Greetings,
I was asked to write a Tip Of the Week; so here goes: a lot of topics are
started here in this forum (and a lot of other forums too) mentioning a
problem about sorting data.
Examples of two main problem scenarios are like this:
1) an array containing a first name and another array containing a last name
and possibly a third array containing the age of a person; how to sort the
arrays according to, say, the first name.
2) a List of objects where each object contains a first name, a last name and
an age. The list must be sorted according to, say, the last name.
The second scenario can easily be solved if you implement a Comparator;
something like the following will do fine:

public class PersonComparator implements Comparator<Person> {

public int compare(Person l, Person r) {

return l.getLastName().compareTo(r.getLastName());

}

}
Note that according to the contract of the Comparable<T> interface just a
single method needs to be implemented. The equals() method can be left out,
possibly at the cost of a small performance penalty.
You need to pass an instance of such a PersonComparator to either a:
a) Collections.sort()
b) Arrays.sort()
method, i.e. the first method sorts a List using a Comparator for the nitty
gritty comparison work, or, the second method sorts an array using this
Comparator.
But what about scenario 1 then? Of course scenario 1 was bad design to start
with but also of course it wasn't your design, it was a bit of legacy code
and you weren't around when the design's first implementation was deployed.
Even worse, the solution to scenario 2 only works for arrays or Lists.
Scenario 2 is like scenario 1 for other datastructures that need to be
sorted according to some sorting criteria. Those two methods (although useful)
aren't of much help for anything else that needs to be sorted.
Again there are two possible scenarios here (I call them A and B): either
A) transmogrify your data to an array or List and use the methods mentioned
above; after that retransmogrify the sorted data to your original data and
go on.
or
B) come up with something else.
This little article is all about scenario B, i.e. we come up with something
else. What exactly do we need to know about any type of data to be sortable?
First we need to know how many data items are to be sorted. We also need to
know whether or not one data item is larger, equal or smaller than another data
item. Third we want to be able to interchange (or swap) two data items. Given
the first notion we'd like to be able to think of indices, i.e. data item 0,
data item 1 etc. etc.
The above notions simply beg for an interface definition. Here is a simple one:

public interface Sortable {

int length();

int compare(int i, int j);

void swap(int i, int j);

}
Note that, no matter how trivial this interface may look, if a sorting method
is able to sort a Sortable, it doesn't need to know anything at all about the
type of data it sorts and it doesn't care less how two data items are swapped
and it doesn't care less why one data item is considered to be less, equal or
greater than an other data item.
This little article shows a 'heap sort' sorting method that is very well capable
of doing the job. A heapsort method is no worse than the ever propagated quick
sort method and it runs around any other naive sorting methods big times.
The bigOh of a heap sort method is equal or better than a quick sort method
and as an additional benefit it is stable w.r.t. that (in)famous bigOh number.
Before I forget, it doesn't need any additional memory either proportional
to the size of the data to be sorted.
This article presents the heap sort algoritm in terms of the Sortable interface.
So when two data items need to be compared, the algorithm calls the compare()
method, when they need to be swapped, the Sortable can do it etc. etc.
Here is a definition:
a heap is a binary tree such that for any node P, its children L and R (if
present) are not less than P, i.e. compare(P, L) and compare(P, R) both return
a value >= 0.
Note that a leaf is a heap by itself (a leaf doesn't have children)
For (almost) no particular reason, here's a binary tree with ten nodes:

. 0

/ \

1 2

/ \ / \

3 4 5 6

/ \ /

7 8 9
please forgive me my (lack of) ASCII art. This tree does show some interesting
properties (without proof):
1: the left kid of a node i is numbered 2*i+1;
2: the right kid of a node i is numbered 2*i+2;
3: if a node i > 0 has k kids, a node i1 has at least k kids;
4: every node has as many kids as possible.
Those four notions define a 'complete' binary tree. Math folks like those
definitions. So a sequence 0, 1, 2 ... n1 can be seen as a complete binary
tree.
Back to that heapsort thing again: suppose that a node P is larger than
both of its children L and R for every node in a tree (as sketched above).
Then the root of the tree is the largest element of the them all.
All leaves of a tree are heaps by definition, but what about the rest of the
tree nodes (nearer to the root of the tree)? The solution is simple: we can
build a heap out of a binary tree, given the fact that both the left and
right subtrees are heaps already; it works as follows:
Let P be a parent node and L and R the left and right children of P.
1: if P >= L and P >= R then we already have a heap, otherwise:
2: let M be the maximum of L and R;
3: swap P with that maximum M and continue from step 1 again.
For every complete binary tree with n nodes we know that the last n/2 nodes of
that tree are leaves and so they are heaps already. (Check this using my bad
little ASCII art above).
So we can turn a (sub)tree into a heap using the three line algoritm above.
Lets do it using the Sortable interface defined earlier; here goes:

// given a Sortable, build a heap starting at node p. There a n nodes in total

private static void heapify(Sortable s, int p, int n) {


for (int r, l= (p<<1)+1; l < n; p= l, l= (p<<1)+1) {


// l is the maximum of l and r, the two subnodes of p

if ((r= l+1) < n && s.compare(l, r) < 0) l= r;


// check if parent p is less than maximum l

if (s.compare(p, l) < 0) s.swap(p, l);

else break;

}

}

This is all fine, but how to turn a Sortable into a heap? We'll just use the
small method above. Traditionally this part is called the 'phase 1' of the
heap sort algorithm. Why break with good traditions?

private static void phase1(Sortable s) {


// heapify all the nonleaf nodes

for (int n= s.length(), p= n/2; p >= 0; p)

heapify(s, p, n);

}

The second phase, traditionally named 'phase 2' *ahem* uses a heap as follows
to get everything sorted. The root of the tree is the largest element of all
the nodes. If we swap the root with the last element of the Sortable we have
this largest element in place (at the end). But now the tree is probably not
a heap anymore. Using our first method we can turn the tree into a heap again
but we ignore the last node (which was in place already).
We repeat the step above until the heap contains just one single node. This
node must be the smallest element of all elements in the Sortable. Here goes:

// sort the Sortable

private static void phase2(Sortable s) {


for (int n= s.length(); n > 0; ) {

s.swap(0, n); // put the root element in its place

heapify(s, 0, n); // and restore the heap again

}

}

I don't think it comes as a surprise that the heap sort method itself simply
looks like this:

// driver for the worked methods

public static Sortable sort(Sortable s) {


phase1(s); // build initial heap

phase2(s); // sort the sortable given the heap


return s; // return the Sortable for convenience

}

We continue this little article in part 2; all this because an article cannot
exceed 10,000 characters in length. See you soon and
kind regards,
Jos