Sorting in C

Sorting arrays of integers is an integral part of computing. Therefore, over the years, a lot of different approaches to sorting where found and resulted in a wide range of sorting algorithms existent today.
Of these the most common algorithms include quicksort — maybe one of the best known algorithms by name –, merge sort, natural merge sort — my personal favourite out of this list — and insertion, selection and bubble sort — more trivial sorting approaches. In this post, I will look at the aforementioned algorithms alongside a C implementation. The full C source code can be seen below and also downloaded.
All sorting algorithm implementations take an integer pointer and an array length as input; sorting the array in-place — manipulating the pointed to memory.

i) Quicksort

A fundamental observation used by most sorting algorithms is that a singleton array — an array which only consists of one element — is sorted. Thus one can write an algorithm which recursively operates on already sorted arrays, as every array has a sorted _base_ (all array elements interpreted as singleton arrays).
Quicksort first chooses one of the input array’s elements as its pivot element — my implementation always chooses the first element — and splits the remaining array into two subarrays, one containing all array elements less than or equal to the pivot, the other one containing those greater than the pivot. The array is rearranged such that the first subarray is followed by the pivot element which is followed by the second subarray. Both subarrays are recursively sorted; singleton arrays mark the end of recursion as they are already sorted. Quicksort — as its name implies is a rather efficient sorting algorithm, having an average time complexity of \mathcal{O}(n\cdot\log{}n).
In the following I show my C implementation. It first creates a swap array for storing intermediate values while permuting the array and then calls its recursive part which initiates the sorting.

// quick sort (recursive part)
void _qsort(int *Arr, int *Swp, int len) {
	// split array at pivot (first element) and store in swap
	int l = 0, r = len-1;
	for (int j = 1; j < len; j++)
		if (Arr[j] < Arr[0]) Swp[l++] = Arr[j];
		else                 Swp[r--] = Arr[j];
	// move swap to array
	Swp[l] = Arr[0];
	for (int j = 0; j < len; j++)
		Arr[j] = Swp[j];
	// recursively sort split arrays
	if (l > 1)       _qsort(Arr, Swp, l);
	if (len-r-1 > 1) _qsort(Arr+l+1, Swp+l+1, len-r-1);

// quick sort (initialization)
void QSort(int *Arr, int len) {
	if (len < 2) return;
	int *Swp = malloc(len*sizeof(int));
	_qsort(Arr, Swp, len);

ii) Merge Sort

As quicksort, merge sort also fundamentally uses the inherent sorted nature of singleton arrays. However, in contrast to quicksort, merge sort does not split the input array into a correctly placed pivot and two arrays left to sort, but rather uses a merging algorithm to merge two already sorted arrays into one sorted array — conceptually moving from the bottom up instead of from the top down.
To merge two sorted subarrays, simply take the smallest of the first elements of both subarrays to create a new array; repeating until both subarrays are empty. Once a merging function is implemented, simply recursively split the input array and merge all singleton arrays together to sort the entire array. As quicksort, merge sort also has an average time complexity of \mathcal{O}(n\cdot\log{}n).

// merge two arrays located in memory next to each other
void merge(int *Arr, int *Swp, int llen, int rlen) {
	// build array by choosing the smallest of both
	// array's first elements, merging both arrays
	int len = llen+rlen, l = 0, r = 0;
	for (int j = 0; j < len; j++) {
		if (l < llen && r < rlen)
			if (Arr[l] < Arr[llen+r]) Swp[j] = Arr[l++];
			else                      Swp[j] = Arr[llen+r++];
		else if (l < llen) Swp[j] = Arr[l++];
		else if (r < rlen) Swp[j] = Arr[llen+r++];
	// move swap to array
	for (int j = 0; j < len; j++)
		Arr[j] = Swp[j];

// merge sort (recursive part)
void _msort(int *Arr, int *Swp, int len) {
	// split arrays' lenghts, sort split arrays
	int llen = len/2, rlen = len-llen;
	if (llen > 1) _msort(Arr, Swp, llen);
	if (rlen > 1) _msort(Arr+llen, Swp, rlen);
	// merge arrays
	merge(Arr, Swp, llen, rlen);

// merge sort (initialization)
void MSort(int *Arr, int len) {
	if (len < 2) return;
	int *Swp = malloc(len*sizeof(int));
	_msort(Arr, Swp, len);

iii) Natural Merge Sort

Instead of relying on splitting the input array into singleton lists, natural merge sort searches subarrays which naturally appear sorted and merges them to form one sorted list. The same merging algorithm as in traditional merge sort is used; as merge sort, natural merge sort also has an average time complexity of \mathcal{O}(n\cdot\log{}n).

