I'd like to know what you think of my insertion sort version. I tried to be pythonic and avoid while loops with "ugly" index-management:

def sort(a):
    for i, x in enumerate(a):
        for j, y in enumerate(a):
            if y >= x:
                a.insert(j, a.pop(i))

On lists of 1000 random numbers, it seems to be about four times faster (23 ms vs 96 ms) than the implementation from the top-voted answer for the top result for searching [python] insertion sort.

Benchmark code:

from random import random
from time import perf_counter as timer
from statistics import median

n = 1000
repeat = 50

def insertionSort(lst):
    for index in range(1, len(lst)):

        currentvalue = lst[index]
        position = index

        while position > 0 and lst[position - 1] > currentvalue:
            lst[position] = lst[position - 1]
            position = position - 1

        lst[position] = currentvalue

def sort(a):
    for i, x in enumerate(a):
        for j, y in enumerate(a):
            if y >= x:
                a.insert(j, a.pop(i))

solutions = insertionSort, sort

for r in range(1, 6):
    print('Round %d:' % r, end='')
    a = [random() for _ in range(n)]
    for solution in solutions:
        times = []
        for _ in range(repeat):
            copy = a.copy()
            t0 = timer()
            times.append(timer() - t0)
            assert copy == sorted(a)
        print('   %6.2f ms' % (median(times) * 1e3), end='')
  • \$\begingroup\$ (A) In what context does it make sense to squeeze extra bits of efficiency sorting small lists using insertion sort? (B) How are you benchmarking this? Ideally, add benchmarking code to the question. (C) Assuming that the benchmarking is not flawed, it is a puzzling outcome, since Python lists are not well optimized for inserts and pops from the middle. Perhaps there's an explanation for the non-intuitive outcome, but it might have more to do with Python implementation details than general algorithmic features. I suppose it could be an interesting question for that reason alone. \$\endgroup\$
    – FMc
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FMc (A) Wasn't really about speed but about being pythonic. From what I've seen, sorting algorithms tend to heavily use indices, even in Python implementations (like that other solution I pointed to). I don't like it. I much prefer Python's for-loops over iterables rather than while-loops with indices. So I set out to do that. The faster speed came as a side-effect. (B) See updated question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Manuel
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problems jump out at me in the benchmarking, and I'm surprised by the result. It does seem like a question better suited for StackOverflow than CodeReview. If you do migrate it to StackOverflow I would encourage you to include the other variant as well. It's the most puzzling, because I would have expected a.insert(a.index(y), a.pop(i)) to be very slow indeed. \$\endgroup\$
    – FMc
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FMc That said, I also am interested in speed. Not so much about speed of insertion sort, but about speed in Python, and perhaps we can learn something here. Although, I think insertion sort isn't completely useless but is often used as "base case", sorting small parts when sorting a larger list with let's say merge sort. That still is somewhat moot in Python, as I'm not gonna beat the built-in sort in general. Although I perhaps could beat it when I have a long list and I know that a large prefix is already sorted (since the built-in will first need to figure that out). \$\endgroup\$
    – Manuel
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FMc I don't really see how this is better suited to SO then CR. This is pretty much a golden example of a question that Code Review wants - an OP that cares about readability, speed and anything else, but mostly wants to learn. The amount of questions like this that get close on SO on the other hand... \$\endgroup\$
    – Peilonrayz
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 23:24

3 Answers 3


Code review

You should use better variable names then a, x and y. But otherwise since your code works your code is fine.


It seems a couple of users are confused why Python has strange performance.

Enumerate vs index

This is pretty simple both enumerate and index have the same time and space complexity.

If we have a list of False and set one to True and want to find the index of that, both will run in \$O(n)\$ time. It may seem like enumerate is \$O(1)\$ however it is the same as zip(range(len(sequence)), sequence) and we know range is \$O(n)\$.

The difference in speed that we can see is because index is just faster than enumerate.

Your insertion sort vs Grajdeanu Alex's

This comes down to Python being slower than C. If we look at the core of Grajdeanu's solution:

currentvalue = lst[index]
position = index

while position > 0 and lst[position - 1] > currentvalue:
    lst[position] = lst[position - 1]
    position = position - 1

lst[position] = currentvalue

This is doing two things:

  1. Finding the index to stop iterating to:

    while position > 0 and lst[position - 1] > currentvalue:
  2. Performing an optimized version of insert and pop. This is as they only touch a subset of the array, but insert and pop touch the entire array, worst case. (Python lists are arrays in the backend.)

