Shuffle a list

Bob Techentin posted to comp.lang.tcl, in response to someone who wanted to get a list of numbers in a random order, the following:


To get a unique list of numbers (say, 1-1000) in a random order, you can first create an ordered list, then randomize the list by walking through once and performing a random "swap". Something like this:

  for {set i 0} {$i<1000} {incr i} {lappend nums $i}
  for {set i 0} {$i<1000} {incr i} {
    set j [expr {int(rand()*1000)}]
    set temp [lindex $nums $j]
    set nums [lreplace $nums $j $j [lindex $nums $i]]
    set nums [lreplace $nums $i $i $temp]
  }

KPV I'd like to emphasize here a point that JE makes below which is that most of the algorithm here are biased, specifically, not all permutations are equally likely. Only shuffle3, shuffle4, shuffle5a, and shuffle10 are unbiased.

Here's a quick proof that the algorithm above is biased: it iterates over N items each time selecting from N possible random numbers for a total of N**N possible random sequences. Each random sequence generates a permutation, but since N! is less than N**N, some permutations must be generated more than once. Furthermore, N! does not divide N**N, so some permutations must be generated more often than others.

The folklore unbiased algorithm is to iterate over the list and swapping the ith entry with a random entry between i and the end of the list. You can easily show that this produces exactly N! equally likely possible results.

JRW Not really folklore -- it's in Knuth vol 2, and occurs as an exercise in Cormen-Leiserson-Rivest. Also see willdye's references below.


willdye If you're here merely to find a fast, pre-written shuffle algorithm, be advised, dear coder, that shuffling is like sorting -- there is no single "correct" answer, and it's very easy to find answers which look to be correct but in fact have subtle (and occasionally serious) problems. One of my favorite discussions of the matter is at: [L1 ] and: [L2 ]. You'll probably be OK if you use an established algorithm such as Knuth-Fisher-Yates (shown in links above), AND take care to initialize your random number generator properly. As the long discussion on the rest of this page indicates, however, the subject simply does not have a single correct answer which applies to everyone in every situation.

--- JRW I disagree with willdye. If you want an algorithm that will produce all possible permutations of the input list with equal probability in linear time, then there's only one alternative: the nice, neat implementation of Knuth-Fisher-Yates given in shuffle10a.

The other algorithms on this page are, for the most part, variations on the following strategy: assign each input element a random number in the range 1 to N, and then sort. Naive implementations use lsort (n log n comparisons); smarter ones use bucket sort (linear time). This strategy does NOT produce a uniform distribution. In fact, it's quite likely two or more list elements will be assigned the same random number, in which case they stay in input order. There's a few example implementations that may be faster than shuffle10a, but they have their own problems. Most everything else is pointless -- they don't give you a uniform distribution of permutations, they don't run any faster than shuffle10a, and they're no easier to code.


Off topic to the rest of the page - but an alternative to get the original request (list of numbers in random order) you could use ::RandomOrg::getSequence 1 1000 - see True Random Numbers for details


This got me thinking about a variety of methods, and performance for each.

The cool thing about Bentley 's method is that it works in linear time; it's essentially selection sort where a random oracle determines the element to be selected. Alas, lreplace isn't the greatest performer on the planet. The problem is that it copies the list every time, meaning that Bob's code degenerates into quadratic behavior, as I discovered when I timed it.

I then hacked up the following stuff to experiment with the behavior:

An afterthought: lreplace isn't the problem. The problem is a bizarre interaction with lreplace and the lifetime of a Tcl_Obj. Following up on an idea of Donal Fellows, I hacked up the shuffle1a procedure below to make sure that I was updating the list in place, and the performance improved incredibly!

Another afterthought: Bob Techentin posted to comp.lang.tcl the shuffle3 procedure with the message:

I've tried timing this on my WinNT machine, and it runs 3x slower than shuffle1a, which I don't completely understand. It should just be moving the elements from one list to another, but something else must be going on.

