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Posted 23 Jul 2012

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# A Simple, Portable Yet Efficient Quicksort Implementation in C

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13 Oct 2013Public Domain2 min read
A simple, portable yet efficient Quicksort implementation in C

## Introduction

What I wanted to do here was to provide a public-domain C implementation of the Quicksort algorithm, written from scratch, which anybody could use without licensing liabilities.

## Background

Whenever I was looking for a Quicksort implementation over the Internet, I was always limited to simple, recursive, yet not quite efficient implementation of the algorithm. For a more production-quality code, it seemed that the only stuff I could find was either protected by unknown or restrictive licenses.

This algorithm performs reasonably well with similar performance of the standard qsort found in Linux and MacOS X. I tested the code a bit to verify that it was bug-free. However, I should warn people to use this at their own risk, as testing coverage was still limited. I welcome everyone to notify me should they find something wrong with it.

## Using the Code

The code presented below performs a basic Quicksort and after reaching a certain threshold, switches to an insertion sort. This implementation is the in-place version of the algorithm and is done in the following way:

1. In the middle of the array, we determine a pivot that we temporarily swap to the end.
2. From the beginning to the end of the array, we swap any elements smaller than this pivot to the start, adjacent to other elements that were already moved.
3. We swap the pivot next to these smaller elements.
4. For both sub-arrays on sides of the pivot, we repeat this process recursively.
5. For a sub-array smaller than a certain threshold, the insertion sort algorithm takes over.

So here it is:

C++
```/*******************************************************************************
*
*  Author:  Remi Dufour - remi.dufour@gmail.com
*  Date:    July 23rd, 2012
*
*  Name:        Quicksort
*
*  Description: This is a well-known sorting algorithm developed by C. A. R.
*               Hoare. It is a comparison sort and in this implementation,
*               is not a stable sort.
*
*  Note:        This is public-domain C implementation written from
*               scratch.  Use it at your own risk.
*
*******************************************************************************/

#include <limits.h>
#include <stddef.h>

/* Insertion sort threshold shift
*
* This macro defines the threshold shift (power of 2) at which the insertion
* sort algorithm replaces the Quicksort.  A zero threshold shift disables the
* insertion sort completely.
*
* The value is optimized for Linux and MacOS on the Intel x86 platform.
*/
#ifndef INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT
# ifdef __APPLE__ & __MACH__
#  define INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT 0
# else
#  define INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT 2
# endif
#endif

/* Macro SWAP
*
* Swaps the elements of two arrays.
*
* The length of the swap is determined by the value of "SIZE".  While both
* arrays can't overlap, the case in which both pointers are the same works.
*/
#define SWAP(A,B,SIZE)                               \
{                                                \
register char       *a_byte = A;             \
register char       *b_byte = B;             \
register const char *a_end = a_byte + SIZE;  \
\
while (a_byte < a_end)                       \
{                                            \
register const char swap_byte = *b_byte; \
*b_byte++ = *a_byte;                     \
*a_byte++ = swap_byte;                   \
}                                            \
}

/* Macro SWAP_NEXT
*
* Swaps the elements of an array with its next value.
*
* The length of the swap is determined by the value of "SIZE".  This macro
* must be used at the beginning of a scope and "A" shouldn't be an expression.
*/
#define SWAP_NEXT(A,SIZE)                                 \
register char       *a_byte = A;                      \
register const char *a_end  = A + SIZE;               \
\
while (a_byte < a_end)                                \
{                                                     \
register const char swap_byte = *(a_byte + SIZE); \
*(a_byte + SIZE) = *a_byte;                       \
*a_byte++ = swap_byte;                            \
}

/* Function Quicksort
*
* This function performs a basic Quicksort.  This implementation is the
* in-place version of the algorithm and is done in he following way:
*
* 1. In the middle of the array, we determine a pivot that we temporarily swap
*    to the end.
* 2. From the beginning to the end of the array, we swap any elements smaller
*    than this pivot to the start, adjacent to other elements that were
* 3. We swap the pivot next to these smaller elements.
* 4. For both sub-arrays on sides of the pivot, we repeat this process
*    recursively.
* 5. For a sub-array smaller than a certain threshold, the insertion sort
*    algorithm takes over.
*
* As an optimization, rather than performing a real recursion, we keep a
* global stack to track boundaries for each recursion level.
*
* To ensure that at most O(log2 N) space is used, we recurse into the smaller
* partition first.  The log2 of the highest unsigned value of an integer type
* is the number of bits needed to store that integer.
*/
void quicksort(void   *array,
size_t  length,
size_t  size,
int(*compare)(const void *, const void *))
{
/* Recursive stacks for array boundaries (both inclusive) */
struct stackframe
{
void *left;
void *right;
} stack[CHAR_BIT * sizeof(void *)];

/* Recursion level */
struct stackframe *recursion = stack;

#if INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT != 0
/* Insertion sort threshold */
const int threshold = size << INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT;
#endif

/* Assign the first recursion level of the sorting */
recursion->left = array;
recursion->right = (char *)array + size * (length - 1);

do
{
/* Partition the array */
register char *index = recursion->left;
register char *right = recursion->right;
char          *left  = index;

/* Assigning store to the left */
register char *store = index;

/* Pop the stack */
--recursion;

/* Determine a pivot (in the middle) and move it to the end */
const size_t middle = (right - left) >> 1;
SWAP(left + middle - middle % size,right,size)

/* From left to right */
while (index < right)
{
/* If item is smaller than pivot */
if (compare(right, index) > 0)
{
/* Swap item and store */
SWAP(index,store,size)

/* We increment store */
store += size;
}

index += size;
}

/* Move the pivot to its final place */
SWAP(right,store,size)

/* Performs a recursion to the left */
#define RECURSE_LEFT                     \
if (left < store - size)             \
{                                    \
(++recursion)->left = left;      \
recursion->right = store - size; \
}

/* Performs a recursion to the right */
#define RECURSE_RIGHT                       \
if (store + size < right)               \
{                                       \
(++recursion)->left = store + size; \
recursion->right = right;           \
}

/* Insertion sort inner-loop */
#define INSERTION_SORT_LOOP(LEFT)                                 \
{                                                             \
register char *trail = index - size;                      \
while (trail >= LEFT && compare(trail, trail + size) > 0) \
{                                                         \
SWAP_NEXT(trail,size)                                 \
trail -= size;                                        \
}                                                         \
}

/* Performs insertion sort left of the pivot */
#define INSERTION_SORT_LEFT                                \
for (index = left + size; index < store; index +=size) \
INSERTION_SORT_LOOP(left)

/* Performs insertion sort right of the pivot */
#define INSERTION_SORT_RIGHT                                        \
for (index = store + (size << 1); index <= right; index +=size) \
INSERTION_SORT_LOOP(store + size)

/* Sorts to the left */
#if INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT == 0
# define SORT_LEFT RECURSE_LEFT
#else
# define SORT_LEFT                 \
if (store - left <= threshold) \
{                              \
INSERTION_SORT_LEFT        \
}                              \
else                           \
{                              \
RECURSE_LEFT               \
}
#endif

/* Sorts to the right */
#if INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT == 0
# define SORT_RIGHT RECURSE_RIGHT
#else
# define SORT_RIGHT                 \
if (right - store <= threshold) \
{                               \
INSERTION_SORT_RIGHT        \
}                               \
else                            \
{                               \
RECURSE_RIGHT               \
}
#endif

/* Recurse into the smaller partition first */
if (store - left < right - store)
{
/* Left side is smaller */
SORT_RIGHT
SORT_LEFT

continue;
}

/* Right side is smaller */
SORT_LEFT
SORT_RIGHT

#undef RECURSE_LEFT
#undef RECURSE_RIGHT
#undef INSERTION_SORT_LOOP
#undef INSERTION_SORT_LEFT
#undef INSERTION_SORT_RIGHT
#undef SORT_LEFT
#undef SORT_RIGHT
}
while (recursion >= stack);
}

#undef INSERTION_SORT_THRESHOLD_SHIFT
#undef SWAP
#undef SWAP_NEXT ```

As someone could expect, the function prototype is the same as the `qsort `found in the C standard. A comparison function for sorting integers could be the same as the following:

