Design and Analysis Radix Sort


Radix sort is a small method that many people intuitively use when alphabetizing a large list of names. Specifically, the list of names is first sorted according to the first letter of each name, that is, the names are arranged in 26 classes.

Intuitively, one might want to sort numbers on their most significant digit. However, Radix sort works counter-intuitively by sorting on the least significant digits first. On the first pass, all the numbers are sorted on the least significant digit and combined in an array. Then on the second pass, the entire numbers are sorted again on the second least significant digits and combined in an array and so on.

Algorithm: Radix-Sort (list, n) 
shift = 1 
for loop = 1 to keysize do 
   for entry = 1 to n do 
      bucketnumber = (list[entry].key / shift) mod 10 
      append (bucket[bucketnumber], list[entry]) 
   list = combinebuckets() 
   shift = shift * 10 


Each key is looked at once for each digit (or letter if the keys are alphabetic) of the longest key. Hence, if the longest key has m digits and there are n keys, radix sort has order O(m.n).

However, if we look at these two values, the size of the keys will be relatively small when compared to the number of keys. For example, if we have six-digit keys, we could have a million different records.

Here, we see that the size of the keys is not significant, and this algorithm is of linear complexity O(n).


Following example shows how Radix sort operates on seven 3-digits number.

Input 1st Pass 2nd Pass 3rd Pass
329 720 720 329
457 355 329 355
657 436 436 436
839 457 839 457
436 657 355 657
720 329 457 720
355 839 657 839

In the above example, the first column is the input. The remaining columns show the list after successive sorts on increasingly significant digits position. The code for Radix sort assumes that each element in an array A of n elements has d digits, where digit 1 is the lowest-order digit and d is the highest-order digit.