My (KBK) explanation is that lreplace has a special case when you're replacing elements of the list with the same number of elements. In this case, it is able to avoid copying. Otherwise, it winds up needing to slide the elements down, leading to quadratic behavior once again.

One more time... Steve Cohen posted:

This is a close approximation of/exactly the code that Kevin ran in his test, isn't it? I wonder if we could convince him to run *just one more routine* through his gamut. Here it is: <snip>

Note that the only big modification is to simply swap the list element selected from the first list with the nth element from the original list. By not modifying the size of the list, Tcl seems to leave it alone (in memory). On my (really slow P133 laptop) machine, this runs linearly with list size. I would be interested to see what Kevin gets with his big-hootie computer.

KBK: Congratulations, Steve, shuffle4 is the best so far, for large lists. Numbers below.

Christoph Bauer adds a significant improvement for short lists, in the shuffle5a procedure below. Note that it, too requires the K combinator for adequate performance. Like shuffle3, it begins to show the strain of quadratic behavior once the list has many thousands of elements.

MS: for slightly faster performance (5-10% on Tcl8.4a3, as of 2001/05/23), and even uglier appearance, replace the K combinator with the equivalent idiom:

    [K x y]   <=>  [lindex [list x y] 0]

Shuffle a list correctly: JE Note that of the procedures below, only shuffle3, shuffle4, and shuffle5(a) return a random permutation with uniform distribution (that is, each permutation is equally likely). With shuffle1(a), shuffle2, and shuffle6 some orders are more likely than others.

Also be aware that if you're using any of these to simulate shuffling a deck of cards, you should use a different random number generator. expr rand() uses a 32-bit seed, so the routines below return one of at most 2^32 different permutations; on the other hand there are 52! ways to shuffle a deck of cards (which is a lot bigger than 2^32).


  • Procedure to generate a list of n numbers:
  proc iota { n } {
      for { set i 0 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
          lappend retval $i
      }
      return $retval
  }
  • Several of the procedures rely on Donal Fellows's K combinator:
  proc K { x y } { set x }
  • shuffle0 is the obvious method of generating random keys, then sorting the list according to those keys. TFW 4/18/01 This was broken due to initial newlist 0 (should be empty). Also, if you insert the set retval [list] you get a non trivial speedup. Moral, don't let lappend initialize your lists for you.
  proc shuffle0 { list } {
      set newlist [list]
      foreach element $list {
          lappend newlist [list [expr { rand() }] $element]
      }
      set retval [list]
      foreach pair [lsort -real -index 0 $newlist] {
          foreach { random item } $pair {
          lappend retval $item
          }
      }
      return $retval
  }
  • shuffle1 is Techentin's implementation of Bentley's method.
   proc shuffle1 { list } {
      set n [llength $list]
      for { set i 0 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
          set j [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
          set temp [lindex $list $j]
          set list [lreplace $list $j $j [lindex $list $i]]
          set list [lreplace $list $i $i $temp]
      }
      return $list
  }
  • shuffle1a is Techentin's code, with a clever hack (due to Donal Fellows) for managing the lifetime of the Tcl_Obj that represents the list so that it doesn't get copied needlessly.
  proc shuffle1a { list } {
      set n [llength $list]
      for { set i 0 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
          set j [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
          set temp1 [lindex $list $j]
          set temp2 [lindex $list $i]
          set list [lreplace [K $list [set list {}]] $j $j $temp2]
          set list [lreplace [K $list [set list {}]] $i $i $temp1]
      }
      return $list
  }
  • shuffle2 implements Bentley's method, unpacking the list to an array first.
  proc shuffle2 { list } {
      set n 0
      foreach element $list {
          set data($n) $element
          incr n
      }
      for { set i 0 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
          set j [expr { int( rand() * $n ) }]
          set temp $data($j)
          set data($j) $data($i)
          set data($i) $temp
      }
      for { set i 0 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
          lappend retval $data($i)
      }
      return $retval
  }
  • shuffle3 is Bob Techentin's implementation of Stephen D. Cohen's proposed method.
  proc shuffle3 { list } {
      set n [llength $list]
      while {$n>0} {
          set j [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
          lappend slist [lindex $list $j]
          set list [lreplace [K $list [set list {}]] $j $j]
          incr n -1
      }
      return $slist
  }
  • shuffle4 is Steve Cohen's improved implementation:
  proc shuffle4 { list } {
      set n [llength $list]
      while {$n>0} {
          set j [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
          lappend slist [lindex $list $j]
          incr n -1
          set temp [lindex $list $n]
          set list [lreplace [K $list [set list {}]] $j $j $temp]
      }
      return $slist
  }
  • shuffle5 and shuffle5a are from Christoph Bauer. They differ only in the use of the K combinator.
 proc shuffle5 { list } {
    set n 1
    set slist {}
    foreach item $list {
        set index [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
        set slist [linsert $slist $index $item]
        incr n
    }
    return $slist
 }


