Edd Mann Developer

Functional Quick sort in Scala and JavaScript

Functional languages provide you with the ability to concisely define the intension of a program, without low-level issues getting in the way. This can be clearly seen when implementing the Quick sort algorithm. Often referred to as ‘partition-exchange’ sort, this divide and conquer algorithm recursively divides a list into two sub-lists, based on a chosen pivot element.


This description can be clearly expressed in the Scala implementation shown below.

def qsort(xs: List[Int]): List[Int] = xs match {
    case Nil => Nil
    case head :: tail => {
        val (low, high) = tail.partition(_ < head)
        qsort(low) ::: head :: qsort(high)

So as to highlight the key points in this post, the example has been restricted to only sort lists of integers. As well as this, the leftmost element is chosen as the pivot, causing worst-case behavior on already sorted arrays.


Having been impressed by how well documented the intension’s of the program were when writing in a functional style, I decided on attempting to implement the same example in JavaScript. Before I was able to achieve this however, I was required to setup a couple of array helper functions, shown below.

Array.prototype.partition = function(fn)
    var xs = [], ys = [], len = this.length, i, e;

    for (i = 0; i < len; i++) {
        e = this[i];
        (fn(e) ? xs : ys).push(e);

    return [xs, ys];

Array.prototype.head = function()
    return this[0];

Array.prototype.tail = function()
    return this.slice(1);

Array.prototype.isEmpty = function()
    return ! this.length;

As you can see the functions defined are similar to functionality already present in Scala’s standard libraries. Variable unpacking is planned for inclusion in ECMAScript 6, though at this time, I decided to use a workaround within the current JavaScript specification that achieves a similar affect.

function unpack(fn, el)
    return fn.apply(null, el);

Finally, with the required helper functionality in place we are then able to define the Quick sort algorithm in JavaScript, using the same rules as the Scala implementation.

Array.prototype.qsort = function()
    if (this.isEmpty())
        return [];

    var head = this.head();

    return unpack(function(low, high) {
        return [].concat(low.qsort(), head, high.qsort());
    }, this.tail().partition(function(_) { return _ < head; }));