I recently came across the following code for generating a "random permutation" ^{1} of an array's elements.
sub naive_shuffle {
my $n = my @p = @_;
for my $i ( 0..$n1 ) {
my $j = int rand $n;
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ]; # swap
}
return @p;
}
It looks reasonable enough, if perhaps a bit zealous (we know that only N  1 swaps are required, since fixing a permutation of N elements is a problem with N  1 degrees of freedom; see "correct algorithm" below). But the real problem with this subroutine is that it does not sample the space of permutations uniformly.
The easiest way to see this is to realize that what this algorithm does sample uniformly is a space of possible execution paths, as determined by the values returned by the expression int rand $n at the various iteration steps. The size of this sample space is N^{N}. To each element of this space corresponds a permutation, but the size of the space of all possible permutations is N! , which is not only smaller than N^{N} for any N > 1, but more importantly, it is not a divisor of N^{N}, which means that it is impossible for the algorithm to give equal weight to all the permutations. Some permutations will be generated more often than the others. For example, in the case of N = 3, there are 27 execution paths; of the 6 possible permutations of 3 elements, 3 of them are generated by 5 execution paths each, and the other 3 by 4 paths each. Hence the former are oversampled relative to the latter.
If this argument were not convincing enough, or if we are trying to assess a sampling algorithm for which a rigorous argument as to its correctness is not readily apparent, we can just run the algorithm many times, keeping a tally of the permutations generated, to get an idea of how evenhanded the sampling was. The only problem with this approach is that the sampling noise puts a limit on the size of the deviations from uniformity that can be detected, and the cost of reducing this noise grows quadratically with the number of sampling runs. Be that as it may, this is the first thing to try, because it's trivial to implement.
If the lazy approach is not acceptable for whatever reason, an alternative is to modifify the algorithm to systematically follow all the possible execution paths, and keep a count of the permutations obtained in the process of traversing all paths.
To beat a dead horse, and to indulge in a freeassociation to a reference I made in another post, here's a "forking paths" strategy to pin down the algorithm's actual sampling. We modify naive_shuffle (taking great care not to alter the sampling) so that instead of generating one permutation, it generates all the possible permutations implied by the multiple evaluations of int rand $n.
The first modification is to "recursify" the loop:
# untested
sub naive_shuffle_rec {
my $i = shift;
my $n = my @p = @_;
my $j = int rand $n;
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ]; # swap
return ++$i < $n ? naive_shuffle_rec( $i, @p ) : @p;
}
Here we rely on recursive calls and an additional "state argument" to handle the iteration of $i from 0 to $n1 ^{2}.
The next step is more delicate. It involves, essentially, replacing the expression int rand $n with all the possible execution paths implicit in this expression. Here's one way to do it:
sub naive_shuffle_traverse {
my $i = shift;
my $j = shift;
my $n = my @p = @_;
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ] if defined $j; # swap
if ( ++$i < $n ) {
for my $j (0..$n1) {
naive_shuffle_traverse( $i, $j, $tally, @p );
}
}
else {
return;
}
}
A call to
naive_shuffle_traverse(1, undef, 1..3);
causes the program to traverse all possible execution paths of the original naive_shuffle( 1..3 ). The business with the 1 value for $i is because now the first call to the function is to set things up for $j.
The only remaining modification is an easy one: we need some way to have the routine keep track of the permutations visited so far. For this we use an additional state variable $tally:
sub naive_shuffle_count {
my $i = shift;
my $j = shift;
my $tally = shift;
my $n = my @p = @_;
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ] if $j > 1;
if ( ++$i < $n ) {
for my $j (0..$n1) {
naive_shuffle_count( $i, $j, $tally, @p );
}
}
else {
$tally>{ "@p" }++;
return;
}
}
Now, executing
my %tally = ();
naive_shuffle_count( 1, undef, \%tally, 1..3 );
results in the following contents for %tally:
DB<2> x \%tally
0 HASH(0x82d7f94)
'1 2 3' => 4
'1 3 2' => 5
'2 1 3' => 5
'2 3 1' => 5
'3 1 2' => 4
'3 2 1' => 4
showing that with this algorithm some permutations are "more equal than others."
At any rate, the correct algorithm, if a monk may allow himself to be categorical about it^{3}, is this one:
sub random_perm {
my $n = my @p = @_;
for ( my $i = $#p; $i > 0; $i ) {
my $j = int rand( $i + 1 );
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ];
}
return @p;
}
Note that the size of the space of possible execution paths for this algorithm is exactly N!.
the lowliest monk
^{1}To put it more pedantic terms, this function is supposed to sample uniformly at random the space of all the permutations of an array's elements.
^{2}As an aside, though this modification involves making the sub recursive, the algorithm is still iterative. This is because the subroutine is tailrecursive, which means that its space requirements, in principle at least, do not grow with the size of the input. For more on this see here, especially here.
^{3}One of the many enduring coinages of the mathematician Pál Erdös was the phrase "straight from The Book", which was his way of pronouncing a mathematical proof as perfect, and which made playful reference to a book where god keeps all mathematical secrets. Well, if this book exists, it surely has a chapter or two for algorithms, and if so, the algorithm used by rand_perm above, which I learned from Knuth, surely is in there. BTW, the subject of candidates for the chapter on algorithm in The Book would be a fine one for another meditation.
Update: I found a page that gives a nice discussion of the algorithm used by naive_shuffle, where it is described as "short, elegant, clear, and wrong". Also, much more material here, although I object to this page's description of "Knuth's algorithm" (the one used by random_perm) as being "harder to code". This page does point out something that I failed to mention, namely that naive_shuffle gives correct results for the case of N = 2, although it works twice harder to achieve it than needed, like a man who, facing a choice of two things, flips a coin twice, disregards the first flip, and takes the outcome of the second.
Re: A bad shuffle by Tanktalus (Canon) on Mar 20, 2005 at 21:36 UTC 
Your stats knowledge/understanding seems to be way above mine ... but wouldn't this be just as good:
sub shuffle
{
my @in = @_;
my @out;
push @out, splice(@in, rand @in, 1) while @in;
@out;
}
? I always get kinda concerned about swapping, I don't know why, when a simple random ordering would suffice. But, I didn't really do that well in stats in university, and that was altogether too long ago to remember anyway. :) Comparing speeds ...
use strict;
use Benchmark qw(cmpthese);
my @cards = 1..52;
cmpthese(1,
{
shuffle => sub { shuffle(@cards) },
random_perm => sub { random_perm(@cards) },
});
sub random_perm {
my $n = my @p = @_;
for ( my $i = $#p; $i > 0; $i ) {
my $j = int rand( $i + 1 );
@p[ $i, $j ] = @p[ $j, $i ];
}
return @p;
}
sub shuffle
{
my @in = @_;
my @out;
push @out, splice(@in, rand @in, 1) while @in;
@out;
}
which gives:
Rate random_perm shuffle
random_perm 6000/s  30%
shuffle 8606/s 43% 
which says that if random_perm is the optimal pseudorandom shuffler, then my code must be suboptimal in that it's skipping something in making it random. For the life of me, I can't think of what.
Update: Changed the benchmark to actually test a real shuffle (woops)  thanks to anonymonk below. Anonymonk points out that this doesn't scale to 52000, which is quite valid for those who need to sort "large" amounts. For those who are only sorting a deck of cards (a very popular subset of shuffling), this may be sufficient ;)  [reply] [d/l] [select] 

