Linear search, also known as sequential search, is a search algorithm that sequentially checks each item in a collection or list until it finds the desired item or reaches the end of the list. This type of search is unordered and can be used on unsorted data. As its name suggests, linear search works by making a linear pass through the data set, looking for the desired item at each pass.
Linear search is relatively simple and straightforward; however, it is inefficient when compared to more advanced search algorithms such as binary search as it must sequentially check every item in the data set, making it a time-consuming process. Additionally, a linear search can become even more time-consuming if unsorted data is being used as the algorithm needs to look through numerous data points.
Although linear search is not as efficient as other search algorithms, it is commonly used in programming exercises as it is a relatively simple process. In addition, it does not require sorted data, making it versatile and applicable in a variety of contexts. Linear search can be used on amorphous data, such as text strings, allowing it to be utilized in text searching applications.
In computer science, linear search is an implementation of the dictionary problem, which involves looking up an element in an ordered set. The dictionary problem is usually solved using search algorithms like binary search or hashed search.
Ultimately, linear search is one of the simplest search algorithms and it can be applied in a variety of contexts. Despite its simplicity, however, it can be slow and inefficient when compared to other search algorithms like binary or hashed search. As such, it should not be used in time-sensitive applications.