Shuffle a given array

Given an array, write a program to generate a random permutation of array elements. This question is also asked as “shuffle a deck of cards” or “randomize a given array”.

Let the given array be arr[]. A simple solution is to create an auxiliary array temp[] which is initially a copy of arr[]. Randomly select an element from temp[], copy the randomly selected element to arr[0] and remove the selected element from temp[]. Repeat the same process n times and keep copying elements to arr[1], arr[2], … . The time complexity of this solution will be O(n^2).

Fisher–Yates shuffle Algorithm works in O(n) time complexity. The assumption here is, we are given a function rand() that generates random number in O(1) time.
The idea is to start from the last element, swap it with a randomly selected element from the whole array (including last). Now consider the array from 0 to n-2 (size reduced by 1), and repeat the process till we hit the first element.

Following is the detailed algorithm

To shuffle an array a of n elements (indices 0..n-1):
  for i from n - 1 downto 1 do
       j = random integer with 0 <= j <= i
       exchange a[j] and a[i]

Following is C++ implementation of this algorithm.

// C Program to shuffle a given array

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <time.h>

// A utility function to swap to integers
void swap (int *a, int *b)
    int temp = *a;
    *a = *b;
    *b = temp;

// A utility function to print an array
void printArray (int arr[], int n)
    for (int i = 0; i < n; i++)
        printf("%d ", arr[i]);

// A function to generate a random permutation of arr[]
void randomize ( int arr[], int n )
    // Use a different seed value so that we don't get same
    // result each time we run this program
    srand ( time(NULL) );

    // Start from the last element and swap one by one. We don't
    // need to run for the first element that's why i > 0
    for (int i = n-1; i > 0; i--)
        // Pick a random index from 0 to i
        int j = rand() % (i+1);

        // Swap arr[i] with the element at random index
        swap(&arr[i], &arr[j]);

// Driver program to test above function.
int main()
    int arr[] = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8};
    int n = sizeof(arr)/ sizeof(arr[0]);
    randomize (arr, n);
    printArray(arr, n);

    return 0;


7 8 4 6 3 1 2 5

The above function assumes that rand() generates a random number.

Time Complexity: O(n), assuming that the function rand() takes O(1) time.

How does this work?
The probability that ith element (including the last one) goes to last position is 1/n, because we randomly pick an element in first iteration.

The probability that ith element goes to second last position can be proved to be 1/n by dividing it in two cases.
Case 1: i = n-1 (index of last element):
The probability of last element going to second last position is = (probability that last element doesn't stay at its original position) x (probability that the index picked in previous step is picked again so that the last element is swapped)
So the probability = ((n-1)/n) x (1/(n-1)) = 1/n
Case 2: 0 < i < n-1 (index of non-last):
The probability of ith element going to second position = (probability that ith element is not picked in previous iteration) x (probability that ith element is picked in this iteration)
So the probability = ((n-1)/n) x (1/(n-1)) = 1/n

We can easily generalize above proof for any other position.

Please write comments if you find anything incorrect, or you want to share more information about the topic discussed above.

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  • saurav paul

    Just mention one thing .. the code in main()
    sizeof(arr)/ sizeof(arr[0]);
    will not give the size of the array

    • Legolas

      Yes it will return the number of element in array.The case when it does not return the number of element is when we have array pointer

      ex: int *arr = malloc(sizeof(int) *5);
      int number = sizeof(arr)/sizeof(arr[0]) this will not return the number of element in array

  • Manni

    Manni’s probabilistic approach:

    Select 2 random number between 0-n, swap the two elements at the the indexes that we just found using rand func. Repeat the step n/2 times atleast. Contact Manpreet Singh, NIT Durgapur for more doubts.

  • Manni

    Manni’s probabilistic approach:

    Select 2 random number between 0-n, swap the two elements at the the indexes that we just found using rand func. Repeat the step n/2 times atleast. Contact Manpreet Singh, NIT Durgapur for more doubts.

