Clojure: sorting tuples

A tuple is a finite ordered sequence of elements. A common use of tuples in Clojure is for representing pairs of data that are related; for example a key and a value when mapping over a map (hashmap/dictionary). That being said, tuples can be of any length and are a common way of representing larger sets of related data in languages that don't use maps as prolifically as Clojure. This articles explores sorting tuples in Clojure.

Sorting same length tuples

If the tuples are the same length, they are sorted by a lexical sort; with the first item used for the primary sort, the second item for the secondary sort etc.

(sort [[2 3] [1 2] [1 1]])

=> ([1 1] [1 2] [2 3])

The default comparator will throw an error if elements of different types need to be compared:

(sort [[2 3] [1 "w"] [1 1]])

Execution error (ClassCastException) at java.util.TimSort/countRunAndMakeAscending (
class java.lang.String cannot be cast to class java.lang.Number

Sorting different length tuples

If the tuples are of different lengths the default sort will be based on the length of the tuples rather than a lexical sort of their contents, falling back on the lexical sort for tuples of the same length:

(sort [[2 3] [1 2 1] [1 1] [1 0]])

=> ([1 0] [1 1] [2 3] [1 2 1])

Sorting different length tuples by their contents

If we want different length tuples to be sorted by a lexical sort of their contents, we need to write our own comparator:

(defn tuple-compare [a b]
  (let [[x & xs] (seq a)
        [y & ys] (seq b)
        c        (compare x y)]
    (cond (nil? x)    c
          (#{1 -1} c) c
          :else       (recur xs ys))))

(sort tuple-compare [[1 1] [2] [3 1] [0 1 2] [2]])

=> ([0 1 2] [1 1] [2] [2] [3 1])

This comparator recursively compares each item in the tuple using the compare function.

This concludes this guide to sorting tuples in Clojure. For more articles on sorting in Clojure check out: Clojure: sorting and Clojure: sorting a sequence based on another sequence.