[Python-checkins] bpo-34561: Switch to Munro & Wild "powersort" merge strategy. (#28108)

tim-one webhook-mailer at python.org
Mon Sep 6 13:54:51 EDT 2021

commit: 5cb4c672d855033592f0e05162f887def236c00a
branch: main
author: Tim Peters <tim.peters at gmail.com>
committer: tim-one <tim.peters at gmail.com>
date: 2021-09-06T12:54:41-05:00

bpo-34561: Switch to Munro & Wild "powersort" merge strategy. (#28108)

For list.sort(), replace our ad hoc merge ordering strategy with the principled, elegant,
and provably near-optimal one from Munro and Wild's "powersort".

A Misc/NEWS.d/next/Core and Builtins/2021-09-01-19-21-48.bpo-34561.uMAVA-.rst
M Objects/listobject.c
M Objects/listsort.txt

diff --git a/Misc/NEWS.d/next/Core and Builtins/2021-09-01-19-21-48.bpo-34561.uMAVA-.rst b/Misc/NEWS.d/next/Core and Builtins/2021-09-01-19-21-48.bpo-34561.uMAVA-.rst
new file mode 100644
index 0000000000000..7c48cb39df1c5
--- /dev/null
+++ b/Misc/NEWS.d/next/Core and Builtins/2021-09-01-19-21-48.bpo-34561.uMAVA-.rst	
@@ -0,0 +1 @@
+List sorting now uses the merge-ordering strategy from Munro and Wild's ``powersort()``. Unlike the former strategy, this is provably near-optimal in the entropy of the distribution of run lengths. Most uses of ``list.sort()`` probably won't see a significant time difference, but may see significant improvements in cases where the former strategy was exceptionally poor. However, as these are all fast linear-time approximations to a problem that's inherently at best quadratic-time to solve truly optimally, it's also possible to contrive cases where the former strategy did better.
\ No newline at end of file
diff --git a/Objects/listobject.c b/Objects/listobject.c
index 898cbc20c5f81..565c11e7f384f 100644
--- a/Objects/listobject.c
+++ b/Objects/listobject.c
@@ -1139,12 +1139,11 @@ sortslice_advance(sortslice *slice, Py_ssize_t n)
            if (k)
 /* The maximum number of entries in a MergeState's pending-runs stack.
- * This is enough to sort arrays of size up to about
- *     32 * phi ** MAX_MERGE_PENDING
- * where phi ~= 1.618.  85 is ridiculouslylarge enough, good for an array
- * with 2**64 elements.
+ * For a list with n elements, this needs at most floor(log2(n)) + 1 entries
+ * even if we didn't force runs to a minimal length.  So the number of bits
+ * in a Py_ssize_t is plenty large enough for all cases.
 /* When we get into galloping mode, we stay there until both runs win less
  * often than MIN_GALLOP consecutive times.  See listsort.txt for more info.
@@ -1159,7 +1158,8 @@ sortslice_advance(sortslice *slice, Py_ssize_t n)
 struct s_slice {
     sortslice base;
-    Py_ssize_t len;
+    Py_ssize_t len;   /* length of run */
+    int power; /* node "level" for powersort merge strategy */
 typedef struct s_MergeState MergeState;
@@ -1170,6 +1170,9 @@ struct s_MergeState {
     Py_ssize_t min_gallop;
+    Py_ssize_t listlen;     /* len(input_list) - read only */
+    PyObject **basekeys;    /* base address of keys array - read only */
     /* 'a' is temp storage to help with merges.  It contains room for
      * alloced entries.
@@ -1513,7 +1516,8 @@ gallop_right(MergeState *ms, PyObject *key, PyObject **a, Py_ssize_t n, Py_ssize
 /* Conceptually a MergeState's constructor. */
 static void
-merge_init(MergeState *ms, Py_ssize_t list_size, int has_keyfunc)
+merge_init(MergeState *ms, Py_ssize_t list_size, int has_keyfunc,
+           sortslice *lo)
     assert(ms != NULL);
     if (has_keyfunc) {
@@ -1538,6 +1542,8 @@ merge_init(MergeState *ms, Py_ssize_t list_size, int has_keyfunc)
     ms->a.keys = ms->temparray;
     ms->n = 0;
     ms->min_gallop = MIN_GALLOP;
+    ms->listlen = list_size;
+    ms->basekeys = lo->keys;
 /* Free all the temp memory owned by the MergeState.  This must be called
@@ -1920,37 +1926,74 @@ merge_at(MergeState *ms, Py_ssize_t i)
         return merge_hi(ms, ssa, na, ssb, nb);
-/* Examine the stack of runs waiting to be merged, merging adjacent runs
- * until the stack invariants are re-established:
- *
