page, its URL is captured and added to the ‘top’ of the stack, along with other URLs visited. Once the ‘Back’ button is pressed, the most recently visited web page is removed from the top of the stack and displayed to the user.
Another example of LIFO is undo and redo operations in computing. For instance, if you’re using a word processor and want to undo a formatting change, you use the Control (or Command) and Z keys together. The previous state of formatting is then retrieved and reapplied by the word processor software using a LIFO data structure. Similarly, if a user has just sent a file to the bin on their device and wishes to undo the deletion, they simply tap the ‘undo’ button, and the application fetches and restores the most recently deleted file from the top of the deleted files data stack.
Finally, computer networks use LIFO in the ‘last-in-first-out queue.’ This helps routers specify the order in which data packets must be transmitted between systems. Here, LIFO helps ensure that the data packets reach the intended recipient in a logical order.
|A significant benefit of FIFO is its ease of implementation. Thanks to its simplistic nature, FIFO is easy to understand and implement for programmers.
Another advantage of the FIFO method is its fair approach across processes. The first process to be received will be the first to be executed, per the principle of first come, first served (FCFS). This ensures an equal opportunity for CPU usage for all processes and minimizes the possibility of untimely termination or malfunction.
In terms of chronology, FIFO ensures that the oldest element in the queue receives preferential processing. This is achieved by keeping the oldest element at the beginning of the queue and allowing swift access.
As the need to find the oldest element is removed, the retrieval process becomes more efficient. The FIFO method also eliminates the ‘wait and hold’ criteria, decreasing data processing time.
Lastly, the FIFO approach features fixed memory consumption. This is a noteworthy advantage because it allows memory utilization to stay constant regardless of the number of operations executed. This advantage is a byproduct of the fact that FIFO does not need any extra data structures to manage its elements.
|One of the key benefits of LIFO is its versatility. LIFO can be leveraged for numerous applications, including undo-redo operations, function calls, and string reversing.
The LIFO approach gives preferential processing to the last element to enter. This is especially useful when the most newly added items need to be processed swiftly without the rest of the operation having to be completed.
Lastly, LIFO is beneficial for applications wherein users need access to the freshest information in terms of chronology, such as stock market tracking or financial data analysis.
|A significant limitation of FIFO is that the FCFS methodology is followed strictly. This means there can be no provision for exceptions, as the process queue is forced to maintain its linear structure. Such strictness leads to inefficiencies in certain situations, such as when emergency processes need to be executed before the others that are queued ahead.
Additionally, FIFO does not allow the elements to be accessed randomly. This prevents the CPU from accessing any queued element except the first one and might lead to inefficiency in certain processes where the CPU might need to access a particular element in the middle of the queue.
Finally, while FIFO is known for its fairness during process execution, it cannot support process prioritization. This might cause critical processes to wait for regular or lower-priority processes to get done, affecting system effectiveness.
|A major drawback of LIFO is the prevention of random element access. This is because LIFO only allows for the latest elements in the stack to be processed on priority, which might lead to older processes being ‘starved.’
Another drawback of LIFO is its inflexibility; it might not be an efficient choice for applications requiring a more sophisticated algorithm.
Finally, LIFO is not efficient in memory management. This is because, unlike FIFO (where memory consumption is fixed), memory utilization in LIFO changes with each operation, and a fixed size cannot be provided for memory consumed. Since memory consumption for LIFO is not predetermined, ensuring efficient resource allocation is challenging.
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The primary difference between first in, first out (FIFO) and last in, first out (LIFO) in programming lies in the order of elements being processed. FIFO processes the first element in the first-out order, while LIFO processes the last element in the first-out order.
FIFO is preferable for applications where the order of arrival is significant and the chronologically oldest data, such as data packet transfer, is more important. Conversely, LIFO is preferred for applications where the order of arrival is less significant and chronologically newer data is of key significance, such as function calls and undo-redo operations.
In terms of data structures, FIFO is implemented as a queue, while LIFO is implemented as a stack. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, and choosing between them ultimately depends on the particular requirements of the programming application being developed.
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