```int compare(const void *a, const void *b)
{
return (*(int *)a - *(int *)b);
} ```

## Points of Interest

As an optimization, rather than performing a real recursion, I kept a global stack to track boundaries for each recursion level.

As explained in various articles, the log2 of the highest unsigned value of an integer type is the number of bits needed to store that same integer. Thus, keeping a stack size of `8 * sizeof(void *) `makes sense. To ensure that at most O(log2 N) space is always used, I also recursed into smaller partitions first.

Based on experimental results, I noticed that the insertion-sort was slower on MacOS X, regardless of the array size threshold. While trying to maintain portability, I couldn't help but disable the algorithm for that particular platform.

## History

• 07/23/2012: Initial release to CodeProject.com
• 07/23/2012: Fixed typos, wording, and minor source-code change
• 10/13/2013: Fixed functional issue with pivot calculation

## Share

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 First Prev Next
 My vote of 5 Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan1-Jul-16 11:57 Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan 1-Jul-16 11:57
 Deserved a vote of 5. Clearly explained and very simple code examples. 5ed.
 Thank you. rxantos1-Dec-15 4:16 rxantos 1-Dec-15 4:16
 Nice work Ivor O'Connor13-Oct-13 19:53 Ivor O'Connor 13-Oct-13 19:53
 Re: Nice work skyformat99@gmail.com13-Oct-13 20:08 skyformat99@gmail.com 13-Oct-13 20:08
 Great article, but algorithm fails Member 1033140511-Oct-13 18:45 Member 10331405 11-Oct-13 18:45
 Re: Great article, but algorithm fails Member 929470111-Oct-13 18:59 Member 9294701 11-Oct-13 18:59
 Re: Great article, but algorithm fails Member 929470113-Oct-13 15:19 Member 9294701 13-Oct-13 15:19
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