Improving Collation Performance
Trail: Internationalization
Lesson: Working with Text
Section: Comparing Strings

Improving Collation Performance

Sorting long lists of strings is often time consuming. If your sort algorithm compares strings repeatedly, you can speed up the process by using the CollationKey class.

A CollationKey object represents a sort key for a given String and Collator. Comparing two CollationKey objects involves a bitwise comparison of sort keys and is faster than comparing String objects with the method. However, generating CollationKey objects requires time. Therefore if a String is to be compared just once, offers better performance.

The example that follows uses a CollationKey object to sort an array of words. Source code for this example is in

The KeysDemo program creates an array of CollationKey objects in the main method. To create a CollationKey, you invoke the getCollationKey method on a Collator object. You cannot compare two CollationKey objects unless they originate from the same Collator. The main method is as follows:

static public void main(String[] args) {
    Collator enUSCollator = Collator.getInstance(new Locale("en","US"));
    String [] words = {

    CollationKey[] keys = new CollationKey[words.length];

    for (int k = 0; k < keys.length; k ++) {
        keys[k] = enUSCollator. getCollationKey(words[k]);


The sortArray method invokes the CollationKey.compareTo method. The compareTo method returns an integer less than, equal to, or greater than zero if the keys[i] object is less than, equal to, or greater than the keys[j] object. Note that the program compares the CollationKey objects, not the String objects from the original array of words. Here is the code for the sortArray method:

public static void sortArray(CollationKey[] keys) {
    CollationKey tmp;

    for (int i = 0; i < keys.length; i++) {
        for (int j = i + 1; j < keys.length; j++) {
            if (keys[i].compareTo(keys[j]) > 0) {
                tmp = keys[i];
                keys[i] = keys[j];
                keys[j] = tmp; 

The KeysDemo program sorts an array of CollationKey objects, but the original goal was to sort an array of String objects. To retrieve the String representation of each CollationKey, the program invokes getSourceString in the displayWords method, as follows:

static void displayWords(CollationKey[] keys) {
    for (int i = 0; i < keys.length; i++) {

The displayWords method prints the following lines:


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