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Unformatted text preview: Chapter 9 Linked Data Structures and Recursion I n this chapter , we look at two advanced programming techniques, recursion and linked data structures, and some of their applications. Both of these techniques are related to the seemingly paradoxical idea of defining something in terms of itself. This turns out to be a remarkably powerful idea. A subroutine is said to be recursive if it calls itself, either directly or indirectly. That is, the subroutine is used in its own definition. Recursion can often be used to solve complex problems by reducing them to simpler problems of the same type. A reference to one object can be stored in an instance variable of another object. The objects are then said to be “linked.” Complex data structures can be built by linking objects together. An especially interesting case occurs when an object contains a link to another object that belongs to the same class. In that case, the class is used in its own definition. Several important types of data structures are built using classes of this kind. 9.1 Recursion A t one time or another , you’ve probably been told that you can’t define something in terms of itself. Nevertheless, if it’s done right, defining something at least partially in terms of itself can be a very powerful technique. A recursive definition is one that uses the concept or thing that is being defined as part of the definition. For example: An “ancestor” is either a parent or an ancestor of a parent. A “sentence” can be, among other things, two sentences joined by a conjunction such as “and.” A “directory” is a part of a disk drive that can hold files and directories. In mathematics, a “set” is a collection of elements, which can themselves be sets. A “statement” in Java can be a while statement, which is made up of the word “while”, a boolean-valued condition, and a statement. Recursive definitions can describe very complex situations with just a few words. A def- inition of the term “ancestor” without using recursion might go something like “a parent, or a grandparent, or a great-grandparent, or a great-great-grandparent, and so on.” But saying “and so on” is not very rigorous. (I’ve often thought that recursion is really just a rigorous way of saying “and so on.”) You run into the same problem if you try to define a “directory” as “a file that is a list of files, where some of the files can be lists of files, where some of those files can be lists of files, and so on.” Trying to describe what a Java statement can look like, without using recursion in the definition, would be difficult and probably pretty comical. 427 428 CHAPTER 9. LINKED DATA STRUCTURES AND RECURSION Recursion can be used as a programming technique. A recursive subroutine is one that calls itself, either directly or indirectly. To say that a subroutine calls itself directly means that its definition contains a subroutine call statement that calls the subroutine that is being...
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