Mastering Quicksort: A comprehensive Guide for Developers

Quicksort, a renowned sorting algorithm boasting its high speed compared to selection sort, frequently wins the hearts of programmers around the world. This article aims to illuminate its methodology and nuances using straightforward examples that delve into the handling of arrays with various lengths.

Gaining Familiarity: Simple Arrays

Straightforward as it may seem, a methodical understanding of quicksort begins with the most rudimentary array - an empty array or an array with a single element. In sorting such an array—voila—it's already sorted! Thus, these cases form our base case.

Moving on, let's consider an array with two elements. The algorithm's job is to ensure that the first element is smaller than the second. Otherwise, it flips them.

Applying Divide and Conquer Strategy

Things get trickier once we escalate to a three-element array. It's important to remember that quicksort is a faithful practitioner of the Divide and Conquer strategy.

The aim is to decompose the array until we reach our base case. Consequently, in quicksort, we assign an anchor role to one element of the array, called the pivot. For simplicity, initially, we elect the first item of the array as our pivot.

This leads us to perform partitioning, where we identify elements smaller than the pivot and those greater. Post-partitioning, you'll have:

  • A subarray with elements inferior to the pivot
  • The pivot
  • A subarray with elements superior to the pivot

Do note that both these subarrays are partitioned but not sorted. How do we sort them then? Bob's your uncle here, as our base case has already paved the way. Apply quicksort recursively to both subarrays and combine the results.

Tackling Larger Arrays

Once you've mastered sorting a three-element array, you can tackle an array with more elements using the same approach. Let's consider a four-element array where we choose the largest number as the pivot. Consequently, one of the partitions will contain the remaining three elements, which we already know how to handle!

Once you grasp this pattern, sorting larger arrays becomes a breeze. For an illustrative JavaScript implementation of Quicksort, visit our GitHub repository or see the code snippet below.

function quicksort(array) {
  if (array.length < 2) {
    return array

  const pivotIndex = Math.floor(Math.random() * array.length)
  const pivot = array[pivotIndex]
  array.splice(pivotIndex, 1)

  const lower = array.filter((el) => el <= pivot)
  const higher = array.filter((el) => el > pivot)

  return quicksort(lower).concat([pivot], quicksort(higher))

console.log(quicksort([10, 5, 2, 3])) // [2, 3, 5, 10]

Importance of Pivot Choice

Selecting the pivot in Quicksort is not a trivial task. In fact, the pivot choice significantly influences the efficiency of the entire sorting process.

To understand this, imagine a scenario where you always pick the first element as the pivot. Now consider what happens when quicksort is applied to an already sorted array. Interestingly, Quicksort does not have a mechanism to check if an array is pre-sorted, which means it proceeds to attempt sorting it anyway.

The issue here is that the sorting process does not yield two balanced partitions due to the specific pivot choice (the first element). In other words, you are not truly dividing your problem into smaller, equal parts. What you get instead is an entirely empty subarray and another that has to absorb all the elements. This imbalance subsequently leads to excessive recursion, flooding the call stack, which induces performance inefficiencies.

On the contrary, opting to choose the middle element as the pivot proffers more balanced partitions. The idea here is to distribute the sorting load more equally between two smaller subarrays. This approach effectively splits the problem into two approximately equal parts, minimizing the need for excessive recursive executions. Evidently, each separate sorting task is easier and quicker to handle, thereby contributing to a more efficient Quicksort process overall.

In other words, a simple choice in pivot selection can drastically alter how the stack call is utilized, thereby potentially augmenting or hindering the efficiency of the sorting. Therefore, choosing a random element from the array as the pivot whenever Quicksort is used emerges as an efficient strategy to enhance the overall performance and limit the recursions.


Mastering quicksort requires understanding its base cases, implementation of the Divide and Conquer strategy, and the pivotal role of the pivot. Just like a well-sorted array, understanding these building blocks will empower you to sort any array, no matter its size.

And remember, choice matters—especially when choosing the pivot!

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