sort_by() public

Sorts enum using a set of keys generated by mapping the values in enum through the given block.

The result is not guaranteed to be stable. When two keys are equal, the order of the corresponding elements is unpredictable.

If no block is given, an enumerator is returned instead.

%w{apple pear fig}.sort_by { |word| word.length }
              #=> ["fig", "pear", "apple"]

The current implementation of sort_by generates an array of tuples containing the original collection element and the mapped value. This makes sort_by fairly expensive when the keysets are simple.

require 'benchmark'

a = (1..100000).map { rand(100000) }

Benchmark.bm(10) do |b|
  b.report("Sort")    { a.sort }
  b.report("Sort by") { a.sort_by { |a| a } }


user     system      total        real
Sort        0.180000   0.000000   0.180000 (  0.175469)
Sort by     1.980000   0.040000   2.020000 (  2.013586)

However, consider the case where comparing the keys is a non-trivial operation. The following code sorts some files on modification time using the basic sort method.

files = Dir["*"]
sorted = files.sort { |a, b| File.new(a).mtime <=> File.new(b).mtime }
sorted   #=> ["mon", "tues", "wed", "thurs"]

This sort is inefficient: it generates two new File objects during every comparison. A slightly better technique is to use the Kernel#test method to generate the modification times directly.

files = Dir["*"]
sorted = files.sort { |a, b|
  test(?M, a) <=> test(?M, b)
sorted   #=> ["mon", "tues", "wed", "thurs"]

This still generates many unnecessary Time objects. A more efficient technique is to cache the sort keys (modification times in this case) before the sort. Perl users often call this approach a Schwartzian transform, after Randal Schwartz. We construct a temporary array, where each element is an array containing our sort key along with the filename. We sort this array, and then extract the filename from the result.

sorted = Dir["*"].collect { |f|
   [test(?M, f), f]
}.sort.collect { |f| f[1] }
sorted   #=> ["mon", "tues", "wed", "thurs"]

This is exactly what sort_by does internally.

sorted = Dir["*"].sort_by { |f| test(?M, f) }
sorted   #=> ["mon", "tues", "wed", "thurs"]
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