What's the Best Way to Shuffle an NSMutableArray?

If you have an NSMutableArray, how do you shuffle the elements randomly?

(I have my own answer for this, which is posted below, but I'm new to Cocoa and I'm interested to know if there is a better way.)


Update: As noted by @Mukesh, as of iOS 10+ and macOS 10.12+, there is an -[NSMutableArray shuffledArray] method that can be used to shuffle. See https://developer.apple.com/documentation/foundation/nsarray/1640855-shuffledarray?language=objc for details. (But note that this creates a new array, rather than shuffling the elements in place.)

Answers


You don't need the swapObjectAtIndex method. exchangeObjectAtIndex:withObjectAtIndex: already exists.


I solved this by adding a category to NSMutableArray.

Edit: Removed unnecessary method thanks to answer by Ladd.

Edit: Changed (arc4random() % nElements) to arc4random_uniform(nElements) thanks to answer by Gregory Goltsov and comments by miho and blahdiblah

Edit: Loop improvement, thanks to comment by Ron

Edit: Added check that array is not empty, thanks to comment by Mahesh Agrawal

//  NSMutableArray_Shuffling.h

#if TARGET_OS_IPHONE
#import <UIKit/UIKit.h>
#else
#include <Cocoa/Cocoa.h>
#endif

// This category enhances NSMutableArray by providing
// methods to randomly shuffle the elements.
@interface NSMutableArray (Shuffling)
- (void)shuffle;
@end


//  NSMutableArray_Shuffling.m

#import "NSMutableArray_Shuffling.h"

@implementation NSMutableArray (Shuffling)

- (void)shuffle
{
    NSUInteger count = [self count];
    if (count <= 1) return;
    for (NSUInteger i = 0; i < count - 1; ++i) {
        NSInteger remainingCount = count - i;
        NSInteger exchangeIndex = i + arc4random_uniform((u_int32_t )remainingCount);
        [self exchangeObjectAtIndex:i withObjectAtIndex:exchangeIndex];
    }
}

@end

Since I can't yet comment, I thought I'd contribute a full response. I modified Kristopher Johnson's implementation for my project in a number of ways (really trying to make it as concise as possible), one of them being arc4random_uniform() because it avoids modulo bias.

// NSMutableArray+Shuffling.h
#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>

/** This category enhances NSMutableArray by providing methods to randomly
 * shuffle the elements using the Fisher-Yates algorithm.
 */
@interface NSMutableArray (Shuffling)
- (void)shuffle;
@end

// NSMutableArray+Shuffling.m
#import "NSMutableArray+Shuffling.h"

@implementation NSMutableArray (Shuffling)

- (void)shuffle
{
    NSUInteger count = [self count];
    for (uint i = 0; i < count - 1; ++i)
    {
        // Select a random element between i and end of array to swap with.
        int nElements = count - i;
        int n = arc4random_uniform(nElements) + i;
        [self exchangeObjectAtIndex:i withObjectAtIndex:n];
    }
}

@end

From iOS 10 you can use the new shuffled API:

https://developer.apple.com/reference/foundation/nsarray/1640855-shuffled

let shuffledArray = array.shuffled()

A slightly improved and concise solution (compared to the top answers).

The algorithm is the same and is described in literature as "Fisher-Yates shuffle".

In Objective-C:

@implementation NSMutableArray (Shuffle)
// Fisher-Yates shuffle
- (void)shuffle
{
    for (NSUInteger i = self.count; i > 1; i--)
        [self exchangeObjectAtIndex:i - 1 withObjectAtIndex:arc4random_uniform((u_int32_t)i)];
}
@end

In Swift 3.2 and 4.x:

extension Array {
    /// Fisher-Yates shuffle
    mutating func shuffle() {
        for i in stride(from: count - 1, to: 0, by: -1) {
            swapAt(i, Int(arc4random_uniform(UInt32(i + 1))))
        }
    }
}

In Swift 3.0 and 3.1:

extension Array {
    /// Fisher-Yates shuffle
    mutating func shuffle() {
        for i in stride(from: count - 1, to: 0, by: -1) {
            let j = Int(arc4random_uniform(UInt32(i + 1)))
            (self[i], self[j]) = (self[j], self[i])
        }
    }
}

Note: A more concise solution in Swift is possible from iOS10 using GameplayKit.

