Search anything:

XOR Linked List

Binary Tree book by OpenGenus

Open-Source Internship opportunity by OpenGenus for programmers. Apply now.

Reading time: 35 minutes | Coding time: 12 minutes

XOR Linked List is the memory efficient version of Doubly Linked List because it makes use of only one space for address field with every node.
An ordinary doubly linked list stores addresses of the previous and next list items in each list node, requiring two address fields to be maintained per node:

  • prev
  • next

Whereas in XOR linked list, only one address field is maintained whose value is determined by the XOR of the previous node address and the next node address:

  • current_node(link) = addr(previous_node) βŠ• addr(next_node)

We will look into how XOR Linked List is useful and how it makes use of XOR operation. Further, the advantages and disadvantages will be discussed

Let us first look into the properties of XOR operation:

  • X βŠ• X = 0
  • X βŠ• 0 = X
  • X βŠ• Y = YβŠ•X
  • (X βŠ• Y) βŠ• Z = X βŠ• ( Y βŠ• Z)

Just like Doubly Linked List, XOR Linked List also provides facilitates list traversal in both forward and backward directions. While traversing the list we need to remember the address of the previously accessed node in order to calculate the next node’s address.

The following terminologies will be used for describing the various sections of a node in Doubly linked list :

  • data : The data is stored here
  • link : The address of the next node is saved here
  • head : points to the first node of the list
  • tail : points to the last node of the list
topic of image

Considering the properties of XOR operations as discussed above , we get the following results:

  • link(A) = NULL βŠ• addr(B)

    Bitwise XOR of NULL with address of node B

    -> 0 βŠ• 2000 = 2000 ->Address of B

  • link(B) = addr(A) βŠ• addr(C)

    Bitwise XOR of NULL with address of node B

    -> 3000 βŠ• 1000

  • link(C) = addr(B) βŠ• NULL

    Bitwise XOR of NULL with address of node B

    -> 2000 βŠ• 0 = 2000 ->Address of B


We need to maintain the address of the previous node in some temporary pointer. By XORing the value in the link field of the current node with the address of the previous node, we can get the address of the next node

topic of image

A) From left to right :

i)For example, if we are node B and we want to move to node C.
addr(A) βŠ• link(B)
-> addr(B) βŠ• (addr(B) βŠ• addr(D))
-> 0 βŠ• addr(D)
-> addr(D)

ii)Suppose we are the initial node , then to go to the next node
-> NULL βŠ• link(A)
-> NULL βŠ• (NULL βŠ• addr(B))
-> 0 βŠ• addr(B)
-> addr(B)

B) Right to left :
i)Lets start from the last node D and move to node C
-> NULL βŠ• link(C)
-> NULL βŠ• (addr(C) βŠ• NULL)
-> 0 βŠ• addr(C)
-> addr(C)

ii) Now for the case where our current node is somewhere in the middle of the list , consider our current node is C, we can get the address of previous node B as
-> addr(D) βŠ• link(C)
-> addr(D) βŠ• (addr(B) βŠ• addr(D))
-> 0 βŠ• addr(B)
-> addr(B)

Basic Operations

Following are the basic operations that are done on any linked list :

  • Insertion
  • Deletion


For implementation, the code given below will insert at the begining or at the end depending on the value of the second parameter 'at_tail' which is set to true if insertion has to take place at the end of the list otherwise it is set to false.


    step-1 : if list is empty
             insert at the begining
             goto step-4
    step-2 : if at_tail is true
             insert at the end
             goto step-4
    step-3 : else insert at begining
    step-4 : end


Deletion also takes place based on the 'at_tail' boolean parameter.If its value is true, then the last node will be deleted else the first node will be deleted.


    step-1 : if list is empty
             display appropriate message that list is empty
             goto step-5
    step 2 : Store the value of the node in a variable 'item'
    step-3 : Update the link field of the previous node if at_tail is true else                  update the link field of the next node i.e., deletion is taking place                at begining 
    step-5 : return the variable item
    step-6 : end