 proc shuffle5a { list } {
    set n 1
    set slist {}
    foreach item $list {
        set index [expr {int(rand()*$n)}]
        set slist [linsert [K $slist [set slist {}]] $index $item]
        incr n
    }
    return $slist
 }
  • The 'shuffle6' procedure uses the new [lset] command in Tcl 8.4:
 proc shuffle6 { list } {
     set n [llength $list]
     for { set i 1 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
         set j [expr { int( rand() * $n ) }]
         set temp [lindex $list $i]
         lset list $i [lindex $list $j]
         lset list $j $temp
     }
     return $list
 }
  • The test harness times the various methods and prints the results.
 puts "                Times in usec for shuffle methods"
 puts "    Method                    List length"
 puts "                    1      10     100    1000   10000"
 puts "    -------------------------------------------------"
 set methods [lsort -dictionary [info procs shuffle*]]
 foreach method $methods {
    puts -nonewline "    "
    puts -nonewline [format %-9s $method]
    foreach n { 1 10 100 1000 10000 } {
        set list [iota $n]
        if { ( [string equal $method shuffle1]
              || [string equal $method shuffle5] )
            && $n > 1000 } {
           puts -nonewline "  ------"
        } else {
           set t [lindex [time { $method $list } [expr 100000/$n]] 0]
           puts -nonewline [format "%8d" $t]
        }
    }
    puts ""
 }

The results are summarized in the following table (8.4a4, WinNT 4.0 SP6, 550 MHz PIII-SpeedStep):

                Times in usec for shuffle methods
    Method                    List length
                    1      10     100    1000   10000
    -------------------------------------------------
    shuffle0       33     118     997   11045  183446
    shuffle1       28     169    2055  105000  ------
    shuffle1a      33     187    1717   17243  176520
    shuffle2       39     203    1852   19034  229225
    shuffle3       28     128    1097   12195  267413
    shuffle4       30     138    1182   11808  121336
    shuffle5       20      95    1023   35988  ------
    shuffle5a      24     108     908   10266  250796
    shuffle6        8      74     633    6409   66740

More results (8.4.4 Win2k SP3)

                 Times in usec for shuffle methods
    Method                     List length
                     1      10     100    1000   10000
    --------------------------------------------------
    shuffle0        31      99     834   10114  168250
    shuffle1        28     181    2733  188349  ------
    shuffle1a       49     180    1659   16585  169083
    shuffle2        32     154    1430   15825  200545
    shuffle3(*)     59     131    1170   19785  798204
    shuffle4(*)     29     139    1211   11937  122958
    shuffle5        19     122    1261   46737  ------
    shuffle5a(*)    23     104     917   12966  542084
    shuffle6         9      67     609    4958   52110
    shuffle7        23      56     291    2588   28875
    shuffle9        22      59     431    5566   99201
    shuffle10(*)    10      73     629    6190   64879

 (*) unbiased shuffling

If anyone wants to see a graph of the result, you can get one by running the code at Shuffle a list: graph results.


