I am trying to write an algorithm that would pick N distinct items from an sequence at random, without knowing the size of the sequence in advance, and where it is expensive to iterate over the sequence more than once. For example, the elements of the sequence might be the lines of a huge file.
I have found a solution when N=1 (that is, when trying to pick exactly one element at random from a huge sequence):
import random items = range(1, 10) # Imagine this is a huge sequence of unknown length count = 1 selected = None for item in items: if random.random() * count < 1: selected = item count += 1
But how can I achieve the same thing for other values of N (say, N=3)?
If your sequence is short enough that reading it into memory and randomly sorting it is acceptable, then a straightforward approach would be to just use
import random arr=[1,2,3,4] # In-place shuffle random.shuffle(arr) # Take the first 2 elements of the now randomized array print arr[0:2] [1, 3]
Depending upon the type of your sequence, you may need to convert it to a list by calling
list(your_sequence) on it, but this will work regardless of the types of the objects in your sequence.
Naturally, if you can't fit your sequence into memory or the memory or CPU requirements of this approach are too high for you, you will need to use a different solution.