JavaScript Sort an Array of Objects

I ran into an interesting problem today. I had an array of objects that I wanted sorted on a certain property. My obvious thought didn’t work! (Update: I got a comment below from Peter Michaux who points out a nicer solution, it is included here:)

// Array of Objects
var obj_arr = [ { age: 21, name: "Larry" },
                { age: 34, name: "Curly" },
                { age: 10, name: "Moe" } ];

// This doesn't work!
obj_arr.sort( function(a,b) { return a.name < b.name; });

// This does work! (Peter's update, very fast)
obj_arr1.sort(function(a,b) { return a.name < b.name ? -1 :
                                     a.name > b.name ?  1 : 0; });

That kind of frustrated me. Sorting is one of those things I expect to be available in all languages. I don’t want to have to write a sorting algorithm every time I need to sort. So I looked into things, pulled up a Javascript Quicksort Algorithm and manipulated it to support any compare function.

Now that I have the freedom to truly write a compare function that works for objects! I also changed around certain parts of the code I found online to actually extend the Array class and make the extra functions hidden. Take a look at the sample usage:

// Defaults to (a<=b) sorting.  Great for numbers.
var arr = [1234, 2346, 21234, 3456, 32134, 3456, 1234, 2345, 23, 42523, 1234, 345];

// Object Array
var obj_arr = [ { age: 21, name: "Larry" },
                { age: 34, name: "Curly" },
                { age: 10, name: "Moe" } ];

arr.quick_sort();
// => [23, 345, 1234, 1234, 1234, 2345, 2346, 3456, 3456, 21234, 32134, 42523]

obj_arr.quick_sort(function(a,b) { return a.name < b.name });
// => Curly, Larry, Moe

obj_arr.quick_sort(function(a,b) { return a.age < b.age });
// => Moe (10), Larry (21), Curly (34)

For those who want to see the code be glad, its free. I carried the copyright with it but its rather loose. Grab the JavaScript Source Here! Enjoy:

Array.prototype.swap=function(a, b) {
  var tmp=this[a];
  this[a]=this[b];
  this[b]=tmp;
}

Array.prototype.quick_sort = function(compareFunction) {

  function partition(array, compareFunction, begin, end, pivot) {
    var piv = array[pivot];
    array.swap(pivot, end-1);
    var store = begin;
    for (var ix = begin; ix < end-1; ++ix) {
      if ( compareFunction(array[ix], piv) ) {
        array.swap(store, ix);
        ++store;
      }
    }
    array.swap(end-1, store);
    return store;
  }

  function qsort(array, compareFunction, begin, end) {
    if ( end-1 > begin ) {
      var pivot = begin + Math.floor(Math.random() * (end-begin));
      pivot = partition(array, compareFunction, begin, end, pivot);
      qsort(array, compareFunction, begin, pivot);
      qsort(array, compareFunction, pivot+1, end);
    }
  }

  if ( compareFunction == null ) {
    compareFunction = function(a,b) { return a<=b; };
  }
  qsort(this, compareFunction, 0, this.length);

}

Update

Peter Michaux pointed out something very important. The sort() function can be made to work if it returns numeric output (-1,0,1). His approach is far superior. Here was a benchmark I took:

var obj_arr1 = [];
var obj_arr2 = [];
var filler = [ { age: 21, name: "Larry" },
               { age: 34, name: "Curly" },
               { age: 10, name: "Moe" } ];
for (var i=0; i<5000; i++) {
  rand = Math.floor( Math.random() * 3 );
  obj_arr1.push( filler[rand] );
  obj_arr2.push( filler[rand] );
}

var s = new Date();
obj_arr1.sort(function(a,b) { return a.name < b.name ? -1 : a.name > b.name ? 1 : 0; });
var e = new Date();
console.log(e.getTime()-s.getTime()); // => 75 ms

s = new Date();
obj_arr2.quick_sort(function(a,b) { return a.name < b.name });
e = new Date();
console.log(e.getTime()-s.getTime()); //  => 4444 ms

That shows drastic differences for arrays as large as 5000 elements (with not too random data). 75 ms versus 4444 ms (over 4 seconds). Doing the math: (4444/75) => 59.253 times better! Moral of the story, don’t rush into thinking something doesn’t exist!

So if that’s the way to do it, then I want to make it easier on me. My arrays are generally going to be under 100 in size, and at such a size building a function dynamically instead of writing a custom function works just about as well (although if you were using objects, polymorphism and a compare function would be the best way to go). Here is a simple function I can use to more quickly build compare functions in order to ascend sort an array on multiple properties!

function buildCompareFunction(arr) {
  if (arr && arr.length > 0) {
    return function(a,b) {
      var asub, bsub, prop;
      for (var i=0; i<arr.length; i++) {
        prop = arr[i];
        asub = a[prop];
        bsub = b[prop];
        if ( asub < bsub )
          return -1;
        if ( asub > bsub )
          return 1;
      }
      return 0;
    }
  } else {
    return function(a,b) { return a<=b; };
  }
}

Sample usage would be:

var obj_arr = [
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 20 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 10 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 30 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 40 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 20 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 15 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 35 },
  { name: 'Joe',   age: 25 },
  { name: 'Bill',  age: 5 },
  { name: 'Barry', age: 20 },
  { name: 'Paul',  age: 20 },
  { name: 'Peter', age: 1 },
  { name: 'Smith', age: 25 },
  { name: 'Kary',  age: 30 }
];

obj_arr.sort( buildCompareFunction(['name','age']) );

2 Responses

1

Peter Michaux on June 15, 2008 at 2:07 am  #

JavaScript’s sort works a little differently than you expected

var obj_arr = [ { age: 21, name: “Larry” },
{ age: 34, name: “Curly” },
{ age: 10, name: “Moe” } ];

obj_arr.sort( function(a,b) {
return a.name < b.name ? -1 :
a.name > b.name ? 1 : 0; });

2

Joseph Pecoraro on June 15, 2008 at 2:16 am  #

@Peter: You’re right. I expected it to sort based on true or false but I just re-read w3school’s definition which I scanned over and it says: “you must create a function that compares numbers”.

You bring up a good point and I bet that a benchmark of yours will blow mine out of the water. Its just a tad too late for me to check it out now. I’ll take a look later and update the post. Thanks for point that out!

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