Summary:

  • Using the built-in [lset] command wins over everything else. This benchmark is just made for [lset].

Among the other methods:

  • For short lists (up to a hundred elements or so is "short"), Bauer's shuffle5 procedure is a clear win, because it exploits the speed of foreach. (This tradeoff may change, given that the maintainer is contemplating bytecoding other list operations in version 8.4.)
  • For lists longer than a few hundred elements, any implementation that does list surgery without the K combinator runs into extremely expensive quadratic behavior. What happens is that linsert or lreplace discovers that it has a Tcl_Obj with a reference count greater than 1 and is forced to copy it. For medium-sized lists, say 100-1000 elements, shuffle5a, which is shuffle5 with the K combinator added, is a clear winner.
  • Similarly, shuffle3 causes lreplace to copy, on average, half the list. This copying leads to quadratic behavior as well, although it's not nearly as bad as 'shuffle1'. The shuffle5 procedure runs into the same behavior in linsert.
  • The shuffle4 procedure emerges a winner for the longest lists,

although shuffle0, shuffle1a, and shuffle2 are all extremely close. The lesson here is that it's important to structure the code so that the list never gets resized -- otherwise, there's a lot of memory copying involved. Some of the bytecode changes between 8.3.2 and 8.4 appear to favor shuffle1a instead.

  • lsort is surprisingly inexpensive. All of these procedures seem to be dominated by the linear overheads.

Kevin Kenny


Jeffrey Hobbs: I have added this to the tclbench suite, but I find after quite a bit of testing, that shuffle1a consistently performs as well as or better than shuffle4, with shuffle5a being a good general solution for lists up to 1000 or so items. My last timings with 8.3.3:

Win2K/P3-800:

  Tcl8.3.3      Times in usec for shuffle methods
  Method                    List length
                  1     10      100     1000    10000
 --------------------------------------------------
 shuffle0        50     155    1315   13920  214300
 shuffle1-s      24     125    2191  130895  ------
 shuffle1a       30     170    1578   15725  162750
 shuffle2        36     176    1515   15870  200800
 shuffle3        30     150    1378   16825  535800
 shuffle4        32     165    1478   14675  151700
 shuffle5-s      18      66     839   38505  ------
 shuffle5a       22      96     864   12015  478200

Linux/P3-???:

  Tcl8.3.3      Times in usec for shuffle methods
  Method                    List length
                  1     10      100     1000    10000
 --------------------------------------------------
 shuffle0       143     405    3089   32796  396658
 shuffle1-s      64     296    3579  398035  ------
 shuffle1a       79     407    3653   36153  363324
 shuffle2       104     431    3598   36537  402357
 shuffle3        87     406    3470   37679  778334
 shuffle4        92     436    3734   36761  368350
 shuffle5-s      47     182    1854   89727  ------
 shuffle5a       54     239    2033   22177  616730

Csan - 12 Nov 2002: I've made a comparison between Tcl 8.3.3 and Tcl 8.4.0 on the same hardware. Hardware specs:

 /proc/cpuinfo:
 vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
 cpu family      : 6
 model           : 8
 model name      : Pentium III (Coppermine)
 stepping        : 3
 cpu MHz         : 666.545
 cache size      : 256 KB
 fpu             : yes
 fpu_exception   : yes
 cpuid level     : 2
 wp              : yes
 flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 mmx fxsr sse
 bogomips        : 1330.38

OS specs:

