[New-bugs-announce] [issue11180] More efficient nlargest()/nsmallest()

newacct report at bugs.python.org
Fri Feb 11 02:15:56 CET 2011

New submission from newacct <spoon.reloaded at gmail.com>:

heapq.nlargest()/nsmallest() currently use a size-k heap to get the k largest/smallest items. This takes O(n log k): heapifying the first k elements (O(k)); iterating through (n-k) elements of the list, each insertion/deletion takes O(log k), for O((n-k)log k); and then sorting the elements at the end for O(k log k).

There are several more efficient ways to do this:

1) O(n + k log n): Put the entire list into the heap at once. This takes O(n). Then we can take out the k largest / smallest from the heap in sorted order, each taking O(log n), for a total of O(n + k log n), which is much better than O(n log k) if k is small and n is big. Unfortunately, this takes a lot (O(n)) of memory.

2) O(n + k log k): Use the linear time (O(n)) selection algorithm to find out what the k'th largest/smallest element is. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_algorithm#Linear_general_selection_algorithm_-_Median_of_Medians_algorithm) Then, partition (a la Quicksort) the elements into the ones bigger and smaller than this; this is also O(n). Maybe the partitioning can happen as part of the selection algorithm. At the end, sort the k elements, for O(k log k). If we remove the requirement that the result has to be sorted, then this algorithm is just O(n).

messages: 128357
nosy: newacct
priority: normal
severity: normal
status: open
title: More efficient nlargest()/nsmallest()
type: performance

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