Ted's Computer World PowerBASIC
Sorting Faster

Would You Like a Faster Sort?

Probably more research has been devoted to sort routines than any other algorithm.  Literally trillions of items are sorted every day in the computer world, and speed is crucial.  If you could produce a sort package that was 5% faster than the best existing algorithms, you probably could name your price.

Well, I haven't written one of those, but I would offer an alternative to your compiler's built-in sorting mechanism.  This idea isn't actually a sort at all, but a linear algorithm — that is, no nested loops.  Under certain conditions, the simple routine shown below can run exponentially faster than PowerBASIC's ARRAY SORT function.


There are two restrictions.  The data must consist of integers; and the utility array X() must be dimensioned at least to the size of the greatest data value.  So if the value 9,000,000 occurs somewhere in the data, then X() must be dimensioned at least to nine million cells.  That is not an issue for PowerBASIC, which supports arrays exceeding four billion cells.

DIM A(100000000) AS LONG 'integer data to be sorted DIM X(100000000) AS LONG 'dimensioned >= greatest data value DIM SortSize& 'number of data items DIM MaxInt& 'greatest integer in data DIM J&, K&, N& '--------[ Array Map Sort ]-------- FOR J=1 TO SortSize: INCR X(A(J)): NEXT N=1 FOR K=1 TO SortSize 'for DESCENDING order, use: FOR K=SortSize TO 1 STEP-1 DO IF X(N) THEN A(K)=N: DECR X(N): EXIT INCR N LOOP NEXT K

Each value in A() is flagged at the corresponding address of X().  So if A(any)=375, then X(375) is incremented.  Then variable N steps through X(); whenever a positive value is encountered, the location of N is written back sequentially to A().  A nifty feature is that A() doesn't have to be cleared out before being rewritten.

Data which include negative integers can be accommodated either by adding a suitable offset when writing to X(), then subtracting that value as it is written back to A(), or by setting up the array to include negative addresses in the first place.  PowerBASIC lets you do that.  Also, using an appropriate multiplier as an offset would enable the sorting of non-integer values that conform to a rigid format — such as decimal currency or batting averages.

Because ARRAY SORT was written in assembler, it is of course more inherently efficient than anything written in a high-level language such as PowerBASIC.  That is the only reason that it can compete with Array Map at all.  As it is, ARRAY SORT performs better with smaller data samples — up to about 25,000 items.  But for a sort of, say, 50 million items, Array Map runs 30 times faster on my computer when the integer size is limited to 100 thousand, and five times faster when the integer values can range up to 100 million.


This works just like Array Map, except that instead of flagging whole array elements, each data integer in A() is represented by a single bit in X(). The tradeoff is that there can be no matching data values, unless it is okay that only one of equal values would survive the process.

The sole advantage is that array X() can be eight times smaller than before.  Admittedly, in today's world of virtually unlimited memory resources, this routine has become functionally obsolete; I include it just for nostalgia purposes; for in my DOS/GW-BASIC days it was a godsend.

DIM (as above) DIM EL& 'array element DIM BT& 'bit counter '--------[ BitMap Sort ]-------- FOR J=1 TO SortSize EL=A(J)\32: BT=A(J) MOD 32 BIT SET X(EL),BT NEXT J K=1 FOR EL=0 TO (MaxInt+31)\32 'step through the array FOR BT=0 TO 31 'step through the bits IF BIT(X(EL),BT) THEN N=32*EL+BT: A(K)=N: INCR K IF K>SortSize THEN EXIT,EXIT 'done END IF NEXT BT NEXT EL

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