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insertion sort

A simple sorting technique that scans the sorted list, starting at the beginning, for the correct insertion point for each of the items from the unsorted list. Similar to the way people manually sort items, an insertion sort is not efficient for large lists, but is relatively fast for adding a small number of new items periodically. See sort algorithm.

sort algorithm

A formula used to reorder data into a new sequence. Like all complicated problems, there are many solutions that can achieve the same results, and one sort algorithm can re-sequence data faster than another. In the early 1960s, when magnetic tape was "the" storage medium, the sale of a computer system may have hinged on the sort algorithm, since without direct access capability on disk, every transaction had to be sorted into the sequence of the master files in order to update them. Today, sorting is not quite as conspicuous a process as it used to be; however, reports are still presented in sequential order, and myriad indexes to hard disk data must be maintained in a sequential order.

In-Memory Sorting
Today's considerably larger memories enable many sorts to be performed entirely in memory. However, if there is insufficient memory, a sort program may be able to store data that is partially sorted temporarily on disk and merge that data later into the final sequence. See bubble sort, insertion sort, merge sort, quick sort, selection sort, pigeonhole sort and counting sort.

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