Sorting Algorithms As Special Cases Of A Priority Queue Sort

Speaker: Bengt Aspvall (Blekinge Tekniska Högskola)

Abstract: We revisit the main sorting algorithms in a novel way. Our approach offers a review and exercise after the algorithms have been taught to students. It is done in a way that emphasizes relationships between the sorting algorithms, and shows how considering abstraction and extreme cases can lead to the generation of new algorithms.

A number of authors (including textbook authors) have noted particular relationships between algorithms, such as an uneven split in merge sort being equivalent to insertion sort. We use a flexible priority queue, the d-heap, to derive three common sorting algorithms. We combine this with using a BST as a priority queue, plus prior observations in the literature, to show strong relationships between the main sorting algorithms that appear in textbooks.

Using this approach students are able to revisit a number of algorithms and data structures and explore elegant relationships between them. This approach can also lead to exercises and exam questions that go beyond desk-checking to evaluate students’ understanding of these algorithms.