Your algorithm looks perfectly fine to me. random_perm is optimal in the limited sense that it achieves a random permutation in place with the miniminum number of swaps. (You can't do this problem in place without swapping.) It is also nice in that its implementation varies little from language to language, and in that respect it is pretty general. In contrast, to implement the algorithm like the one you posted in C is not straightforward; Perl does a lot behind the scenes to allow one to write splice(@in, rand @in, 1) while @in.
That said, I confess that I am quite surprised by the benchmarks. Then again, this is not by any means the first time that intuitions from C programming as to the efficiencies of various operations turn out to be waaaay off when the problem is translated to Perl. Your post is a good reminder to benchmark, benchmark, benchmark. And just to act on this reminder, I decided to benchmark against your original a version of shuffle that omits the last call to splice:
sub shuffle_2 {
my @in = @_;
my @out;
push @out, splice(@in, rand @in, 1) while @in > 1;
push @out, @in;
@out;
}
And once again, my intuition is way off:
Rate shuffle_2 shuffle
shuffle_2 5856/s  5%
shuffle 6140/s 5% 
BTW, I should clarify that I don't recall the real name of the algorithm used by random_perm, if it actually has a name.
Update: As pointed out by several others, the algorithm used by random_perm goes by the name of FisherYates. I've also found it referred to as "Knuth's shuffle."
the lowliest monk
 [reply] [d/l] [select] 

