Do I need to know how to manually sort?

In regards to Javascript, how important is it to know how to manually sort things (i.e. the inner machinations of the sort() algorithm, etc.)? Is there any reason I shouldn’t rely on the inbuilt Array.sort() function alone? Also, If someone could give me a brief rundown on how sort() works exactly (for instance, why does a - b work?) and the different types of sort, that’d be great.

The way sort’s algorithm works is different in the mainstream browsers

Typical properties one looks for in a sorting algorithm is whether it’s stable (preserves order of elements if they compare the same), and performant (how it scales with larger arrays, and/or performance heuristics)

Recently (mid last year) it changed again in Chrome (really interesting blog post here): https://v8.dev/blog/array-sort

You probably don’t need to be concerned with hand-rolling a sorting algorithm yourself, the one implemented in Chrome/Firefox is good enough for most cases


How Array.prototype.sort() works is by taking in a comparator function which it uses to compare elements to know which side they need to be on.

This comparator function says, for a and b, if f(a,b) < 0 then a must be before b, f(a,b) == 0 then it doesn’t matter which order, and f(a,b) > 0 then a must be after b in the list

The default comparator function coerces values into strings and calculates a side based on string comparisons

You might wonder why that was chosen over numerical sorting, but it’s because arbitrary values can be in a list, and it’s the ‘safest’ default one can pick, as many values can be coerced into a string to be compared in JS

you should know how write algorithms in general. sort() is just a shortcut

thats like asking should why should i learn math if i have a calculator

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.sort() uses TimSort.

Worse-case time complexity O(n log n) and best case is O(n). You’re unlikely to find something faster to sort your data.

when in doubt refer to your bible