 Debian GNU/Linux sid, using linux kernel 2.4.19-686 / P3-667

                                               Times in usec for shuffle methods
    (A - Tcl 8.3.3   B - Tcl 8.4.0    C - B improvement over A, if A is 100%)
                                                      List length
               |       1       |       10        |        100        |         1000        |           10000        |
    -----------+----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+------+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-----+
    Method     |  A    B    C  |  A     B     C  |   A      B     C  |   A       B      C  |    A        B       C  |
    -----------+----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+------+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-----+
    shuffle0   | 34   21  -39% | 157    76  -52% | 1439    703  -52% | 15774    8454  -47% |  215209   147609  -32% |
    shuffle1   | 27   17  -38% | 144   102  -30% | 2013   1491  -26% | 87920   82390   -7% |  ------   ------  ---- |
    shuffle1a  | 32   22  -32% | 173   150  -14% | 1588   1413  -12% | 15662   14168  -10% |  158882   142911  -11% |
    shuffle2   | 40   22  -45% | 184   102  -45% | 1627    908  -45% | 16590    9488  -43% |  199949   126498  -37% |
    shuffle3   | 33   19  -43% | 160   106  -34% | 1412    967  -32% | 15059   10516  -31% |  273615   226784  -18% |
    shuffle4   | 35   20  -43% | 174   112  -36% | 1547   1012  -35% | 15137    9952  -35% |  154841   102327  -34% |
    shuffle5   | 20   12  -40% |  85    59  -31% |  953    710  -26% | 30021   28559   -5% | 4957511  4243210  -15% |
    shuffle5a  | 23   15  -35% | 103    82  -21% |  897    745  -17% |  9694    8335  -15% |  215593   202902   -6% |
    shuffle6   | --    6  ---- | ---    47  ---- | ----    418  ---- | -----    4134  ---- | -------    42905  ---- |
    shuffle7   | 24   16  -33% |  78    40  -49% |  537    231  -57% |  4912    2027  -59% |   51494    22621  -56% |

(See shuffle7 procedure below) My tests show a rough 33% improvement of Tcl 8.4.0 over Tcl 8.3.3, not counting in the overall and stunning winner shuffle6!


DKF - Note for future work: It should be possible to produce a much more efficient version of the list shuffling with the new [lset] command in 8.4, but it is too late right now for me to actually write it (especially as I've not got a compiled version of 8.4 to hand right now anyway.) KBK Done. Can you update the picture? Csan Updated mine. ;)


I quote DKF: "A good way that is easy to understand is to convert the list into a list of pairs by pairing (converting to a two-element list) each element with a random number from [expr rand()]. Then use [lsort -index] to sort on those random numbers and remember to ditch them as you extract..."


RS wonders whether in shuffle6, testing for equality of i and j would scrape out some microseconds (swapping the same element would be wasted time, even with lset):

 proc shuffle6a { list } {
     set n [llength $list]
     for { set i 1 } { $i < $n } { incr i } {
         set j [expr { int( rand() * $n ) }]
         if {$i != $j} {
            set temp [lindex $list $i]
            lset list $i [lindex $list $j]
            lset list $j $temp
         }
     }
     return $list
 }
 suchenwi        Jó napot, János!
 Csan         I'm benchmarking your new shuffle6a...
 suchenwi        Is it faster?
 Csan        nope
 Csan         shuffle6       6      47     417    4111   43409
        shuffle6a       6      50     462    4602   47802

suchenwi Ah. So the time the if eats on every turn is more that how much is won in case of i==j. This speaks for the efficiency of lindex and lset... Well, if the probability of i==j is 1/N (length of list), it can be expected to occur once in the iteration. OK, so withdraw that variant...


Csan 13-Nov-2002: I'd like to request for comments on my shuffle7 procedure below... it is the best so far (updated comparison charts). It is for certain that the resulting list shuffled. Thanks to RS and dkf, a few optimizations to the proc give further dramatical speed-ups!:

 {rand()<.5} instead of {[expr rand()>.5} - the {} argument is passed to [expr] anyway...
 [concat $l1 $l2 $l3 $l4] instead of "$l1 $l2 $l3 $l4" - to avoid list->string conversion