  • Ankur Jain

    Q1 why mod we take mod rand() % (i+1);and not like rand() % (n) ?
    Q2 and why didn’t take the element at zeroth index ?

    • alien

      A1: because once you have shuffled nth element, dont replace it again.
      A2: with what will you replace 0th element with?

      • Ankur Jain

        Q1 comment : in the above solution you are swapping with its lower element i.e element in 5th position is only replace with 0,1,2,3,4 and why cant 6 th ,7th , this also increse randomness..(%n)

        Q2 comment : as 0th element is only replace when rand fun gives value,
        for i 0 to n
        shuffle the whole array in equal proportion

  • K.kaushik

    A simple java implementation of the above program with O(n) time complexity.

    public class Shuffle {
    	public static int randomize(int min, int max)
    			return (int) (Math.random() * (max-min+1) + min );
    	public static void shuffleCards(int cards[],  int n)
    			int i;
    			for(i = 0; i < n; i++)
    				int j = randomize(i, n-1-i);
    				int temp;
    				temp = cards[i];
    				cards[i] = cards[j];
    				cards[j] = temp;
    				System.out.println("Shuffles cards are now : ");
    			int k;
    			for(k = 0; k < n; k++)
    				System.out.print(cards[k] + "   ");
    	public static void main(String[] args)
    		int[] cards = {2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10};
    		int total_cards = cards.length;
    		shuffleCards(cards, total_cards);
    • Praful Kumar Jha

      why you have n-1-i in the argument of randomize function? can’t it be only n-1?

  • Praveen

    Also a better explanation is here –

  • Mahesh

    Can you explain how the first case is order n^2 ?

    • Kartik

      In first method, we need to remove the selected element from temp. Removing an element may take upto c(m-1) time where m is the number of elements in temp[] and c is a constant. So overall time will be (n-1 + n-2 + …. 1)c = O(n^2)

      • Ishant Gaurav

        class Main
        public static void main (String[] args) throws java.lang.Exception
        int a[]={0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9};
        int randarray[]=new int[10];
        int flag[] = new int[10];
        for(int i=0;i<10;i++)
        SecureRandom rand = new SecureRandom();

        int i=0;
        int num = rand.nextInt(10);
        if(i<=9 && flag[num]==0)


        for( i=0;i<10;i++)
        System.out.print(a[i]+" ");


        • Ishant Gaurav

          I have wrritten acc to first method suggested by geeks for geeks n i dont think that its time complexity is o(n*2). Can u plz suggest if m wrong somewhere

          • raj

            In First method..
            instead of removing selected element and then moving right elements
            to left by 1…we can just simply swap it with the last element..
            As a result first algorithm will also be 0(n) time..

  • GeeksforGeeks

    @V: Thanks for the suggestion. We have added srand(time(NULL)) to the original code.

    @Apeirogon: Thanks for the inputs. We have added a comment before ‘for’ loop. We have kept the loop to start from last only as it makes the program more readable and matches with the standard algorithm.

  • V

    You need to call srand(time(NULL)) before your call to randomize() otherwise the same seed will be used for rand() on each program execution.

    /* Paste your code here (You may delete these lines if not writing code) */
  • Aish


    It appears like the same output is generated each time when I try executing the code.

    3 6 4 7 1 5 8 2

    Is there any way by which we can get differnet set of array output each time?

    /* Paste your code here (You may delete these lines if not writing code) */
    • adarsh
      you must have forgot to write srand() function
  • Apeirogon

    It is a C implementation and not C++ implementation as stated in the post.

    The loop iteration in randomize function need not be in reverse order, it is better to iterate from 0 to n-2.

    When the code leaves out one iteration, write a comment about the same.

    void randomize (int *a, int n) {
      for (int i = 0; i < n - 1; i++) { // off-by-one intentional, we do not want to swap last element
      swap  (&a[i], &a[i + rand()%(n - i)];
  • Rajeev