Considering that shuffle and random_perm are called without arguments, and are hence shuffling empty lists, your benchmark doesn't show anything interesting.
If you change the @_ in both subs to @cards, I get the following results:
Rate random_perm shuffle
random_perm 6796/s  32%
shuffle 9955/s 46% 
It may appear that shuffle is faster. But look what happens when we shuffle 52000 cards instead of 52:
s/iter shuffle random_perm
shuffle 1.02  85%
random_perm 0.158 550% 
It's well known that a shuffle based on splice doesn't scale, due to its quadratic behaviour.
Never use a splice based shuffle. For every millisecond you will gain if you shuffle a small list you'll pay a second when shuffling a large list.  [reply] 

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Re: A bad shuffle by Zaxo (Archbishop) on Mar 20, 2005 at 22:39 UTC 
The naive_shuffle() you object to is FischerYates, which is pretty well studied. I think you misapprehend the effect of the algorithm.
While it samples a permutation of the elements, it does not do so by selecting from a list of all permutations, and execution paths have nothing to do with it.
 [reply] 

 [reply] 

perlfaq4: How do I shuffle an array randomly? not only gives a "canonical" implementation of the FisherYates algorithm in Perl, but also refers to the List::Util module's shuffle function, which is an implementation of FisherYates in C. The algorithm is also implemented in Abigail's Algorithm::Numerical::Shuffle, the doco of which gives some citations into the literature (Knuth, Fisher&Yates, etc.).
The FisherYates has also been discussed many times on clpm.
(You can do a Google Groups search. My ego compels me to link to
this posting by yrs trly, which isn't about FY, but uses it.)
 [reply] [d/l] 


No, you're wrong. It looks like FisherYates, but there's a slight difference, in that all his array items can move again on every loop. His "correct algorithm" is actually FisherYates, where per loop, one item gets moved into its final position.
 [reply] 

Sorry Bart, I thouht you were replying to me...
 [reply] 


 [reply] 

Thank you for the information. Perhaps I should have made clearer in that my encounter with this algorithm, which motivated the whole write up, was in researchoriented/scientific code in which it was being used to sample permutations of an array uniformly at random. My contention is that this is a misuse of this algorithm, because it does not sample the space of permutations uniformly.
But in light of what you write about the algorithm's standing and pedigree, the title of my meditation is an awful one. Maybe the whole node should be retracted for the sake of not confusing others. Let me know what you think.
Update: I found a version of FisherYates online (linked from here):
#include <stdlib.h>
void shuffle(int *array, size_t n) {
if (n > 1) {
size_t i;
for (i = 0; i < n  1; i++) { /**/
size_t j = i + rand()/(RAND_MAX / (n  i) + 1); /**/
int t = array[j];
array[j] = array[i];
array[i] = t;
}
}
}
This is equivalent to the algorithm used by my random_perm, not the one used by naive_shuffle. To get the latter algorithm, the lines indicated with /**/ above would have to be changed to:
for (i = 0; i < n; i++) {
size_t j = rand()/(RAND_MAX / n);
the lowliest monk
 [reply] [d/l] [select] 

No, don't withdraw it. I think the thing to do is try and figure out the difference between a "fair shuffle" and a uniformly distributed selection over permutations.
Are the two the same if there are identical cards in the deck? What is the problem that motivated this?
Sometimes confusion, like greed, is good.
 [reply] 
Re: A bad shuffle by chas (Priest) on Mar 21, 2005 at 05:08 UTC 
"But the real problem with this subroutine is that it does not sample the space of permutations uniformly."
It is certainly true that the method described initially does not sample the space of permutations uniformly because the permutations utilized are all a product of $n transpositions, so in particular they all have the same parity (even if $n is even, etc). Zaxo's comment that there may be some difference between a "fair shuffle" and a uniformly distributed selection over permutations" is perceptive. A shuffle might be considered "fair" if it tends to remove specific orderings that exist (e.g. in playing cards, one wants to nullify the effect of various groupings that have occurred in previous hands.) On the other hand, if one wants to model what actually occurs in a sequence of "random" shuffles, then restricting to permutations of fixed parity seems objectionable. It's a bit hard to define what "randomizing" shuffle means; Perci Diaconis (a highly respected mathematician) has studied this and written some good articles on the subject which should be found easily by web search.
chas  [reply] 

