Best way to randomize an array with .NET


Question

What is the best way to randomize an array of strings with .NET? My array contains about 500 strings and I'd like to create a new Array with the same strings but in a random order.

Please include a C# example in your answer.

1
121
10/24/2015 4:19:00 PM

Accepted Answer

If you're on .NET 3.5, you can use the following IEnumerable coolness (VB.NET, not C#, but the idea should be clear...):

Random rnd=new Random();
string[] MyRandomArray = MyArray.OrderBy(x => rnd.Next()).ToArray();    

Edit: OK and here's the corresponding VB.NET code:

Dim rnd As New System.Random
Dim MyRandomArray = MyArray.OrderBy(Function() rnd.Next()).ToArray()

Second edit, in response to remarks that System.Random "isn't threadsafe" and "only suitable for toy apps" due to returning a time-based sequence: as used in my example, Random() is perfectly thread-safe, unless you're allowing the routine in which you randomize the array to be re-entered, in which case you'll need something like lock (MyRandomArray) anyway in order not to corrupt your data, which will protect rnd as well.

Also, it should be well-understood that System.Random as a source of entropy isn't very strong. As noted in the MSDN documentation, you should use something derived from System.Security.Cryptography.RandomNumberGenerator if you're doing anything security-related. For example:

using System.Security.Cryptography;

...

RNGCryptoServiceProvider rnd = new RNGCryptoServiceProvider();
string[] MyRandomArray = MyArray.OrderBy(x => GetNextInt32(rnd)).ToArray();

...

static int GetNextInt32(RNGCryptoServiceProvider rnd)
    {
        byte[] randomInt = new byte[4];
        rnd.GetBytes(randomInt);
        return Convert.ToInt32(randomInt[0]);
    }
154
1/4/2019 8:21:19 PM

The following implementation uses the Fisher-Yates algorithm AKA the Knuth Shuffle. It runs in O(n) time and shuffles in place, so is better performing than the 'sort by random' technique, although it is more lines of code. See here for some comparative performance measurements. I have used System.Random, which is fine for non-cryptographic purposes.*

static class RandomExtensions
{
    public static void Shuffle<T> (this Random rng, T[] array)
    {
        int n = array.Length;
        while (n > 1) 
        {
            int k = rng.Next(n--);
            T temp = array[n];
            array[n] = array[k];
            array[k] = temp;
        }
    }
}

Usage:

var array = new int[] {1, 2, 3, 4};
var rng = new Random();
rng.Shuffle(array);
rng.Shuffle(array); // different order from first call to Shuffle

* For longer arrays, in order to make the (extremely large) number of permutations equally probable it would be necessary to run a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) through many iterations for each swap to produce enough entropy. For a 500-element array only a very small fraction of the possible 500! permutations will be possible to obtain using a PRNG. Nevertheless, the Fisher-Yates algorithm is unbiased and therefore the shuffle will be as good as the RNG you use.


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