Sequential access

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Sequential access compared to random access.

In computer science, sequential access means that a group of elements (such as data in a memory array or a disk file or on magnetic tape data storage) is accessed in a predetermined, ordered sequence. Sequential access is sometimes the only way of accessing the data, for example if it is on a tape. It may also be the access method of choice, for example if all that is wanted is to process a sequence of data elements in order.[1]

In data structures, a data structure is said to have sequential access if one can only visit the values it contains in one particular order. The canonical example is the linked list. Indexing into a list that has sequential access requires O(k) time, where k is the index. As a result, many algorithms such as quicksort and binary search degenerate into bad algorithms that are even less efficient than their naïve alternatives; these algorithms are impractical without random access. On the other hand, some algorithms, typically those that do not index, require only sequential access, such as mergesort, and face no penalty.

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