Selection sort is an algorithm used to sort an unordered array of items.

Given an unsorted array arr, selection sort builds up a sorted array element by element.

For each element in the original array, we:

  1. assume element arr[n] is the smallest element in the array
  2. check every element after this element (indices n+1 through arr.length-1) to see if any element is smaller than arr[n]
    • if so, we set that element equal to the smallest element in the array
  3. If we found an element smaller than arr[n], we swap positions of arr[n] with this element
    • otherwise, we do nothing and continue to the next element of the array

This can be implemented using two nested for loops and a swap function (switch a & b by holding a in a temporary variable, setting a to b, and setting b to a) to swap out array elements.

The outer for loop performs the “for each element in the original array” in the algorithm statement, and the inner for loop perform the comparison of every other element in the array to this element, checking to see if there is a smaller element that should be swapped to the front.

Give the ‘result’ tab a click below and try entering some text to see it in action.

Words < words ?!

Note that items are ordered lexicographically in JS. You could write a custom compare() function to use instead of < and > to implement custom sorting behavior for different types of objects.

What about sorting direction?

We could sort in descending order, rather than ascending, simply by changing step 1 to sasume that arr[n] is the largest element in the array, and then searching for any elements larger. It’s a good exercise to try on your own: fork the CodePen and adjust the assumption (as well as the comparison step in the for loop) to turn this ascending selection sort into a descending sort.

Edge cases

We throw in two lines to disallow sorting if the array provided is null or if the array length is empty or 1 (an array of length 1 is already ‘sorted’):

if (!arr) { return new Error('No array supplied to sort.'); }
else if (arr.length<=1) { return new Error('Array length is not sortable.'); }

This might seem like a minor step, but as your codebase grows larger, it’s essential to have meaningful error messages & ensure functions are called as you expect them to be. Build good habits early.

codepen

See the Pen Selection Sort by Thomas (@thmsdnnr) on CodePen.