The magnitude of the improvement is:

    shuffle7   | 25   16  -36% |  83    44  -47% |  583    286  -51% |  5415    2594  -52% |   58367    29838  -49% |
    shuffle7   | 24   16  -33% |  78    40  -49% |  537    231  -57% |  4912    2027  -59% |   51494    22621  -56% |

shuffle7:

 proc shuffle7 { list } {
   set l1 {}
   set l2 {}
   set l3 {}
   set l4 {}
   foreach le $list {
     if {rand()<.5} {  
       if {rand()<.5} {
         lappend l1 $le
       } else {
         lappend l2 $le
       }
     } {
       if {rand()<.5} {
         lappend l3 $le
       } else {
         lappend l4 $le
       }
     }
   }
   return [concat $l1 $l2 $l3 $l4]
 }

For example, given a 10 element list, shuffle7 has given the following results (10 consecutive runs):

 1 7 9 4 8 0 2 3 5 6
 4 6 7 9 0 3 5 8 1 2
 0 7 3 6 8 1 2 5 4 9
 5 7 9 4 6 0 1 2 3 8
 0 3 9 2 6 4 5 7 1 8
 1 2 0 9 3 6 7 4 5 8
 1 7 0 4 8 2 6 3 5 9
 0 4 5 1 3 6 8 9 2 7

I find one of the advantages of shuffle7 to be the backwards compatibility for the earlier versions of Tcl.


RS: Very impressive. However, I have the vague feeling that this shuffling is biased - the first list elements have the best chance to come out first again, while the last tend to come in the end - as your example above shows. With four "buckets", the first element of a list of any length has a 25% chance to be first again, against 1/N as a purely random shuffle would be.


Csan RS: Yes, I agree, it only shuffles (almost like you would do when playing card games with friends... :)), but doesn't tend to return a perfectly randomly shuffled list. One could maybe use shuffle7 to simulate real-life behavior when writing card games in Tcl by adjusting the number of buckets.

JRW shuffle7 only generates 4^N permutations of N elements, which is a vanishingly small fraction of N!. It is equivalent to randomly assigning each input element a bucket number in the range 1 to 4, and then sorting the elements by bucket number. (Using, obviously, bucket sort.) Elements in the same bucket retain their input order. shuffle7 cannot, for example, produce the permutation 2 1 4 3 6 5 8 7.


RS has this recursive variation, which does shuffle (without initial list length), but appears not blindingly fast, and has the same recursion depth problem:

 proc shuffle8r {list } {
   if {[llength $list]>1} {
     set i [expr {int([llength $list]*rand())}]
     set pick [lindex $list $i]
     set res [shuffle8r [lreplace $list $i $i]]
     lappend res $pick
   } else {
     set list
   }
 }

KPV Here's yet a totally different way to shuffle a list. The shuffling is not perfectly random, but it's very easy to code, fairly fast and more often than not it's good enough.

 proc shuffle9 { list } {
    foreach a $list {
        set arr($a) 1
    }
    return [array names arr]
 }

RS: Note however that duplicates in the input list are removed. JRW: You could fix that by doing "incr arr($a)" instead of "set arr($a) 1", and then appending each element $arr($a) times to the output list. But that would clunk up the algorithm to the point where it might not be useful.


KPV Here's an unbiased version that uses lset.

 proc shuffle10 { list } {
     set len [llength $list]
     set len2 $len
     for {set i 0} {$i < $len-1} {incr i} {
         set n [expr {int($i + $len2 * rand())}]
         incr len2 -1

         # Swap elements at i & n
         set temp [lindex $list $i]
         lset list $i [lindex $list $n]
         lset list $n $temp
     }
     return $list
 }

MS here's a slightly faster one - it does essentially the same thing, but with fewer ops in the inner loop. KPV's chooses randomly the element to put at spot i among all elements with index >=i, starting at i=0 and going up: i.e., it chooses first element 0, then element 1 among those not already chosen, ... then element i among those not already chosen, ...

