As the name implies, lists can be used to store a list of elements. However, unlike in traditional arrays, lists can expand and shrink, and are stored dynamically in memory.

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.

Lists also form the basis for other abstract data types including the queue, the stack, and their variations.

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