First of all mixing references and arrays tied to disk without thinking carefully about it is asking for serious problems.
Secondly passing the array to Perl's sort function is asking for very serious trouble. That will pass it all
What I would do for large data structures would be to use DB_File to tie a hash to a BTree, and use properly formatted strings as keys. Blech. But it will work up to the maximum file size for your OS. (OK, up to about half that - BTrees waste something like 40% of the space in the tree.) Or use a proper database.
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