This one performs the same algorithm, but backwards: it chooses first the last element, then the second to last among those not already chosen, ...

 proc shuffle10a list {   
    set len [llength $list]
    while {$len} {
        set n [expr {int($len*rand())}]
        set tmp [lindex $list $n]
        lset list $n [lindex $list [incr len -1]]
        lset list $len $tmp
    }
    return $list
 }

TFW Here is a variation of shuffle10 that can morph a list

 ##
 # Morph a list (i.e. slightly shuffle it)
 #
 proc morph {list {perc 100}} {
    set modulo [expr {100/$perc}]
    expr {srand([clock clicks])}
    set len [llength $list]
    set len2 $len
    incr len -1
    for {set i 0} {$i < $len} {incr i} {
       set n [expr {int($i + $len2 * rand())}]
       incr len2 -1
       if {$i%$modulo==0} {
          # Swap elements at i & n
          set temp [lindex $list $i]
          lset list $i [lindex $list $n]
          lset list $n $temp
       }
    }
    return $list
 }
 %morph {1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20} 100
 7 15 1 9 11 19 6 5 4 13 3 10 20 2 16 8 17 12 18 14
 %morph {1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20} 10 ;# only 10% change
 12 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 18 1 13 14 15 16 17 11 20 19

AMG: RS's innocuous typo on the unsort page caused me to write another version of this page under the title Shuffling a list. Shrug!


Using TclX functions:

fortinal: Sept. 18, 2007 - This is a compact way to shuffle a list using random and lvarpop functions provided by TclX package.

 package require Tclx

 # create data_list_rand by shuffling data_list  
 while {[set list_length [llength $data_list]] > 0} {
    lappend data_list_rand [lvarpop data_list [random $list_length]]
 }

Note that the initial data_list is destroyed.

JRW How is lvarpop implemented? I can't believe it's a constant time operation, and I worry this has hidden n log n or quadratic behavior.


Stu 2008-11-02 No comment.

proc shuffle {list} {set sl {}; set i -1; foreach i [regsub -all {.\..+?%} [lsort [subst [lrepeat [llength $list] \[expr\ rand()\]%\[incr\ i\]]]] {}] {lappend sl [lindex $list $i]}; return $sl}

aricb 2009-02-04 Exploiting [lsort -command].

  proc randomsort {a b} {
    return [expr {int(rand()*2) * 2 - 1}]
  }
  proc shuffle {list} {
    return [lsort -command randomsort $list]
  }

JRW I think you're being optimistic when you write a comparison function that violates the requirements of lsort. The behavior of lsort is no longer guaranteed. Another issue: lsort probably uses the quicksort algorithm. The recommended implementation of quicksort uses insertion sort for small sublists. But using your comparison function with insertion sort, each new element will on average be moved 1/2 a step from its initial position. So I think it's likely you'll get outputs that are not all that shuffled.

Lars H: Actually, lsort uses mergesort. But lsort -command is imfamous for being slow, and the above should not produce a uniform distribution. From looking at the implementation , I get the feeling that for a list with 2^n+1 elements, this procedure would put the last element first with probability 0.5, second with probability 0.25, third with probability 0.125, etc.


BenGoldberg - 2010-10-10 12:20:50

Here's a way to shuffle a list which is based (loosely) on quicksort.

proc shuffle { list } {
   if { [llength $list] < 2 } { return $list }
   set lft {}
   set rgt {}
   foreach item $list {
      if { rand() > 0.5 } {
          lappend lft $item
      } else {
          lappend rgt $item
      }
   }
   concat [shuffle $lft] [shuffle $rgt]
}

Caution: This code was typed from memory, and has not been tested.

Assuming that rand is not biased, correlated, or otherwise statically flawed, this procedure can be proven to be able to produce a uniform distribution.


TRA 2019-01-21

Adding my approach as there seems to be nothing quite like it here yet. Quickly checking it seems to be pretty robust.

proc shuffle {list} {
    set r ""
    foreach i $list {
        set r [linsert $r [expr {int(rand()*[incr n])}] $i]
    }
    return $r
}

wdb 2019-10-14 My one is optimized for short code:

proc shuffle list {
  while {[llength $list] > 0} {
    set index [expr {int(rand() * [llength $list])}]
    lappend result [lindex $list $index]
    set list [lreplace $list $index $index]
  }
  lappend result
}