Note: An algorithm for unstable shuffling (with all positions forced to change if count > 1) is also available


This is the simplest and fastest way to shuffle NSArrays or NSMutableArrays (object puzzles is a NSMutableArray, it contains puzzle objects. I've added to puzzle object variable index which indicates initial position in array)

int randomSort(id obj1, id obj2, void *context ) {
        // returns random number -1 0 1
    return (random()%3 - 1);    
}

- (void)shuffle {
        // call custom sort function
    [puzzles sortUsingFunction:randomSort context:nil];

    // show in log how is our array sorted
        int i = 0;
    for (Puzzle * puzzle in puzzles) {
        NSLog(@" #%d has index %d", i, puzzle.index);
        i++;
    }
}

log output:

 #0 has index #6
 #1 has index #3
 #2 has index #9
 #3 has index #15
 #4 has index #8
 #5 has index #0
 #6 has index #1
 #7 has index #4
 #8 has index #7
 #9 has index #12
 #10 has index #14
 #11 has index #16
 #12 has index #17
 #13 has index #10
 #14 has index #11
 #15 has index #13
 #16 has index #5
 #17 has index #2

you may as well compare obj1 with obj2 and decide what you want to return possible values are:

  • NSOrderedAscending = -1
  • NSOrderedSame = 0
  • NSOrderedDescending = 1

There is a nice popular library, that has this method as it's part, called SSToolKit in GitHub. File NSMutableArray+SSToolkitAdditions.h contains shuffle method. You can use it also. Among this, there seem to be tons of useful things.

The main page of this library is here.

If you use this, your code will be like this:

#import <SSCategories.h>
NSMutableArray *tableData = [NSMutableArray arrayWithArray:[temp shuffledArray]];

This library also has a Pod (see CocoaPods)


From iOS 10, you can use NSArray shuffled() from GameplayKit. Here is an helper for Array in Swift 3:

import GameplayKit

extension Array {
    @available(iOS 10.0, macOS 10.12, tvOS 10.0, *)
    func shuffled() -> [Element] {
        return (self as NSArray).shuffled() as! [Element]
    }
    @available(iOS 10.0, macOS 10.12, tvOS 10.0, *)
    mutating func shuffle() {
        replaceSubrange(0..<count, with: shuffled())
    }
}

If elements have repeats.

e.g. array: A A A B B or B B A A A

only solution is: A B A B A

sequenceSelected is an NSMutableArray which stores elements of class obj, which are pointers to some sequence.

- (void)shuffleSequenceSelected {
    [sequenceSelected shuffle];
    [self shuffleSequenceSelectedLoop];
}

- (void)shuffleSequenceSelectedLoop {
    NSUInteger count = sequenceSelected.count;
    for (NSUInteger i = 1; i < count-1; i++) {
        // Select a random element between i and end of array to swap with.
        NSInteger nElements = count - i;
        NSInteger n;
        if (i < count-2) { // i is between second  and second last element
            obj *A = [sequenceSelected objectAtIndex:i-1];
            obj *B = [sequenceSelected objectAtIndex:i];
            if (A == B) { // shuffle if current & previous same
                do {
                    n = arc4random_uniform(nElements) + i;
                    B = [sequenceSelected objectAtIndex:n];
                } while (A == B);
                [sequenceSelected exchangeObjectAtIndex:i withObjectAtIndex:n];
            }
        } else if (i == count-2) { // second last value to be shuffled with last value
            obj *A = [sequenceSelected objectAtIndex:i-1];// previous value
            obj *B = [sequenceSelected objectAtIndex:i]; // second last value
            obj *C = [sequenceSelected lastObject]; // last value
            if (A == B && B == C) {
                //reshufle
                sequenceSelected = [[[sequenceSelected reverseObjectEnumerator] allObjects] mutableCopy];
                [self shuffleSequenceSelectedLoop];
                return;
            }
            if (A == B) {
                if (B != C) {
                    [sequenceSelected exchangeObjectAtIndex:i withObjectAtIndex:count-1];
                } else {
                    // reshuffle
                    sequenceSelected = [[[sequenceSelected reverseObjectEnumerator] allObjects] mutableCopy];
                    [self shuffleSequenceSelectedLoop];
                    return;
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

NSUInteger randomIndex = arc4random() % [theArray count];

Kristopher Johnson's answer is pretty nice, but it's not totally random.

Given an array of 2 elements, this function returns always the inversed array, because you are generating the range of your random over the rest of the indexes. A more accurate shuffle() function would be like

- (void)shuffle
{
   NSUInteger count = [self count];
   for (NSUInteger i = 0; i < count; ++i) {
       NSInteger exchangeIndex = arc4random_uniform(count);
       if (i != exchangeIndex) {
            [self exchangeObjectAtIndex:i withObjectAtIndex:exchangeIndex];
       }
   }
}

Edit: This is not correct. For reference purposes, I did not delete this post. See comments on the reason why this approach is not correct.

Simple code here:

- (NSArray *)shuffledArray:(NSArray *)array
{
    return [array sortedArrayUsingComparator:^NSComparisonResult(id obj1, id obj2) {
        if (arc4random() % 2) {
            return NSOrderedAscending;
        } else {
            return NSOrderedDescending;
        }
    }];
}

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