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Revise partition Method Signature


This proposal revises the signature for the collection partition algorithm. Partitioning is a foundational API for sorting and for searching through sorted collections.


Based on feedback during the review of proposal SE-0074, Implementation of Binary Search Functions and the list of open issues affecting standard library API stability, this is a revised proposal focused only on the existing collection partition method.

The standard library's current partition methods, which partition a mutable collection using a binary predicate based on the value of the first element of a collection, are used by the standard library's sorting algorithm but don't offer more general partitioning functionality. A more general partition algorithm using a unary (single-argument) predicate would be more flexible and generally useful.

Proposed solution

The standard library should replace the two existing partition methods with a single method taking a unary predicate called partition(by:). partition(by:) rearranges the elements of the collection according to the predicate, such that after partitioning there is a pivot index p where no element before p satisfies the predicate and every element at and after p does satisfy the predicate.

var n = [30, 40, 20, 30, 30, 60, 10]
let p = n.partition(by: { $0 > 30 })
// n == [30, 10, 20, 30, 30, 60, 40]
// p == 5

After partitioning is complete, the predicate returns false for every element in n.prefix(upTo: p) and true for every element in n.suffix(from: p).

Detailed design

partition(by:) should be added as a MutableCollection requirement with default implementations for mutable and bidirectional mutable collections. Any mutable collection can be partitioned, but the bidirectional algorithm generally performs far fewer assignments.

The proposed APIs are collected here:

protocol MutableCollection {
    // existing requirements
    /// Reorders the elements of the collection such that all the elements 
    /// that match the given predicate are after all the elements that do 
    /// not match the predicate.
    /// After partitioning a collection, there is a pivot index `p` where 
    /// no element before `p` satisfies the `belongsInSecondPartition` 
    /// predicate and every element at or after `p` satisfies 
    /// `belongsInSecondPartition`.
    /// In the following example, an array of numbers is partitioned by a
    /// predicate that matches elements greater than 30.
    ///     var numbers = [30, 40, 20, 30, 30, 60, 10]
    ///     let p = numbers.partition(by: { $0 > 30 })
    ///     // p == 5
    ///     // numbers == [30, 10, 20, 30, 30, 60, 40]
    /// The `numbers` array is now arranged in two partitions. The first 
    /// partition, `numbers.prefix(upTo: p)`, is made up of the elements that 
    /// are not greater than 30. The second partition, `numbers.suffix(from: p)`, 
    /// is made up of the elements that *are* greater than 30.
    ///     let first = numbers.prefix(upTo: p)
    ///     // first == [30, 10, 20, 30, 30]
    ///     let second = numbers.suffix(from: p)
    ///     // second == [60, 40]
    /// - Parameter belongsInSecondPartition: A predicate used to partition
    ///   the collection. All elements satisfying this predicate are ordered 
    ///   after all elements not satisfying it.
    /// - Returns: The index of the first element in the reordered collection
    ///   that matches `belongsInSecondPartition`. If no elements in the
    ///   collection match `belongsInSecondPartition`, the returned index is
    ///   equal to the collection's `endIndex`.
    /// - Complexity: O(n)
    mutating func partition(
        by belongsInSecondPartition: @noescape (Iterator.Element) throws-> Bool
    ) rethrows -> Index
extension MutableCollection {
    mutating func partition(
        by belongsInSecondPartition: @noescape (Iterator.Element) throws-> Bool
    ) rethrows -> Index

extension MutableCollection where Self: BidirectionalCollection {
    mutating func partition(
        by belongsInSecondPartition: @noescape (Iterator.Element) throws-> Bool
    ) rethrows -> Index

A full implementation of the two default implementations can be found in this gist.

Impact on existing code

A thorough, though not exhaustive, search of GitHub for the existing partition method found no real evidence of its use. The evident uses of a partition method were mainly either tests from the Swift project or third-party implementations similar to the one proposed.

Any existing uses of the existing partition methods could be flagged or replaced programmatically. The replacement code, on a mutable collection c, finding the pivot p:

// old
let p = c.partition()

// new
let p = c.first.flatMap({ first in
    c.partition(by: { $0 >= first })
}) ?? c.startIndex

Alternatives considered

To more closely match the existing API, the partition(by:) method could be added only as a default implementation for mutable bidirectional collections. This would unnecessarily limit access to the algorithm for mutable forward collections.

The external parameter label could be where instead of by. However, using where implies that the method finds a pre-existing partition point within in the collection (as in index(where:)), rather than modifying the collection to be partitioned by the predicate (as in sort(by:), assuming SE-0118 is accepted).