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Sorting prelim

Chapter 7: Sorting will have some rigorous analysis of the sorting algorithms (no wonder as suggested by the title of the book). Some meta-concepts related with sorting appeard at the very beginning of the chapter. I usually push them to the end-chapter summary post but this time I decide to do a writeup beforehand because I find it is really hard to talk about various sorting schemes without setting up some ground concepts first.


  • Sorting problem: Given an array \(A\), output \(A\) such that: For any \(i\) and \(J\), if \(i < j\), then \(A[i] \le A[j]\).1

  • Sorting algorithm using comparison operators (i.e \(<, >, =\)) is known as comparison-based sorting. Another major type is called counting sort (i.e. Radix sort).

  • If the entire sort can be done in main memory (i.e number of elements is relatively small, usually less than a million), we call it internal sorting. By the contrast, if the data is on the disk, we call it external sorting.

  • An algorithm requires \(O(1)\) extra space is known as an in place sorting algorithm.2

  • A sorting algorithm is stable 3 if elements with equal keys are left in the same order as they occur in the input. In other words, we can ask ourself the question: Does it rearrange the order of input data records which have the same key value (duplicates)? If the answer is No, then the sorting algorithm is stable. One example is that Phone book is sorted by name. Now let's sort the book by country - is the list still sorted by name within each country? As you can tell, it is an extremely important property for databases.

  • There will be three kinds of running time mentioned in the sorting analysis:

    • average case time: given an arbitrary input, what do we expect the running time to be.
    • worst case time: for a particular degenerate case, how bad will the algorithm perform.
    • best case time: for a particularly benevolent input case, what is the best case performance.

Here are some of the resources I found helpful while preparing this article:

  1. MAW Chapter 7
  2. Sorting cheat sheet from Duke U.
  3. Lecture material from U.Washington and MIT

  1. Here, for the input, we are given an array \(A\) of data records, each with a key (which can be an integer, character, string, etc) as long as the following condition can be met: 1. There is an ordering on the set of possible keys 2. We can compare any two keys using \(<, >, =\) 

  2. Under the context of the sorting, we may ask: Does the sorting algorithm require extra memory to sort the collection of items? Do we need to copy and temporarily store some subset of the keys/data records? 

  3. When we evaluate the performance of a sorting algorithm, we usually evaluate it from three perspectives: running time, memory requirements (aka space), and stability

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