Haskell Merge Sort
September 11th, 2017
Image by Kelsie DiPerna
One of the things I love about Haskell is its expressiveness. What is full of process in an imperative language is often a simple description in Haskell. As an example, consider one possible merge sort implementation.
function merges two sorted lists. The heads of each list are compared, and the smaller element is prepended to a merge on the remaining lists. When one list is empty, the other list holds the largest elements in sorted order, and we can append these.
The resulting list is sorted regardless of the length of the input lists.
If one list is empty, the other list is immediately returned. If both lists are empty, an empty list is returned.
function splits a list into two halves with the
A couple of examples to demonstrate halving.
function implements merge sort by recursively halving a list and merging the sorted lists as they return. The merge starts by assembling zero- and one-element lists returned from the
function can be tested on base cases and simple lists of even and odd length.
In terms of speed, a good low-level implementation of merge sort will outperform the Haskell version. But Haskell provides another benefit.
Notice that our merge sort implementation has stayed general by only using type variables. This means we can sort
, and any other type in the
Alternative representations can also be inferred. The largest 64-bit integer is 9,223,372,036,854,775,807. What happens if we want to sort larger values? Haskell will infer that we must be working with the arbitrary precision
type instead of the bounded
Expressiveness and type inference are a couple of the benefits of a Haskell merge sort. The benefits should be weighed against the performance cost. A Haskell merge sort implementation is probably not the best choice in some cases, but it is a nice choice when you can make it.