If you were to translate Grajdeanu Alex's solution into C the code would out perform your insert and pop.


There's a nice property about insertion sort, as you're iterating through the data everything before your index is sorted. This means we can use a better algorithm to find where to insert into.

We can use the strategy you use in the Guess a Number Between 1-100. By halving the amount of the list we have to search each check we can find where to insert into in \$O(\log(n))\$ time. This is faster than than the \$O(n)\$ that your enumerate and Grajdeanu's algorithms are running in.

There is a library for this, bisect, and most of the legwork is in C too, so it's nice and fast.

My timings

My code to get the timings:

import time
import math
import random
import copy
import bisect

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np

from graphtimer import flat, Plotter, TimerNamespace

class Iteration(TimerNamespace):
    def test_baseline(data):

    def test_iterate(data):
        for value in data:

    def test_enumerate_list(data):
        for item in list(enumerate(data)):

    def test_enumerate_partial(data):
        for item in enumerate(data):

    def test_enumerate(data):
        for i, value in enumerate(data):

class Insertion(TimerNamespace):
    def test_baseline(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):

    def test_plain(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        data.insert(j, data.pop(i))

    def test_index(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        data.insert(data.index(value_j), data.pop(i))

    def test_python(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        while i < j:
            data[j] = data[j - 1]
            j -= 1
        data[j] = value_i

class Joined(TimerNamespace):
    def test_enumerate_plain(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        for j, value_j in enumerate(data):
            if value_i <= value_j:
                data.insert(j, data.pop(i))

    def test_enumerate_index(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        for j, value_j in enumerate(data):
            if value_i <= value_j:
                data.insert(data.index(value_j), data.pop(i))

    def test_iterate_index(data, i, value_i, j, value_j):
        for value_j in data:
            if value_i <= value_j:
                data.insert(data.index(value_j), data.pop(i))

class Sorts(TimerNamespace):
    def test_manuel_base(a):
        for i, x in enumerate(a):
            for j, y in enumerate(a):
                if y >= x:
                    a.insert(j, a.pop(i))

    def test_manuel_insert(a):
        for i, x in enumerate(a):
            for y in a:
                if y >= x:
                    a.insert(a.index(y), a.pop(i))

    def test_other(lst):
        for index in range(1, len(lst)):
            currentvalue = lst[index]
            position = index
            while position > 0 and lst[position - 1] > currentvalue:
                lst[position] = lst[position - 1]
                position = position - 1
            lst[position] = currentvalue

    def test_peilon(lst):
        output = []
        for item in lst:
            bisect.insort(output, item)

memoize = {}

def create_args(size, *, _i):
    size = int(size)
    key = size, _i
    if key in memoize:
        return copy.deepcopy(memoize[key])
    array = random_array(size)
    j = random.randrange(0, size)
    array[:j] = sorted(array[:j])
    i = 0
    while array[i] < array[j]:
        i += 1
    output = array, i, array[i], j, array[j]
    memoize[key] = output
    return output

def random_array(size):
    array = list(range(int(size)))
    return array

def main():
    fig, axs = plt.subplots(nrows=2, ncols=2, sharex=True, sharey=True, subplot_kw=dict(xscale='log', yscale='log'))
    axis = [
        (Iteration, {'args_conv': lambda i: [None]*int(i)}),
        (Insertion, {'args_conv': create_args, 'stmt': 'fn(args[0].copy(), *args[1:])'}),
        (Joined, {'args_conv': create_args, 'stmt': 'fn(args[0].copy(), *args[1:])'}),
        (Sorts, {'args_conv': random_array, 'stmt': 'fn(args[0].copy(), *args[1:])'}),
    for graph, (plot, kwargs) in zip(iter(flat(axs)), axis):
                .repeat(10, 2, np.logspace(1, 4), **kwargs)
                .plot(graph, title=plot.__name__)

if __name__ == '__main__':

(click to expand)
enter image description here


  • test_baseline
    The timings are flat as they are the time it takes to run the test suit. When determining the performance of each function we need to see how far away from the baseline it is.

