Dev Notes

Various Cheat Sheets and Resources by David Egan/Carawebs.

qsort Comparison Function

David Egan

In C, the qsort() function sorts an array in place using the quickersort algorithm - a variation of quick sort.

Function Signature

#include <stdlib.h>

void qsort(void *base, size_t nmemb, size_t size,
	int (*compar)(const void *, const void *));

Function arguments for qsort():

  1. base: pointer to the start of the array
  2. nmemb: Number of members in the array
  3. size: Size of an individual element in the array
  4. compar: Pointer to a comparison function that accepts 2 x const void * arguments

To use qsort(), you need to include the stdlib.h header - i.e. #include <stdlib.h>.

Comparison Function

The comparison function must return an integer that is:

  • Less than zero if the first argument is considered to be less than the second
  • Zero if the arguments are equal
  • Greater than zero if the first argument is considered to be greater than the second

Be careful with return values - especially if the values being compared are not integers.

Use > or ‘<’ rather than subtraction which may provide unexpected results if comparing non integer values.

Note that the comparison function receives const void * as arguments - and you may need to cast these within the comparison function.


typedef struct triangle
	int a;
	int b;
	int c;
} Triangle;

int compare(const void *x, const void *y)
	const Triangle *a = x, *b = y;
	int res = area(a) != area(b) ? area(a) > area(b) ? 1 : -1 : 0;
	return res;

void sort_by_area(Triangle* tr, int n) {
	qsort(tr, n, sizeof(Triangle), compare);	

The above example sorts an array of Triangle type defined objects according to area (area() has been omitted for brevity).

Note the nested conditional in compare():

  • If area of a and b are not equal, return 1 if the area of a is greater than the area of b, -1 if not.
  • If the area of a and b are equal, return 0.

Also note the line const Triangle *a = x, *b = y; which copies the input pointers into the object required for the comparison.

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