// natural merge sort
void NMSort(int *Arr, int len) {
	if (len < 2) return;
	int *Swp = malloc(len*sizeof(int));
	for (int k = 0, j = 0; j < len; k = j+1) {
		for (j = k; j < len-1 && Arr[j] <= Arr[j+1];) j++;
		if (j < len) merge(Arr, Swp, k, j-k+1);

iv) Insertion Sort / Selection Sort

Being a rather trivial sorting algorithm, insertion sort builds up a new array by always removing the input array’s smallest element. Equivalently, selection sort always selects the input array’s smallest element. Thus I have only implemented insertion sort, not using any swap memory but only swapping array elements with each other. Insertion sort is a trivially brute force approach to sorting, making it a rather inefficient algorithm with an average time complexity of \mathcal{O}(n^2).

// insertion sort
void ISort(int *Arr, int len) {
	if (len < 2) return;
	// loop through array elements
	for (int j = 0; j < len; j++) {
		// find minimum element
		int m = j;
		for (int i = j+1; i < len; i++)
			if (Arr[i] < Arr[m]) m = i;
		// swap minimum element with current element
		if (j != m) {
			int swp = Arr[j];
			Arr[j] = Arr[m];
			Arr[m] = swp;

v) Bubble sort

Bubble sort works by iteratively finding neighbouring elements which are misaligned, swapping them to sort the entire list. Presumably, the rather amusing name comes from observing how elements behave while they are being sorted, bubbling to the top like a pop’s fizz. Its average time complexity is fairly inefficient at \mathcal{O}(n^2).

// bubble sort
void BSort(int *Arr, int len) {
	while (len-- > 1)
		for (int j = 0; j < len; j++)
			if (Arr[j] > Arr[j+1]) {
				int swp = Arr[j];
				Arr[j] = Arr[j+1];
				Arr[j+1] = swp;


In conclusion, one most likely will not have to worry about implementing sorting algorithms, as most modern languages supply an essential tool belt to the user, complete with various sorting methods and predefined data structures dependent on sorting. Nevertheless, the theory and diversity of sorting algorithm fascinates me, as it shows how widely different tactics can be used to solve the same seemingly mundane problem; sorting an array of integers.
All implementations shown in this post have been tested several thousands of times on arrays with varying lengths — to see the test function take a look at the full source code.

// C code; Jonathan Frech; 19th, 26th of January 2018
// Implementation of quicksort, merge sort,
// insertion (selection) sort and bubble sort.

Continue reading


Lyapunov Fractal

Lyapunov fractals are mathematical objects living in the plane, graphing regions of stability or chaos regarding a certain logistical map following an ever-changing population growth, alternating between two values.
I implemented a Lyapunov fractal viewer in Java 1.8 which lets you freely move around the plane, set sequences and iteration depths to explore the fractal. Source code can be seen below or downloaded, as can the Java executable (, Lyapunov.jar).

Zircon Zity
Articles on the topic of Lyapunov fractals are a post by Earl Glynn from the year 2000 in which they talk about their Lyapunov fractal generator written in Pascal — a rewrite of a software written in 1992. Also worth reading is A. Dewdney’s article about Mario Markus’ work (Scientific American, September 1991).

My first encounter with this fractal was whilst browsing Wikipedia and stumbling across its Wikipedia entry. Since it was a fractal and looked fairly intricate and thus explorable, I set out to write my own renderer — I chose to implement it in Java, as it is a compiled language with a nice set of GUI libraries. Since Wikipedia listed an algorithm for generating Lyapunov fractal images, I thought an implementation would be fairly straight-forward. However, als always, the devil is in the detail and I quickly noticed that while the short Wikipedia entry looks convincing and well-written at first glance, lacks to answer deeper questions regarding the very topic it is about.

Eerie Tendrils
The following is a description of the fractal generation algorithm. It is a modified version of the algorithm detailed by Wikipedia which addresses certain ambiguities the original had (more on those later).

  • Take as input a complex point (a,b) \in \mathbb{R}^2 and a sequence S^* consisting of the letters \text{A} and \text{B}; for example S^* = \text{AAAAAABBBBBB}.
  • Construct a function S \colon \mathbb{N}_0 \to \{\text{A},\text{B}\}, n \mapsto S^*_{(n \mod |S^*|)} which returns the zero indexed n-th sequence entry and wraps around to the sequence’s start once the sequence’s end is hit.
  • Construct a function r \colon \mathbb{N}_0 \to \{a,b\}, n \mapsto \begin{cases}a&\text{if } S(n) = \text{A}\\b&\text{if } S(n) = \text{B}\end{cases} which selects either a or b.
  • Let x_0=0.5 and define x_n=r(n-1)\cdot x_{n-1}\cdot (1-x_{n-1}).
  • Calculate the Lyapunov exponent \lambda as follows.
    \lambda = \lim\limits_{N \to \infty} \frac{1}{N} \cdot \sum\limits_{n=1}^{N} \log_2{|r(n)\cdot(1-2\cdot x_n)|}
    Since calculating the limit as N goes to infinity is rather difficult in practice, one can simply use a sufficiently large N and pretend to have reached infinity.
  • Output a color value according to \lambda. I chose green for \lambda < 0 and blue for \lambda \geq 0, using arbitrarily defined value ranges to map \lambda to an actual color.