  • test_enumerate & test_enumerate_partial
    These are roughly the same and so we know that enumerate, and not tuple unpacking, is the factor at play that is taking up a lot of performance.

  • test_enumerate, test_enumerate_list & test_iterate
    We can see adding more \$O(n)\$ operations makes the code slower. However enumerate is a pretty slow function.

In all enumerate is slow.


  • test_baseline
    Since we are copying the data in the test suit we see that at times the other functions are running the fastest that they can.

    This is to be expected as we are running tests on a partially sorted array. Ranging from no sort to fully sorted.

  • test_plain
    We can see that data.insert(j, data.pop(i)) is really fast and is consistently around test_baseline. This means if enumerate was faster than data.index then the other answer would not be true.

  • test_index & test_python
    From the areas we can see that optimized Python runs significantly slower than Python's C methods.

    This is to be expected, Python is slow.


These merge the above two together to show the impact of the difference in timings. These are a single insertion of a full insertion sort.

Unsurprisingly given the previous timings test_enumerate_plain is by far the slowest.


This shows that whilst your changes are fast, my answer from '17 is a pretty darn fast insertion sort.

Complexity vs Performance

It should be apparent that in Python these are two entirely different metrics. Complexity is more important when playing on a level playing field, which isn't the case in Python.

But just because Python isn't a level playing field doesn't make it useless. When programming if you try to get the best performance complexity wise then you'll have a good baseline to then optimize from. From here you can then focus on performance which is harder to reason with and harder to compare. And worst case converting the code into C will be far easier.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussions. This conversation has been moved to chat \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 0:02

In which we defend the honor of enumerate()

Although I learned from and appreciated the write-up by Peilonrayz, I was not convinced by all of the characterizations. Also, I had some specific questions not covered in those benchmarks, so I explored on my own using the script below. These notes cover a few things I learned and reframe the discussion a bit.

enumerate() itself is not slow. Merely invoking the enumerate() callable is an O(1) operation, because it does nothing with the underlying iterable of values other than store an iterator created from the original iterable.

Is consuming an iterable via enumerate() slow? That depends on what the alternative is. Compared to direct iteration (for x in xs), yes it's slower and the magnitude of the slowdown is not trivial. But we use enumerate() for a reason: we need the indexes too. In that context, there are three obvious alternatives: manage the index yourself (i += 1), use range() for iteration and then obtain the value by via get-item (x = xs[i]), or ask Python to compute the index (i = xs.index(x)). Compared to those alternatives, enumerate() is quite good: it's a little faster than managing the index yourself or using range(), and it is substantially faster than using list.index() every time. In that light, saying that "index() is just faster than enumerate()" seems not quite right -- but perhaps I misunderstood or there are errors in my findings.

Should you worry about tuple unpacking when using enumerate(). No, it adds almost nothing. And especially don't avoid enumerate() on performance grounds if it forces you to use get-item on the tuple (i = x[0]), because that is slower than direct unpacking.

Some evidence. The numbers below are for a run of the script with --count=1000 (how many numbers to be sorted) and --trials=100 (how many times did we measure to get the statistics). The output here just adds up the total of the times for all trials (--stat=total), but you can also run the code to see mean, min, and max as well (those results tell similar stories). For each function, the table shows both a scaled value (2nd column) and the raw value (3rd column). The scaled values are easier to compare because they are expressed as a ratio relative to the minimum value in that column. The comment column has a schematic summary of function's behavior.

# Just calling enumerate().
# Nothing slow here: O(1).

enumerate_call_baseline        :      1.0 : 0.000018  # it = None
enumerate_call                 :      2.0 : 0.000035  # it = enumerate()

# Direct Python iteration.
# If you need an index, don't use xs.index(x) as a general approach.

iterate_baseline               :     38.4 : 0.000678  # for x in xs: pass
iterate_with_index             :    190.0 : 0.003351  # for x in xs: i += 1
iterate_range_getitem          :    198.6 : 0.458601  # for i in range(len(xs)): x = xs[i]
iterate_get_index              :  24850.3 : 0.438433  # for x in xs: i = xs.index(x)

# Iteration with enumerate().
# Slow only when compared to a no-op for loop.
# If you need the indexes, use enumerate().

enumerate_consume              :    155.6 : 0.002746  # for x in it: pass
enumerate_consume_unpack       :    157.4 : 0.002778  # for i, x in it: pass
enumerate_consume_getitem      :    263.8 : 0.005475  # for x in it: x[0]

