Never written a merge sort for huge files before.

So after this mornings question I though I would give it a go.

#include <vector>
#include <fstream>
#include <iostream>
#include <type_traits>
#include <algorithm>

#include <unistd.h>

// Merger object used by sortFile()
template<typename T>
class Merger
    static_assert(std::is_pod<T>::value, "Currently only support POD types");

    // Each temporary file is represented by a part object.
    struct Part
        std::string     fileName;
        std::ifstream   inputStream;
        T               currentValue;

        // Remember we need to remove the temporary files when done.
            if (!fileName.empty()) {

        // Create a Part object with a file name and unsorted
        // piece of data
        Part(std::string const& partName, std::vector<T>& data)
            : fileName(std::string("/tmp/par.") + partName)
            std::sort(std::begin(data), std::end(data));
                // Write the RAW data out to the temporary file.
                std::ofstream   tmpFile(fileName);
                tmpFile.write(reinterpret_cast<char const*>(data.data()), sizeof(T) * data.size());

            // Open the temporary file for reading.
            // We now have a stream of sorted data we can read.
        Part(Part&& move) noexcept
            : fileName(std::move(move.fileName))
            , inputStream(std::move(move.inputStream))
            , currentValue(std::move(move.currentValue))
        Part(Part const&)               = delete;
        Part& operator=(Part const&)    = delete;
        Part& operator=(Part&&)         = delete;

        // Read a new value from the stream into `currentValue`
        // return true if we read data or false otherwise.
        bool readValue()
            return inputStream.read(reinterpret_cast<char*>(&currentValue), sizeof(currentValue)).good();

    // An array of all the temporary parts we have created.
    std::vector<Part>   parts;

    // We keep a sorted heap of all the parts we have created.
    // That way it is easy to find the next piece of data we want
    // to write to the output file. Note: The Part object contains
    // the stream and the already read next value we want consider.
    std::vector<Part*>  partHeap;

    // This is the number of items we read from the input file
    // before creating a partition.
    std::size_t const   partitionSize;

    // Comparison function to keep the `partHeap` correctly organized.
    static bool partHeapComp(Part const* lhs, Part const* rhs){return lhs->currentValue > rhs->currentValue;}

        Merger(std::size_t partitionSize)
            : partitionSize(partitionSize)

        Merger(Merger&& move) noexcept
            : parts(std::move(move.parts))
            , partHeap(std::move(move.partHeap))
            , partitionSize(move.partitionSize)

        Merger(Merger const&)            = delete;
        Merger& operator=(Merger const&) = delete;
        Merger& operator=(Merger&&)      = delete;

        bool hasValue() const {return !partHeap.empty();}

        // read the next partition from the input stream.
        // then add it to the `parts`
        void addPartition(std::istream& data)
            T               value;
            std::size_t     count;
            std::vector<T>  dataValues;
            for(count = 0; (count < partitionSize) && (data >> value); ++count) {

            parts.emplace_back(std::to_string(parts.size()), dataValues);

        // When we have read all the partitions then create the heap.
        void buildHeap()
            for(auto& part: parts) {
                if (part.readValue()) {

            std::make_heap(std::begin(partHeap), std::end(partHeap), partHeapComp);

        // write the next value to the output stream.
        // return true if there are more values
        bool writeNextValue(std::ostream& output)
            // Pop the next value of the heap and write it to the output stream.
            // Note there are only a couple of values in the heap.
            // One for every partition so around 4 values.
            std::pop_heap(std::begin(partHeap), std::end(partHeap), partHeapComp);
            output << partHeap.back()->currentValue << "\n";

            // For that partition read the next value.
            // If there is a another value then insert it back into heap
            // otherwise we reduce the size of the heap as that partition is empty.
            if (partHeap.back()->readValue()) {
                std::push_heap(std::begin(partHeap), std::end(partHeap), partHeapComp);
            else {
                partHeap.resize(partHeap.size() - 1);

            // if we have more then return true.
            return hasValue();

template<typename T>
Merger<T> partitionFile(std::string const& fileName)
    Merger<T>   result(25'000'000);
    std::ifstream   file(fileName);
    while(file) {

    return result;

template<typename T>
void mergeFiles(std::string const& fileName, Merger<T>& merger)
    std::ofstream   file(fileName);
    while(merger.writeNextValue(file)) {
        // do nothing

template<typename T>
void sortFile(std::string const& fileName)
    Merger<T>      merger = partitionFile<T>(fileName);
    if (merger.hasValue()) {
        mergeFiles(fileName, merger);

int main(int argc, char* argv[])

On a file of a billion randomly generated values.

> time ./a.out data1

real    1m46.914s
user    1m40.099s
sys 0m5.860s
> head data1
> tail data1
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TobySpeight: Sorry about that. Fixed. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2017 at 15:34

1 Answer 1

  • partitionFile functionality seems to belong to the constructor.

    Along the same line, I don't see the value in exposing addPartition and buildHeap.

  • writeNextValue is bound too strong to the IO (and looks very Javan). Consider implementing (a forward) Merger::iterator.

  • Part seems to not closing its inputStream.

  • "/tmp/par." + partName allows (unlikely but possible) conflict with some other process (for example, another instance of merge).

  • A portable temp file management is a huge pain. For example there is no guarantee that the /tmp directory does exists at all. Consider std::filesystem::temp_directory_path, even though it is only available in .

  • \$\begingroup\$ It's probably reasonable to not explicitly close the stream - that's why we have destructors, after all. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2017 at 16:04

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