‘A Basket of Sorting Algorithms’ Using Python

Aditi Deodhar
Analytics Vidhya
Published in
4 min readFeb 15, 2021


Photo by Soraya Irving on Unsplash

"Sorting" essentially refers to "sorting in ascending order", unless specified otherwise.

Sorting algorithms are capable of doing multiple and extraordinary things, imagine how much time it would take for a human to sort a list of thousands of names to make a phonebook, or a list of thousands of recipes, archives, animals, etc.

Let’s create a list of numbers to be sorted as an example !

nums: A list of numbers e.g. [4, 2, 6, 3, 4, 6, 2, 1]

1. Bubble Sort

It is called by this name because herein smaller elements to bubble to the top and larger to sink to the bottom.

The core operations in bubble sort are “compare” and “swap”.

def bubble_sort(nums):
# Create a copy of the list, to avoid changing it
nums = list(nums)

# 4. Repeat the process n-1 times
for _ in range(len(nums) - 1):

# 1. Iterate over the array (except last element)
for i in range(len(nums) - 1):

# 2. Compare the number with
if nums[i] > nums[i+1]:

# 3. Swap the two elements
nums[i], nums[i+1] = nums[i+1], nums[i]

# Return the sorted list
return nums

2. Insertion Sort

Here we keep the initial portion of the array sorted and insert the remaining elements one by one at the right position.

def insertion_sort(nums):
nums = list(nums)
for i in range(len(nums)):
cur = nums.pop(i)
j = i-1
while j >=0 and nums[j] > cur:
j -= 1
nums.insert(j+1, cur)
return nums

For performing sorting more efficiently, a strategy called Divide and Conquer is applied, which has the following general steps:

  1. Divide the inputs into two roughly equal parts.
  2. Recursively solve the problem individually for each of the two parts.
  3. Combine the results to solve the problem for the original inputs.
  4. Include terminating conditions for small or indivisible inputs.
Visual representation of above strategy

3. Merge Sort

def merge_sort(nums):
# Terminating condition (list of 0 or 1 elements)
if len(nums) <= 1:
return nums

# Get the midpoint
mid = len(nums) // 2

# Split the list into two halves
left = nums[:mid]
right = nums[mid:]

# Solve the problem for each half recursively
left_sorted, right_sorted = merge_sort(left), merge_sort(right)

# Combine the results of the two halves
sorted_nums = merge(left_sorted, right_sorted)

return sorted_nums

Now, how to merge the two sorted arrays?

For this, we can repeatedly compare the two least elements of each array, and copy over the smaller one into a new array.

def merge(nums1, nums2):    
# List to store the results
merged = []

# Indices for iteration
i, j = 0, 0

# Loop over the two lists
while i < len(nums1) and j < len(nums2):

# Include the smaller element in the result and move to next element
if nums1[i] <= nums2[j]:
i += 1
j += 1

# Get the remaining parts
nums1_tail = nums1[i:]
nums2_tail = nums2[j:]

# Return the final merged array
return merged + nums1_tail + nums2_tail

4. Quick Sort

It is another divide-and-conquer based sorting algorithm, which works as follows:

  1. If the list is empty or has just one element, return it. It’s already sorted.
  2. Pick a random element from the list. This element is called a pivot.
  3. Reorder the list so that all elements with values less than or equal to the pivot come before the pivot, while all elements with values greater than the pivot come after it. This operation is called partitioning.
  4. The pivot element divides the array into two parts which can be sorted independently by making a recursive call to quicksort.
def quicksort(nums, start=0, end=None):
# print('quicksort', nums, start, end)
if end is None:
nums = list(nums)
end = len(nums) - 1

if start < end:
pivot = partition(nums, start, end)
quicksort(nums, start, pivot-1)
quicksort(nums, pivot+1, end)

return nums

Here’s an implementation of partition, which uses the last element of the list as a pivot:

def partition(nums, start=0, end=None):
# print('partition', nums, start, end)
if end is None:
end = len(nums) - 1

# Initialize right and left pointers
l, r = start, end-1

# Iterate while they're apart
while r > l:
# print(' ', nums, l, r)
# Increment left pointer if number is less or equal to pivot
if nums[l] <= nums[end]:
l += 1

# Decrement right pointer if number is greater than pivot
elif nums[r] > nums[end]:
r -= 1

# Two out-of-place elements found, swap them
nums[l], nums[r] = nums[r], nums[l]
# print(' ', nums, l, r)
# Place the pivot between the two parts
if nums[l] > nums[end]:
nums[l], nums[end] = nums[end], nums[l]
return l
return end

The key observation here is that after the partition, the pivot element is at its right place in the sorted array, and the two parts of the array can be sorted independently in-place.

The efficiency of above algorithms summarized →

Thus, sorting algorithms are chosen based on the application and efficiency required for that application.



Aditi Deodhar
Analytics Vidhya

MSIS @ Northeastern University | Data Science Enthusiast