Sometimes index() is faster. Here are the benchmarks for the sorting functions we have discussed. As others have reported, the classic compare-swap stategy is worse than those relying on the insert-index-pop family of methods.

sort_baseline          :   1.0 : 0.007389  # xs.sort()
sort_classic_swap      : 618.4 : 4.569107  # classic compare-swap
sort_insert_index_pop  : 122.5 : 0.905445  # xs.insert(xs.index(x2), xs.pop(i))
sort_insert_pop        : 150.7 : 1.113629  # xs.insert(j, xs.pop(i))

I find that counterintuitive at first glance. When reading through the code of sort_insert_index_pop(), my first impression was puzzlement. In particular, don't insert(), index(), and pop() each imply linear scans/shifts of the data? That seems bad, right? Moreover, having done the enumerate benchmarks, I am not entirely convinced by an explanation based solely on the general point that language operations implemented in C (such as list.index()) have a big speed advantage over the language operations implemented directly in Python. Although that point is both true and important, the enumerate benchmarks prove that in the general case, retrieving indexes via xs.index(x) is very slow. Out of the two forces -- the speed of the C-based list methods vs the inefficiency of those costly scans/shifts -- which one has a larger magnitude within the context of the short-circuiting behavior of insertion sort?

Summary of the tradeoffs. The table below tries to summarize the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches. The insert-index-pop approach uses the fastest looping style in its inner loop, makes many fewer swaps, in a faster language -- but the swap itself is algorithmically inefficient. We know from the benchmarks how those tradeoffs weigh out in the end, but I cannot say with confidence that a survey of experienced Python engineers would have necessarily predicted this empirical outcome in advance -- and that is what we mean when we describe something as counterintuitive.

                      | classic-swap | insert-index-pop
                      |              |
Looping machinery     |              |
                      |              |
- for x in xs         | .            | inner
- enumerate()/range() | outer        | outer
- while COND          | inner        | .
                      |              |
Swaps                 |              |
                      |              |
- Number              | N * N / 2    | N
- Cost per swap       | 1            | N * 1.5
- Language            | Python       | C

The code:

import argparse
import sys
from collections import namedtuple
from random import randint, shuffle
from time import time

# Benchmarking machinery.

# Groups of functions that we will benchmark.
    'enumerate': [
        # Just calling enumerate().
        'enumerate_call_baseline',     # it = None
        'enumerate_call',              # it = enumerate()
        # Direct Python iteration.
        'iterate_baseline',            # for x in xs: pass
        'iterate_with_index',          # for x in xs: i += 1
        'iterate_range_getitem',       # for i in range(len(xs)): x = xs[i]
        'iterate_get_index',           # for x in xs: i = xs.index(x)
        # Iteration with enumerate().
        'enumerate_consume',           # for x in it: pass
        'enumerate_consume_unpack',    # for i, x in it: pass
        'enumerate_consume_getitem',   # for x in it: x[0]
    'sort': [
        'sort_baseline',               # xs.sort()
        'sort_classic_swap',           # classic index-based compare-swap
        'sort_insert_index_pop',       # xs.insert(xs.index(x2), xs.pop(i))
        'sort_insert_pop',             # xs.insert(j, xs.pop(i))
    'check_sorts': [],

# Constants and simple data types.
STAT_NAMES = ('count', 'total', 'mean', 'min', 'max')
VALUE_NAMES = ('randint', 'random', 'shuffle', 'direct')
Stats = namedtuple('Stats', STAT_NAMES)
Result = namedtuple('Result', 'func stats')

def main(args):
    # Parse command-line arguments.
    ap = argparse.ArgumentParser()
    ap.add_argument('scenario', choices = list(FUNC_NAMES))
    ap.add_argument('--stat', default = 'total', choices = STAT_NAMES)
    ap.add_argument('--count', type = int, default = 1000)
    ap.add_argument('--trials', type = int, default = 100)
    ap.add_argument('--values', default = 'randint', choices = VALUE_NAMES)
    ap.add_argument('--presort', action = 'store_true')
    opts = ap.parse_args(args)

