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# Sort Points in Clockwise Order

Last modified: October 19, 2020

## 1. Introduction

Let’s imagine that we have a set of points on a plane that we’d like to connect to draw a closed shape. First, we’d need to sort those points.

In our tutorial, we’re going to walk through a method that can sort points in clockwise order.

## 2. Problem Explanation

**Given a set of 2D points (each represented by and coordinates), we would like to sort these points in clockwise order.** To begin, we need to view these points around a center point. This center-point can be at the coordinates, or it could be at any arbitrary point on the 2D plane. Based on the requirements, we can choose which center point is better.

In our scenario, we’ll estimate **the center point as the mean of the given points. **This is shown in the following figure where we have 3 points sorted around the center point:

There are a few points to note here. First, **we aren’t estimating the convex hull (the convex that encapsulates all points), **but **we’d like to find a closed path that goes through all the points in a clockwise order.** Thus, it is fine to sort some points in the following way:

However, for the same set of points, if we estimate the convex hull, we’ll only include points 1, 2, 3, and 5 as follows:

One last thing to note is that we aren’t going to cover the exceptional case where all points lie on a straight line.

## 3. Algorithm Idea

Let’s walk through an example given the set of points , , , , , and as shown:

The first thing we need to do is to **find the center point** of the given points:

Then we **estimate the angle between each point and the center**:

Since we need to sort the points in clockwise order, the first point will be point as it falls in the quadrant. Next will be point as it falls in the quadrant. Points and are in the quadrant; however, comes first as it is closer to , and is next. Finally, we have points and in the quadrant, but both are at angle . In this tutorial, we decided to** break the tie by the distance from the center**:

Since point is closer to the center than point , becomes the point, and is the last point in our order:

The final order in the given example will be , , , , , .

## 4. Flow-Chart

Now let’s see more details on how to design the algorithm.

**From a high-level perspective, we have an array of points that we need to sort according to some criteria. We can use any sorting algorithm and provide the right comparator to do the job; **however, in our case, we need to add some pre- and post-processing steps.

For the **pre-processing steps, we need to loop over the points to get the center point. Then we subtract this center point from all the given points** so that we translate all the points to the new origin (center point).

Next, we call our sorting algorithm (like Quicksort or Bubble-Sort) with our function to get the points sorted according to our defined criteria. **Finally, we re-add the center point to the sorted points to translate them back to the original location**.

### 4.1. Sort Points Flow-Chart

Let’s start with the high-level idea illustrated in the following flow-chart:

### 4.2. Compare Points Flow-Chart

Now let’s dig deeper inside the function. In this function, we get two points as inputs, and we need to return if the first point comes before the second point, and otherwise. **If we assume we have another function telling us the angle of any point relative to some center point from to , then we can compare the two angles directly**. In the case of a tie, we can compare the distance between each point and the center point, and then choose the smallest one.

The following flow-chart illustrates this idea. The center point is because we translated all of our points around the center point in the pre-processing step:

The details for the and functions are going to be in the pseudocode.

## 5. Pseudocode

Now let’s look at simple pseudocode for our algorithm. The pseudocode starts with the general algorithm of finding the center point, and then translates all the points to this center. Next we call the sort function with our custom function. Finally, we move the sorted points back to the original locations:

Our function then calls the and functions for each pair of points. The function returns in the cases where the first angle is bigger than the second angle. In the cases where the angles are equal, or the first distance is less than the second distance:

Now let’s see how to estimate the angle. We’re going to assume that we’re using a function like that exists in many programming languages. This function estimates the angle using inverse tan based on the value of and , and returns the result in the range to . In our case, we need the angle to be between and . One way to do this is** if the angle is less than , we add . Thus, the final value of the angle will be in the desired range from to : **

As for the distance, **we can use simple Euclidean distance** as the square root () of the sum of the square of the differences for all axes. **In practice, we can get rid of the square root step and return the squared distance (in our scenario the distance is always between some point and the center point):**

Please note that the sorting algorithm itself is out of the scope of this tutorial. We can use any available sorting algorithm like Quicksort to get a complexity of .

## 6. Complexity

The time complexity of our algorithm is the complexity of the selected sorting algorithm. **If we choose Quicksort, the overall algorithm complexity will be **. The reason is that we only have loops of complexity for pre- and post-processing. Then we call the sorting algorithm with our custom compare function.

As for the space complexity, the algorithm doesn’t need to store any information apart from the center point. **Therefore, the space complexity is .**

## 7. Conclusion

In this article, we presented a method to sort points in clockwise order. The idea depends on any general sorting algorithm with some pre- and post-processing steps. We illustrated the algorithm through an example, flow-charts, and pseudocode. Finally, we provided a simple complexity analysis of space and time complexities for the presented method.