What Is a Merge Sort in Data Structure?


Heather Bennett

A merge sort is a popular sorting algorithm used in data structures. It is known for its efficiency and ability to handle large amounts of data. In this article, we will explore what a merge sort is, how it works, and why it is advantageous.

What is a Merge Sort?

A merge sort is a divide-and-conquer algorithm that divides an unsorted list into smaller sublists, sorts them individually, and then merges them back together to create the final sorted list. It follows the principle of recursion to solve the problem at hand.

How Does Merge Sort Work?

The merge sort algorithm can be summarized in three basic steps:

  1. Divide: The unsorted list is divided into two equal halves until each sublist contains only one element. This process continues until we reach the base case of having one-element sublists.
  2. Conquer: The one-element sublists are considered sorted by default.

    Then, the merging process begins by comparing elements from each sublist and merging them in a sorted order. This step continues until all sublists are merged back into a single sorted list.

  3. Merge: The merging process involves comparing elements from two sublists and putting them in the correct order in the resulting merged sublist. This step repeats until there are no more elements left to compare and merge.


To illustrate how merge sort works, let’s take an example of an unsorted list: [7, 2, 5, 1, 8, 3].

Step 1: Divide

  • [7, 2, 5] | [1, 8, 3]

Step 2: Conquer & Merge

  • [7] | [2] | [5]
  • [1] | [8] | [3]

Step 3: Merge

  • [2, 7] | [1, 3, 8]

Step 4: Merge (Final)

  • [1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8]

Advantages of Merge Sort:

Merge sort offers several advantages:

  • Efficiency: Merge sort has a time complexity of O(n log n), making it highly efficient for large datasets. It performs well even when dealing with a vast number of elements.
  • Stability: Unlike some other sorting algorithms, merge sort maintains the relative order of equal elements. This property is crucial in certain applications where the original order needs to be preserved.
  • Scalability: Due to its divide-and-conquer approach and efficient time complexity, merge sort can easily be scaled to handle large datasets without sacrificing performance.

In Conclusion:

Merge sort is a powerful sorting algorithm that divides an unsorted list into smaller sublists and merges them back together to create a sorted list. Its efficiency and stability make it an excellent choice for sorting large datasets. By understanding the concept and implementation of merge sort, you can leverage its advantages in various applications.

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