    # Generate some values.
    xs = generate_values(opts.count, opts.values, opts.presort)

    # Either sanity check to ensure than our sorts actually sort.
    if opts.scenario == 'check_sorts':
        exp = sorted(xs)
        for fname in FUNC_NAMES['sort']:
            ys = xs.copy()
            f = globals()[fname]
            print(ys == exp, fname)

    # Or benchmark some functions.
        funcs = [globals()[fname] for fname in FUNC_NAMES[opts.scenario]]
        results = measure_funcs(funcs, xs, opts.trials)
        report = list(summarize(opts, results))

def generate_values(count, mode, presort = False):
    # Various ways of generating numbers to be sorted or enumerated.
    if mode == 'randint':
        xs = [randint(1, 1000) for _ in range(count)]
    elif mode == 'random':
        xs = [random() for _ in range(count)]
    elif mode == 'shuffle':
        xs = list(range(count))
    elif mode == 'direct':
        xs = [int(x) for x in mode.split(',')]
    return sorted(xs) if presort else xs

def measure_funcs(funcs, xs, trials):
    # Benchmark several functions.
    results = []
    for f in funcs:
        stats = measure(trials, f, xs)
        r = Result(f, stats)
    return results

def measure(trials, func, xs):
    # Benchmark one function.
    times = []
    for t in range(trials):
        ys = xs.copy()
        t0 = time()
        t1 = time()
        times.append(t1 - t0)
    count = len(xs)
    total = sum(times)
    mean = total / len(times)
    return Stats(count, total, mean, min(times), max(times))

def summarize(opts, results):
    # Generate tabular output.

    # Scenario header.
    fmt = '\n# {} : stat={}, count={}, trials={}'
    header = fmt.format(opts.scenario, opts.stat, opts.count, opts.trials)
    yield header

    # For the statistic we are analyzing, get its minimum value.
    min_tup = min(results, key = lambda tup: tup[1])
    min_val = getattr(min_tup[1], opts.stat)

    # Print table for that statistic.
    fmt = '{:<30} : {:8.1f} : {:.6f}'
    for f, stats in results:
        val = getattr(stats, opts.stat)
        scaled_val = val / min_val
        row = fmt.format(f.__name__, scaled_val, val)
        yield row

# Benchmarking targets: enumerate() vs alternatives.

def enumerate_call_baseline(xs):
    it = None

def enumerate_call(xs):
    it = enumerate(xs)

def iterate_baseline(xs):
    for x in xs:

def iterate_with_index(xs):
    i = 0
    for x in xs:
        i += 1

def iterate_range_getitem(xs):
    for i in range(len(xs)):
        x = xs[i]

def enumerate_consume(xs):
    it = enumerate(xs)
    for x in it:

def enumerate_consume_getitem(xs):
    it = enumerate(xs)
    for x in it:

def enumerate_consume_unpack(xs):
    it = enumerate(xs)
    for i, x in it:

def iterate_get_index(xs):
    for x in xs:
        i = xs.index(x)

# Benchmarking targets: in-place insertion sorts.

def sort_baseline(xs):

def sort_classic_swap(xs):
    for i in range(1, len(xs)):
        x = xs[i]
        while i > 0 and xs[i - 1] > x:
            xs[i] = xs[i - 1]
            i -= 1
        xs[i] = x

def sort_insert_pop(xs):
    for i, x1 in enumerate(xs):
        for j, x2 in enumerate(xs):
            if x2 >= x1:
                xs.insert(j, xs.pop(i))

def sort_insert_index_pop(xs):
    for i, x1 in enumerate(xs):
        for x2 in xs:
            if x2 >= x1:
                xs.insert(xs.index(x2), xs.pop(i))

if __name__ == '__main__':
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Something that is an order or two faster, are pop and insert. Those two combined are about 20 times faster than index alone, on this test. And that's for a list of ints, whose comparisons I believe are fairly fast. For more slowly comparing values, index will become accordingly slower, while pop and insert aren't affected. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 22:54

Most of the produced j indexes won't be used, so that's wasteful. Turns out that searching the one that we do need is faster. This further reduced the time to 19 ms:

def sort(a):
    for i, x in enumerate(a):
        for y in a:
            if y >= x:
                a.insert(a.index(y), a.pop(i))
  • \$\begingroup\$ (Found this after posting the question and wasn't sure whether to edit it, and I think it works as a review.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Manuel
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 14:08

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