- * 1. len[-3] > len[-2] + len[-1]
- * 2. len[-2] > len[-1]
+/* Two adjacent runs begin at index s1. The first run has length n1, and
+ * the second run (starting at index s1+n1) has length n2. The list has total
+ * length n.
+ * Compute the "power" of the first run. See listsort.txt for details.
+ */
+static int
+powerloop(Py_ssize_t s1, Py_ssize_t n1, Py_ssize_t n2, Py_ssize_t n)
+    int result = 0;
+    assert(s1 >= 0);
+    assert(n1 > 0 && n2 > 0);
+    assert(s1 + n1 + n2 <= n);
+    /* midpoints a and b:
+     * a = s1 + n1/2
+     * b = s1 + n1 + n2/2 = a + (n1 + n2)/2
+     *
+     * Those may not be integers, though, because of the "/2". So we work with
+     * 2*a and 2*b instead, which are necessarily integers. It makes no
+     * difference to the outcome, since the bits in the expansion of (2*i)/n
+     * are merely shifted one position from those of i/n.
+     */
+    Py_ssize_t a = 2 * s1 + n1;  /* 2*a */
+    Py_ssize_t b = a + n1 + n2;  /* 2*b */
+    /* Emulate a/n and b/n one bit a time, until bits differ. */
+    for (;;) {
+        ++result;
+        if (a >= n) {  /* both quotient bits are 1 */
+            assert(b >= a);
+            a -= n;
+            b -= n;
+        }
+        else if (b >= n) {  /* a/n bit is 0, b/n bit is 1 */
+            break;
+        } /* else both quotient bits are 0 */
+        assert(a < b && b < n);
+        a <<= 1;
+        b <<= 1;
+    }
+    return result;
+/* The next run has been identified, of length n2.
+ * If there's already a run on the stack, apply the "powersort" merge strategy:
+ * compute the topmost run's "power" (depth in a conceptual binary merge tree)
+ * and merge adjacent runs on the stack with greater power. See listsort.txt
+ * for more info.
- * See listsort.txt for more info.
+ * It's the caller's responsibilty to push the new run on the stack when this
+ * returns.
  * Returns 0 on success, -1 on error.
 static int
-merge_collapse(MergeState *ms)
+found_new_run(MergeState *ms, Py_ssize_t n2)
-    struct s_slice *p = ms->pending;
-    while (ms->n > 1) {
-        Py_ssize_t n = ms->n - 2;
-        if ((n > 0 && p[n-1].len <= p[n].len + p[n+1].len) ||
-            (n > 1 && p[n-2].len <= p[n-1].len + p[n].len)) {
-            if (p[n-1].len < p[n+1].len)
-                --n;
-            if (merge_at(ms, n) < 0)
+    if (ms->n) {
+        assert(ms->n > 0);
+        struct s_slice *p = ms->pending;
+        Py_ssize_t s1 = p[ms->n - 1].base.keys - ms->basekeys; /* start index */
+        Py_ssize_t n1 = p[ms->n - 1].len;
+        int power = powerloop(s1, n1, n2, ms->listlen);
+        while (ms->n > 1 && p[ms->n - 2].power > power) {
+            if (merge_at(ms, ms->n - 2) < 0)
                 return -1;
-        else if (p[n].len <= p[n+1].len) {
-            if (merge_at(ms, n) < 0)
-                return -1;
-        }
-        else
-            break;
+        assert(ms->n < 2 || p[ms->n - 2].power < power);
+        p[ms->n - 1].power = power;
     return 0;
@@ -2357,7 +2400,7 @@ list_sort_impl(PyListObject *self, PyObject *keyfunc, int reverse)
     /* End of pre-sort check: ms is now set properly! */
-    merge_init(&ms, saved_ob_size, keys != NULL);
+    merge_init(&ms, saved_ob_size, keys != NULL, &lo);
     nremaining = saved_ob_size;
     if (nremaining < 2)
@@ -2393,13 +2436,16 @@ list_sort_impl(PyListObject *self, PyObject *keyfunc, int reverse)
                 goto fail;
             n = force;
-        /* Push run onto pending-runs stack, and maybe merge. */
+        /* Maybe merge pending runs. */
+        assert(ms.n == 0 || ms.pending[ms.n -1].base.keys +
+                            ms.pending[ms.n-1].len == lo.keys);
+        if (found_new_run(&ms, n) < 0)
+            goto fail;
+        /* Push new run on stack. */
         assert(ms.n < MAX_MERGE_PENDING);
         ms.pending[ms.n].base = lo;
         ms.pending[ms.n].len = n;
-        if (merge_collapse(&ms) < 0)
-            goto fail;
         /* Advance to find next run. */
         sortslice_advance(&lo, n);
