Sorting Algorithm



Sorting algorithm is an algorithm that puts elements of a list in a certain order. The most frequently used orders are numerical order and lexicographical order. Efficient sorting is important for optimizing the efficiency of other algorithms (such as search and merge algorithms) that require input data to be in sorted lists. Sorting is also often useful for canonicalizing data and for producing human-readable output. More formally, the output of any sorting algorithm must satisfy two conditions:

  1. The output is in non-decreasing order (each element is no smaller than the previous element according to the desired total order);

  2. The output is a permutation (a reordering, yet retaining all of the original elements) of the input.


Popular Sorting Algorithm


Simple sorts

Two of the simplest sorts are insertion sort and selection sort, both of which are efficient on small data, due to low overhead, but not efficient on large data. Insertion sort is generally faster than selection sort in practice, due to fewer comparisons and good performance on almost-sorted data, and thus is preferred in practice, but selection sort uses fewer writes, and thus is used when write performance is a limiting factor.


Insertion sort

Insertion sort is a simple sorting algorithm that is relatively efficient for small lists and mostly sorted lists, and is often used as part of more sophisticated algorithms. It works by taking elements from the list one by one and inserting them in their correct position into a new sorted list similar to how we put money in our wallet. In arrays, the new list and the remaining elements can share the array's space, but insertion is expensive, requiring shifting all following elements over by one. Shellsort (see below) is a variant of insertion sort that is more efficient for larger lists.


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Selection sort

Selection sort is an in-place comparison sort. It has O(n2) complexity, making it inefficient on large lists, and generally performs worse than the similar insertion sort. Selection sort is noted for its simplicity, and also has performance advantages over more complicated algorithms in certain situations.


The algorithm finds the minimum value, swaps it with the value in the first position, and repeats these steps for the remainder of the list. It does no more than n swaps, and thus is useful where swapping is very expensive.


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Efficient sorts

Practical general sorting algorithms are almost always based on an algorithm with average time complexity (and generally worst-case complexity) O(n log n), of which the most common are heap sort, merge sort, and quicksort. Each has advantages and drawbacks, with the most significant being that simple implementation of merge sort uses O(n) additional space, and simple implementation of quicksort has O(n2) worst-case complexity. These problems can be solved or ameliorated at the cost of a more complex algorithm.


While these algorithms are asymptotically efficient on random data, for practical efficiency on real-world data various modifications are used. First, the overhead of these algorithms becomes significant on smaller data, so often a hybrid algorithm is used, commonly switching to insertion sort once the data is small enough. Second, the algorithms often perform poorly on already sorted data or almost sorted data – these are common in real-world data, and can be sorted in O(n) time by appropriate algorithms. Finally, they may also be unstable, and stability is often a desirable property in a sort. Thus more sophisticated algorithms are often employed, such as Timsort (based on merge sort) or introsort (based on quicksort, falling back to heap sort).


Merge sort


Merge sort takes advantage of the ease of merging already sorted lists into a new sorted list. It starts by comparing every two elements (i.e., 1 with 2, then 3 with 4...) and swapping them if the first should come after the second. It then merges each of the resulting lists of two into lists of four, then merges those lists of four, and so on; until at last two lists are merged into the final sorted list. Of the algorithms described here, this is the first that scales well to very large lists, because its worst-case running time is O(n log n). It is also easily applied to lists, not only arrays, as it only requires sequential access, not random access. However, it has additional O(n) space complexity, and involves a large number of copies in simple implementations.


Merge sort has seen a relatively recent surge in popularity for practical implementations, due to its use in the sophisticated algorithm Timsort, which is used for the standard sort routine in the programming languages Python and Java (as of JDK7). Merge sort itself is the standard routine in Perl, among others, and has been used in Java at least since 2000 in JDK1.3.


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Heapsort


Heapsort is a much more efficient version of selection sort. It also works by determining the largest (or smallest) element of the list, placing that at the end (or beginning) of the list, then continuing with the rest of the list, but accomplishes this task efficiently by using a data structure called a heap, a special type of binary tree. Once the data list has been made into a heap, the root node is guaranteed to be the largest (or smallest) element. When it is removed and placed at the end of the list, the heap is rearranged so the largest element remaining moves to the root. Using the heap, finding the next largest element takes O(log n) time, instead of O(n) for a linear scan as in simple selection sort. This allows Heapsort to run in O(n log n) time, and this is also the worst case complexity.


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Quicksort


Quicksort is a divide and conquer algorithm which relies on a partition operation: to partition an array, an element called a pivot is selected. All elements smaller than the pivot are moved before it and all greater elements are moved after it. This can be done efficiently in linear time and in-place. The lesser and greater sublists are then recursively sorted. This yields average time complexity of O(n log n), with low overhead, and thus this is a popular algorithm. Efficient implementations of quicksort (with in-place partitioning) are typically unstable sorts and somewhat complex, but are among the fastest sorting algorithms in practice. Together with its modest O(log n) space usage, quicksort is one of the most popular sorting algorithms and is available in many standard programming libraries.


The important caveat about quicksort is that its worst-case performance is O(n2); while this is rare, in naïve implementations (choosing the first or last element as pivot) this occurs for sorted data, which is a common case. The most complex issue in quicksort is thus choosing a good pivot element, as consistently poor choices of pivots can result in drastically slower O(n2) performance, but good choice of pivots yields O(n log n) performance, which is asymptotically optimal. For example, if at each step the median is chosen as the pivot then the algorithm works in O(n log n). Finding the median, such as by the median of medians selection algorithm is however an O(n) operation on unsorted lists and therefore exacts significant overhead with sorting. In practice choosing a random pivot almost certainly yields O(n log n) performance.


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Shellsort

A Shell sort, different from bubble sort in that it moves elements to numerous swapping positions.


Shellsort was invented by Donald Shell in 1959. It improves upon insertion sort by moving out of order elements more than one position at a time. The concept behind Shellsort is that insertion sort performs in time, where k is the greatest distance between two out-of-place elements. This means that generally, they perform in O(n2), but for data that is mostly sorted, with only a few elements out of place, they perform faster. So, by first sorting elements far away, and progressively shrinking the gap between the elements to sort, the final sort computes much faster. One implementation can be described as arranging the data sequence in a two-dimensional array and then sorting the columns of the array using insertion sort.


The worst-case time complexity of Shellsort is an open problem and depends on the gap sequence used, with known complexities ranging from O(n2) to O(n4/3) and Θ(n log2 n). This, combined with the fact that Shellsort is in-place, only needs a relatively small amount of code, and does not require use of the call stack, makes it is useful in situations where memory is at a premium, such as in embedded systems and operating system kernels.


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Bubble sort

A bubble sort, a sorting algorithm that continuously steps through a list, swapping items until they appear in the correct order.


Bubble sort is a simple sorting algorithm. The algorithm starts at the beginning of the data set. It compares the first two elements, and if the first is greater than the second, it swaps them. It continues doing this for each pair of adjacent elements to the end of the data set. It then starts again with the first two elements, repeating until no swaps have occurred on the last pass. This algorithm's average time and worst-case performance is O(n2), so it is rarely used to sort large, unordered data sets. Bubble sort can be used to sort a small number of items (where its asymptotic inefficiency is not a high penalty). Bubble sort can also be used efficiently on a list of any length that is nearly sorted (that is, the elements are not significantly out of place). For example, if any number of elements are out of place by only one position (e.g. 0123546789 and 1032547698), bubble sort's exchange will get them in order on the first pass, the second pass will find all elements in order, so the sort will take only 2n time.


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