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Radix Sort

In computer science, radix sort is a non-comparative integer sorting algorithm that sorts data with integer keys by grouping keys by the individual digits which share the same significant position and value. A positional notation is required, but because integers can represent strings of characters (e.g., names or dates) and specially formatted floating point numbers, radix sort is not limited to integers.

Where does the name come from?

In mathematical numeral systems, the radix or base is the number of unique digits, including the digit zero, used to represent numbers in a positional numeral system. For example, a binary system (using numbers 0 and 1) has a radix of 2 and a decimal system (using numbers 0 to 9) has a radix of 10.


The topic of the efficiency of radix sort compared to other sorting algorithms is somewhat tricky and subject to quite a lot of misunderstandings. Whether radix sort is equally efficient, less efficient or more efficient than the best comparison-based algorithms depends on the details of the assumptions made. Radix sort complexity is O(wn) for n keys which are integers of word size w. Sometimes w is presented as a constant, which would make radix sort better (for sufficiently large n) than the best comparison-based sorting algorithms, which all perform O(n log n) comparisons to sort n keys. However, in general w cannot be considered a constant: if all n keys are distinct, then w has to be at least log n for a random-access machine to be able to store them in memory, which gives at best a time complexity O(n log n). That would seem to make radix sort at most equally efficient as the best comparison-based sorts (and worse if keys are much longer than log n).

Radix Sort


Name Best Average Worst Memory Stable Comments
Radix sort n * k n * k n * k n + k Yes k - length of longest key


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