 [reply] 

Well, that is a way to define "fair", but my initial comment was that *that* doesn't hold for the first method presented since each of the possible permutations has the same parity.
(The problem of a "random" shuffle is a real one and not word play at all. Consider a dealer shuffling cards in a poker game; how should he do it to maximize the randomness of the result  should he shuffle three times, 7 times, ...? Should the shuffles be somewhat careless (so the cards son't interleave perfectly? (Yes to latter!) Here the idea is that there will be some fixed shuffling routine (e.g. shuffle, shuffle, box, shufffle), but one wants the result to be sufficiently randomized. This isn't precisely the same thing as what the OP asked, but is often what is actually desired when one discusses the question of a "fair" or "random" shuffle. This seemed to be alluded to in one of Zaxo's replies, and as I mentioned it has been analyzed in the liturature.)
chas
 [reply] 
Re: A bad shuffle by itub (Priest) on Mar 21, 2005 at 17:41 UTC 
Note that in practice, even with a perfect shuffling algorithm not all permutations will have equal probability when using a typical rand() function. The problem is that your typical rand() function uses an integer as a seed, and the number of possible seeds is tiny compared to the number of permutations for "large" lists (where "large" might mean something greater than 12).
For example, if you are shuffling 52 items, you have 52! or about 10^68 permutations. Compare that to the roughly 10^10 values that are possible for a 32bit integer!  [reply] 

Fair enough. But people might be using /dev/random or /dev/urandom to generate their random numbers.
 [reply] 
Why reinvent the wheel? by DentArthurDent (Monk) on Mar 21, 2005 at 16:59 UTC 
 [reply] 
Re: A bad shuffle by QM (Parson) on Mar 24, 2005 at 00:28 UTC 
The size of this sample space is NN. To each element of this space corresponds a permutation, but the size of the space of all possible permutations is N! , which is not only smaller than N^{N} for any N > 1, but more importantly, it is not a divisor of N^{N}, which means that it is impossible for the algorithm to give equal weight to all the permutations.
If I'm not mistaken, N!  N^{N}, as N! = 1*2*...*N, and N^{N} = N*N*...*N. Therefore, N^{N}/N! = N^{N1}/(N1)!
How does this affect your comment?
Update: Oops, I was mistaken.
QM

Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made of
 [reply] 

N^{N1}/(N1)! is not an integer for any integer N > 2, so it is not the case that N!  N^{N}, except for N=1 and N=2.
the lowliest monk
Update: Here's a proof of the assertion made above. I'm sure there are better proofs of it, but this is the best I could come up with.
Assume that N > 2, and let p be the largest prime in the prime factorization of N. There are three cases to consider. Suppose first that p is 2. Then, by assumption, N is a power of 2 greater than or equal to 4. Therefore, 3 is a factor of N!, and consequently N! does not divide N^{N}. Next, suppose that p > 2. If N = p^{k} for some nonnegative integer k, then N is odd and not divisible by N! whose prime factorization includes 2. This leaves the case in which p > 2, and is not the sole prime factor of N. In this case N >= 2 p. By Bertrand's postulate there exists a prime q such that p < q < 2 p <= N. Therefore, there is a factor of N!, namely q, that does not divide N^{s}, for any positive integer s. Therefore, N! does not divide N^{N}, for all N > 2.
 [reply] 

If I'm not mistaken, N!  N^{N}, as N! = 1*2*...*N, and N^{N} = N*N*...*N. Therefore, N^{N}/N! = N^{N1}/(N1)!
The fact that N^{N} and N! share a factor doesn't mean that N! is a divisor of N^{N}, as the following table shows:
N N^{N} N! N^{N} % N!
1 1 1 0
2 4 2 0
3 27 6 3
4 256 24 16
5 3125 120 5
6 46656 720 576
7 823543 5040 2023
8 16777216 40320 4096
9 387420489 362880 227529
10 10000000000 3628800 2656000
11 285311670611 39916800 26301011
12 8916100448256 479001600 443667456
13 302875106592253 6227020800 5268921853
14 11112006825558016 87178291200 294332416
15 437893890380859375 1307674368000 820814907375
 [reply] 

My bad. Somehow the coffee fairy didn't stop by me, and I'm confusing "share a factor" with "evenly divides".
QM

Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made of
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