Continuing my journey implementing various sorting algorithms in C, in this post I am departing from the most well-known algorithms and implementing one of my personal favourites — heapsort.
Download the C source file here: heapsort.c.
Contrary to algorithms like quicksort which immediately jump into action sorting the given array, heapsort operates on a data structure called a heap which it efficiently transforms into a sorted list. However, as most arrays are not of the heap structure, heapsort first needs to transform a given array into a heap. Thus heapsort is a two-step process — first creating a heap and then sorting said heap.
Sorting can be applied to an infinite number of objects provided there is an order defined among them. However, not much is gained from changing the underlying value one is sorting which is why in this post I will only focus on sorting integers — technically even only integers in the C type sense; .
A heap is a special type of binary tree that satisfies the heap property — every parent node’s value is not less than its child node’s (if existent) values. Furthermore, a heap is maximally filled at every level but possibly the last where the elements are as far left as possible.
From these properties it follows that the greatest value will be located at the root node.
One can also define a heap such that the root node will house the smallest element; such a heap would lead to a list sorted in descending order (more on that later).
( 86 ) / \ (31) (64) / \ / (20)(-4) (17) A heap containing integers.