         nremaining -= n;
diff --git a/Objects/listsort.txt b/Objects/listsort.txt
index 174777a2658dc..306e5e44d2ecf 100644
--- a/Objects/listsort.txt
+++ b/Objects/listsort.txt
@@ -318,65 +318,104 @@ merging must be done as (A+B)+C or A+(B+C) instead.
 So merging is always done on two consecutive runs at a time, and in-place,
 although this may require some temp memory (more on that later).
-When a run is identified, its base address and length are pushed on a stack
-in the MergeState struct.  merge_collapse() is then called to potentially
-merge runs on that stack.  We would like to delay merging as long as possible
-in order to exploit patterns that may come up later, but we like even more to
-do merging as soon as possible to exploit that the run just found is still
-high in the memory hierarchy.  We also can't delay merging "too long" because
-it consumes memory to remember the runs that are still unmerged, and the
-stack has a fixed size.
-What turned out to be a good compromise maintains two invariants on the
-stack entries, where A, B and C are the lengths of the three rightmost not-yet
-merged slices:
-1.  A > B+C
-2.  B > C
-Note that, by induction, #2 implies the lengths of pending runs form a
-decreasing sequence.  #1 implies that, reading the lengths right to left,
-the pending-run lengths grow at least as fast as the Fibonacci numbers.
-Therefore the stack can never grow larger than about log_base_phi(N) entries,
-where phi = (1+sqrt(5))/2 ~= 1.618.  Thus a small # of stack slots suffice
-for very large arrays.
-If A <= B+C, the smaller of A and C is merged with B (ties favor C, for the
-freshness-in-cache reason), and the new run replaces the A,B or B,C entries;
-e.g., if the last 3 entries are
-    A:30  B:20  C:10
-then B is merged with C, leaving
-    A:30  BC:30
-on the stack.  Or if they were
-    A:500  B:400:  C:1000
-then A is merged with B, leaving
-    AB:900  C:1000
-on the stack.
-In both examples, the stack configuration after the merge still violates
-invariant #2, and merge_collapse() goes on to continue merging runs until
-both invariants are satisfied.  As an extreme case, suppose we didn't do the
-minrun gimmick, and natural runs were of lengths 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2,
-and 2.  Nothing would get merged until the final 2 was seen, and that would
-trigger 7 perfectly balanced merges.
-The thrust of these rules when they trigger merging is to balance the run
-lengths as closely as possible, while keeping a low bound on the number of
-runs we have to remember.  This is maximally effective for random data,
-where all runs are likely to be of (artificially forced) length minrun, and
-then we get a sequence of perfectly balanced merges (with, perhaps, some
-oddballs at the end).
-OTOH, one reason this sort is so good for partly ordered data has to do
-with wildly unbalanced run lengths.
+When a run is identified, its length is passed to found_new_run() to
+potentially merge runs on a stack of pending runs.  We would like to delay
+merging as long as possible in order to exploit patterns that may come up
+later, but we like even more to do merging as soon as possible to exploit
+that the run just found is still high in the memory hierarchy.  We also can't
+delay merging "too long" because it consumes memory to remember the runs that
+are still unmerged, and the stack has a fixed size.
+The original version of this code used the first thing I made up that didn't
+obviously suck ;-) It was loosely based on invariants involving the Fibonacci
+It worked OK, but it was hard to reason about, and was subtle enough that the
+intended invariants weren't actually preserved.  Researchers discovered that
+when trying to complete a computer-generated correctness proof.  That was
+easily-enough repaired, but the discovery spurred quite a bit of academic
+interest in truly good ways to manage incremental merging on the fly.
+At least a dozen different approaches were developed, some provably having
