My implementation of insertion, merge, and quick sort, with some utility testing functions. I just wanted to know how I can improve the efficiency and general cleanliness of my code.

(note: I know C++ has partition, but I want to do most of the implementation myself)

In particular, my main algorithms take iterators [first, last], but STL container's v.begin() and v.end() go 1 over the last element, so I have wrappers that call the main algorithm with first and end - 1.

How can I restructure this into the main algorithm (if that would be better)?

#include <iterator>
#include <vector>
using namespace std;

// Insert sort O(n^2) time O(1) space
template <typename Iterator>
void ins_sort(Iterator first, Iterator end) {
    for (Iterator cur = first; cur < end; ++cur) {
        auto key = *cur;
        Iterator ins = cur - 1;
        for (; first <= ins && key < *ins; --ins)
            *(ins + 1) = *ins;    // move 1 to right until correct position's found
        *(ins + 1) = key;

// Merge sort O(nlogn) time O(n) space
template <typename Iterator>
void merge(Iterator first, Iterator middle, Iterator last) {
    using T = typename iterator_traits<Iterator>::value_type;
    vector<T> left(first, middle + 1);
    vector<T> right(middle + 1, last + 1);
    left.push_back(0xFFFFFFF); // sentinel
    for (int i = 0, j = 0, k = 0; k <= last - first; ++k) {
        if (left[i] < right[j]) first[k] = left[i++];
        else first[k] = right[j++];

template <typename Iterator>
void merge_helper(Iterator first, Iterator last) {
    if (first < last) {
        Iterator pivot = first + (last - first)/2;   // half way point rounded down
        merge_helper(first, pivot);
        merge_helper(pivot + 1, last);
        merge(first, pivot, last);

template <typename Iterator>
void mer_sort(Iterator first, Iterator end) {
    merge_helper(first, end - 1);

// Quick sort O(nlogn) time O(n) space
template <typename Iterator>
void quick_sort(Iterator first, Iterator last) {
    if (last - first > 0) {
        auto pivot = *(first + (last - first) / 2); 
        Iterator left {first};
        Iterator right {last};
        while (left <= right) {
            while (*left < pivot) ++left;
            while (pivot < *right) --right;
            if (left <= right) { swap(*left, *right); ++left; --right; }
        quick_sort(first, right);
        quick_sort(left, last);
template <typename Iterator>
void qck_sort(Iterator first, Iterator end) {
    quick_sort(first, end - 1);

Testing code

#include <random>
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

class Rand_int {
    Rand_int(int low, int high) : distribution{low, high} {
    int operator()() {
        return distribution(engine);

    default_random_engine engine;
    uniform_int_distribution<> distribution;

template <typename T>
void print(vector<T> v) {
    for (auto x : v)
        cout << x << ' ';
    cout << '\n';

vector<int> randgen(int max, int num) {
    static Rand_int die{0, max};
    vector<int> res(num);
    for (int i = 0; i < num; ++i)
        res[i] = die();
    return res;
  • There are few problems with merge:

    There is no guarantee that T can be constructed from an integral constant (how about sorting strings?). Even if it could, 0xFFFFFFF (BTW, what is this number?) is not necessarily a largest possible value (e.g.T could be 64 bit wide, or 16 bit wide); besides this value may legitimately belong to user data. Bottom line it, using an artificial sentinel is wrong.

    (left[i] < right[j]) condition breaks merge sort stability (which is very important reason of using merge sort in the first place).

    Calculating pivot as first + (last - first)/2 assumes a random access iterator, which rules out merge sorting linked lists (which is a second important reason for merge sort to be used). Take a look at std::distance and std::advance.

  • C++ has partition for a reason: it is very important algorithm of its own. I strongly recommend to factor it out as a function, and call it from quick_sort.

  • I don't see the reason for qck_sort and mer_sort to exist.

    Take a look on how all std:: algorithms operate on semi-open ranges. One of the reasons for that is that last (in STL sense) serves as a natural sentinel. For example, merging may look along the lines of

    void merge(I first1, I last1, I first2, I last2, O dst)
        while ((first1 < last1) && (first2 < last2)) {
            if (*first1 <= *first2) {
                *dst++ = *first1++;
            } else {
                *dst++ = *first2++;
        while (first1 < last1) *dst++ = *first1++;
        while (first2 < last2) *dst++ = *first2++;
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fixed sentinel with merge (I tested with data with largest valid value and it works now); I'll take a look at effective partitioning; qck_sort and mer_sort just wrap the respective sorts by passing end - 1 for last iterator (can you recommend a better way of dealing with end being 1 after last elem)? \$\endgroup\$ – LemonPi Oct 7 '14 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is against CR rules to edit the code: it invalidates the review. Consider rolling your changes back. You are welcome to post the new version in a follow-up question. \$\endgroup\$ – vnp Oct 7 '14 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, that would make sense; done. But my previous questions remain regarding end being 1 after last element \$\endgroup\$ – LemonPi Oct 8 '14 at 0:10

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