#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdint.h>
#include <stdbool.h>

typedef struct node {
    int item;
    struct node *link;
} node;

node *head, *tail;

//Performs the xor operation of two pointers
node *xor(node *a, node *b)
    return (node*) ((uintptr_t) a ^ (uintptr_t) b);

//insertion takes place based on the 'at_tail' boolean value
void insert(int item, bool at_tail)
    node *ptr = (node*) malloc(sizeof(node));
    ptr->item = item;

    if (NULL == head) {
        ptr->link = NULL;
        head = tail = ptr;
    } else if (at_tail) {
        ptr->link = xor(tail, NULL);
        tail->link = xor(ptr, xor(tail->link, NULL));
        tail = ptr;
    } else {
        ptr->link = xor(NULL, head);
        head->link = xor(ptr, xor(NULL, head->link));
        head = ptr;
//deletion takes place from the end
int delete(bool from_tail)
    int item;
    node *ptr;
    if (NULL == head) {
        printf("Empty list.\n");
    } else if (from_tail) {
        ptr = tail;
        item = ptr->item;
        node *prev = xor(ptr->link, NULL);
        if (NULL == prev) head = NULL;
        else prev->link= xor(ptr, xor(prev->link, NULL));
        tail = prev;

    } else {
        ptr = head;
        item = ptr->item;
        node *next = xor(NULL, ptr->link);
        if (NULL == next) tail = NULL;
        else next->link = xor(ptr, xor(NULL, next->link));
        head = next;
    ptr = NULL;
    return item;

void display()
    node *curr = head;
    node *prev = NULL, *next;

    printf("\nList elements are : ");
    while (NULL != curr) {
        printf("%d ", curr->item);
        next = xor(prev, curr->link);
        prev = curr;
        curr = next;


int main(int argc, char *argv[])
    int item;
    for (int i = 1; i <= 10; i++){
        insert(i, i < 6);
        printf("Successfully inserted %d\n",i);

    for (int i = 1; i <= 4; i++){
        item=delete(i < 3);
        printf("Successfully deleted %d\n",item);



These results are based on the above implementation :

  1. Insertion
    • Worst case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Average case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Best case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Space complexity: Θ(1)
  2. Deletion
    • Worst case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Average case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Best case time complexity: Θ(1)
    • Space complexity: Θ(1)
  3. Display
    • Worst case time complexity: Θ(n)
    • Average case time complexity: Θ(n)
    • Best case time complexity: Θ(n)
    • Space complexity: Θ(1)


XOR/Memory Efficient linked list have same functionality as double linked list, they just need one one cell for both next and previous node link, so what ever real life usage of double linked list also applied to XORed linked list too. Some of them are listed below :

  • Used for implementing the backward and forward navigation of visited web pages i.e. back and forward button.
  • Used in applications that have a Most Recently Used list (a linked list of file names)

Advantages of XOR Linked List

  • Reduces memory usage
  • Another advantage which might be useful is the ease of reversability.
  • Reversing a doubly linked list invloves updating of all the prev and next values in all nodes. But we don’t have these pointers anymore as they are XOR-ed into one value. That means that we do not have to change anything, only the head pointer need to be changed to point to last node!

Disadvantages of XOR Linked List

  • XOR linked list is not supported by several languages such as Java where conversion between pointers and integers is undefined. (Check 'Further Reading' section for more details)
  • The price for the decrease in memory usage is an increase in code complexity, making maintenance more expensive.
  • XOR linked lists do not provide some of the important advantages of doubly linked lists, such as the ability to delete a node from the list knowing only its address or the ability to insert a new node before or after an existing node when knowing only the address of the existing node.

Further reading

  • For implementing XOR Linked list in java, use the class sun.misc.Unsafe which allows doing a lot of unsafe operations like, you can get the address of objects and create your xor-linked list. But as mentioned earlier, your objects can be garbage collected. Also, with the package mentioned as unsafe, this can be removed/ may not be present in various jvm versions.
XOR Linked List
Share this