Data Structures - Priority Queues For Beginners

Elliot Forbes ⏰ 2 Minutes 📅 Dec 20, 2017

This article uses Python 3.6 in order to demonstrate some of the concepts.

In this article we’ll be covering Priority Queues and how they differ from your standard Queue data structure.

Why Do We Need Them?

In order to explain this better, let’s think about a real-world example where a normal queueing system may not be the best idea. Let’s imagine you were implementing a queuing system for a hospital’s Accident and Emergency ward.

If you were to use a traditional queue for people coming into the ward then you would see people with gunshot wounds or serious issues having to wait behind people who may require nothing more than an x-ray and possibly a cast over a minor break.

This queueing system would mean that people who had serious issues may end up not getting the treatment they need in appropriate time. This is where prioritization comes into play.

When someone comes into the ward, the nurses prioritize those who have serious issues to the top of the queue so that they are seen first, they then prioritize those with relatively minor ailments to the back of the queue as they can afford to wait longer for treatment.

This same concept can be brought into our own data structures within our own systems. You may for example be writing a queueing system for operating system events, some events such as power loss or other critical issues would then be prioritized higher than less serious issues, this is where priority queues shine.

Priority Queue Implementation

Let’s have a look at how we could implement a very simple Priority Queue in Python.

from queue import PriorityQueue

priority_queue = PriorityQueue()

priority_queue.put((10,"Issue 1: Medium Priority"))
priority_queue.put((5,"Issue 2: Low Priority"))
priority_queue.put((25,"Issue 3: High Priority"))
priority_queue.put((50,"Issue 4: Very High Priority"))

while not priority_queue.empty():
    (priority, value) = priority_queue.get()
    print("{} Priority, {} Value".format(priority, value))

This would output the following when run:

 $ python3.6
5 Priority, Issue 2: Low Priority Value
10 Priority, Issue 1: Medium Priority Value
25 Priority, Issue 3: High Priority Value
50 Priority, Issue 4: Very High Priority Value


I hope you found this tutorial useful! If you did or require further assistance then please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments section below or by tweeting me @Elliot_F.