[erlang-questions] External sorting for large files in Erlang

Zabrane Mickael <>
Wed Aug 1 18:47:50 CEST 2012

Hey Joe,

On Aug 1, 2012, at 4:12 PM, Joe Armstrong wrote:

> On Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 11:32 PM, Zabrane Mickael <> wrote:
>> Hi,
>> I'm looking for something similar to this, but in Erlang:
>> http://code.google.com/p/externalsortinginjava/
>> I found an old post suggesting file_sorter:
>> http://www.erlang.org/doc/man/file_sorter.html
>> But file_sorter seems to only  work on binary files.
> This is one of my favorite modules - it is very fast.
> file_sorter sorts binary encoded terms.
> Each entry is a 4 byte length header followed by term_to_binary(Term)
> Here's an example of how to encode some terms, write them to a file
> sort the file and read them back.

Thanks for sharing this code. Very useful.

> It happily sorts extremely large files .... well worth using

It seems to work fine, but not yet very flexible.

Can we imagine a module on top of file_sorter which will mimics the Unix sort command 
to work on plain text files (and not binary)?

At the end, I wanna be able to sort any disk file as with Unix sort.

> In my case, I need something more flexible.
>> What about controlling the Unix sort command from Erlang?
>   os:cmd("sort <in >out").

Yep. That's what I had in mind (or port command).


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