A Spec of Fractal
The following is a Java snippet which implements the algorithm described above.

// choose a or b according to Seq and n
static double r(String Seq, int n, double a, double b) {
	if (Seq.charAt(n%Seq.length()) == 'A') return a; else return b;
// calculate a pixel color (0x00rrggbb) for given parameters
static int LyapunovPixel(double a, double b, String Seq, int N) {
	// array of all x_n; x_0, the starting value, initialize all x_n values
	double[] X = new double[N+1]; X[0] = .5;
	for (int n = 1; n <= N; n++) X[n] = r(Seq,n-1,a,b)*X[n-1]*(1-X[n-1]);
	// calculate the Lyapunov exponent (to a certain precision dictated by N)
	double lmb = 0;
	for (int n = 1; n <= N; n++)
		lmb += Math.log(Math.abs(r(Seq,n,a,b)*(1-2*X[n])))/Math.log(2);
	lmb /= N;

	// infinity was hit, use a black pixel
	if (Double.isInfinite(lmb)) return 0x000000;

	// color pixel according to Lyapunov exponent
	double MIN = -1, MAX = 2;
	if (lmb < 0) return ((int)(lmb/MIN*255))<<8;
	else         return ((int)(lmb/MAX*255))<<0;

Lyapunov Spike
Coming back to Wikipedia’s algorithm, there were a few things I found irritating at best when attempting my implementation and thus addressed in the algorithm description seen above. A closer look at potentially misleading or ambiguos statements follows, together with my reasoning to resolve them.

It is not clear whether the sequence is zero or one indexed, though it has to be zero indexed as x_0=0.5, x_{n+1}=r_n\cdot\dots evaluates to x_1=r_0\cdot\dots, implying the definition of r_0 and thus S_0.

It is not clear which logarithm is meant; the natural logarithm, a generic \log_b or the dyadic logarithm — the latter is actually used. To find the actual logarithm base, I dug deeper and used Wikipedia’s external links to find a post by Earl Glynn, answering this question.

It is not clear what is meant by the second half of the sentence beneath the Lyapunov exponent. It reads “… dropping the first summand as r_0(1-2x_0) = r_n\cdot 0 = 0 for x_0 = 0.5.” As the sum starts with n=1 and one would not dare to calculate \log_2{|r(0)\cdot(1-2\cdot x_0)|} = \log_2{0} for x_0 = 0.5, this sentence’s existence bewilders me.

It is not clear how exactly the colors are derived, only that they have something to do with the Lyapunov exponent. I simply chose arbitrary values that looked convincing for mapping \lambda to a pixel color.

Dark Swirl
One of the most frustrating bugs I came across was an unexplainable axis flip. My code generated the fractal just fine except for the fact that every image was flipped along the diagonal crossing the origin with a 45^\circ angle to the horizontal. It was as though the coordinates (a,b) were swapped somewhere in my code and I simply could not figure out where.

Finally, after hours of looking at the same code over and over again, a closer look at Earl Glynn’s post brought an end to my misery. Just below the three welcoming fractal renderings, a screenshot of their software is shown — complete with a blue and red line indicating the coordinate system’s orientation. a and b are — contrary to all coordinate systems involving parameters named after the first two letters in the latin alphabet — indeed flipped. Wikipedia’s images must have simply ran with this decision, without noting it.
Because of this flip, when one wants to render images specified in the reversed sequence format, they simply have to swap all letters (for example \text{BBBABA} becomes \text{AAABAB}).

As Glynn themself says, “I would have reversed the ‘a’ and ‘b’ labels to be consistent with normal ‘x’ and ‘y’ axes conventions, but conform here with the same convention as used by Markus.” (Referring to Mario Markus, co-author of Lyapunov Exponents of the Logistic Map with Periodic Forcing.)

Slurping Cell
After having eliminated all vagueness regarding the fractal generation, writing the outer Java viewer hull was a fairly easy task. As a template I took my Mandelbrot Set III viewer (the reason why most variable names reference complex numbers) complete with multithreading, allowing a pixely fractal exploration until one stops their exploration, letting the thread catch up and display a higher resolution image. The same is done for rendering 4K images and saving them to files in the background — 4K renderings are saved as .png files and named according to their parameters. A list of program controls follows.

  • Mouse dragging lets one pan the complex plane.
  • Mouse scrolling lets one zoom the complex plane.
  • Pressing N evokes a dialogue box where one can specify an iteration depth N.
  • Pressing S evokes a dialogue box where one can enter a sequence S^*.
  • Pressing R resets all fractal parameters to the default.
  • Pressing P initiates a 4K fractal rendering. The 4K fractal rendering thread can be killed by exiting the program prematurely, thus losing (!) the rendering.

// Java 1.8 code; written by Jonathan Frech, 2017

Continue reading