+near-optimal worst case behavior with respect to the entropy of the
+distribution of run lengths.  Some details can be found in bpo-34561.
+The code now uses the "powersort" merge strategy from:
+    "Nearly-Optimal Mergesorts: Fast, Practical Sorting Methods
+     That Optimally Adapt to Existing Runs"
+    J. Ian Munro and Sebastian Wild
+The code is pretty simple, but the justification is quite involved, as it's
+based on fast approximations to optimal binary search trees, which are
+substantial topics on their own.
+Here we'll just cover some pragmatic details:
+The `powerloop()` function computes a run's "power". Say two adjacent runs
+begin at index s1. The first run has length n1, and the second run (starting
+at index s1+n1, called "s2" below) has length n2. The list has total length n.
+The "power" of the first run is a small integer, the depth of the node
+connecting the two runs in an ideal binary merge tree, where power 1 is the
+root node, and the power increases by 1 for each level deeper in the tree.
+The power is the least integer L such that the "midpoint interval" contains
+a rational number of the form J/2**L. The midpoint interval is the semi-
+closed interval:
+    ((s1 + n1/2)/n, (s2 + n2/2)/n]
+Yes, that's brain-busting at first ;-) Concretely, if (s1 + n1/2)/n and
+(s2 + n2/2)/n are computed to infinite precision in binary, the power L is
+the first position at which the 2**-L bit differs between the expansions.
+Since the left end of the interval is less than the right end, the first
+differing bit must be a 0 bit in the left quotient and a 1 bit in the right
+`powerloop()` emulates these divisions, 1 bit at a time, using comparisons,
+subtractions, and shifts in a loop.
+You'll notice the paper uses an O(1) method instead, but that relies on two
+things we don't have:
+- An O(1) "count leading zeroes" primitive. We can find such a thing as a C
+  extension on most platforms, but not all, and there's no uniform spelling
+  on the platforms that support it.
+- Integer divison on an integer type twice as wide as needed to hold the
+  list length. But the latter is Py_ssize_t for us, and is typically the
+  widest native signed integer type the platform supports.
+But since runs in our algorithm are almost never very short, the once-per-run
+overhead of `powerloop()` seems lost in the noise.
+Detail: why is Py_ssize_t "wide enough" in `powerloop()`?  We do, after all,
+shift integers of that width left by 1.  How do we know that won't spill into
+the sign bit?  The trick is that we have some slop. `n` (the total list
+length) is the number of list elements, which is at most 4 times (on a 32-box,
+with 4-byte pointers) smaller than than the largest size_t. So at least the
+leading two bits of the integers we're using are clear.
+Since we can't compute a run's power before seeing the run that follows it,
+the most-recently identified run is never merged by `found_new_run()`.
+Instead a new run is only used to compute the 2nd-most-recent run's power.
+Then adjacent runs are merged so long as their saved power (tree depth) is
+greater than that newly computed power. When found_new_run() returns, only
+then is a new run pushed on to the stack of pending runs.
+A key invariant is that powers on the run stack are strictly decreasing
+(starting from the run at the top of the stack).
+Note that even powersort's strategy isn't always truly optimal. It can't be.
+Computing an optimal merge sequence can be done in time quadratic in the
+number of runs, which is very much slower, and also requires finding &
+remembering _all_ the runs' lengths (of which there may be billions) in
+advance.  It's remarkable, though, how close to optimal this strategy gets.
+Curious factoid: of all the alternatives I've seen in the literature,
+powersort's is the only one that's always truly optimal for a collection of 3
+run lengths (for three lengths A B C, it's always optimal to first merge the
+shorter of A and C with B).
 Merge Memory

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