Advanced Algorithms: Topological Sorting

July 23, 2019 • ☕️ 2 min read

In the field of computer science, a topological sort or topological ordering of a directed graph is a linear ordering of its vertices such that for every directed edge uv from vertex u to vertex v, u comes before v in the ordering.

For instance, the vertices of the graph may represent tasks to be performed, and the edges may represent constraints that one task must be performed before another; in this application, a topological ordering is just a valid sequence for the tasks.

A topological ordering is possible if and only if the graph has no directed cycles, that is, if it is a directed acyclic graph (DAG). Any DAG has at least one topological ordering, and algorithms are known for constructing a topological ordering of any DAG in linear time.

Directed Acyclic Graph

A topological ordering of a directed acyclic graph: every edge goes from earlier in the ordering (upper left) to later in the ordering (lower right). A directed graph is acyclic if and only if it has a topological ordering.


Topologic Sorting

The graph shown above has many valid topological sorts, including:

  • 5, 7, 3, 11, 8, 2, 9, 10 (visual left-to-right, top-to-bottom)
  • 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 2, 9, 10 (smallest-numbered available vertex first)
  • 5, 7, 3, 8, 11, 10, 9, 2 (fewest edges first)
  • 7, 5, 11, 3, 10, 8, 9, 2 (largest-numbered available vertex first)
  • 5, 7, 11, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 (attempting top-to-bottom, left-to-right)
  • 3, 7, 8, 5, 11, 10, 2, 9 (arbitrary)


The canonical application of topological sorting is in scheduling a sequence of jobs or tasks based on their dependencies. The jobs are represented by vertices, and there is an edge from x to y if job x must be completed before job y can be started (for example, when washing clothes, the washing machine must finish before we put the clothes in the dryer). Then, a topological sort gives an order in which to perform the jobs.

Other application is dependency resolution. Each vertex is a package and each edge is a dependency of package a on package ‘b’. Then topological sorting will provide a sequence of installing dependencies in a way that every next dependency has its dependent packages to be installed in prior.


 * @param {Graph} graph
export default function topologicalSort(graph) {
  // Create a set of all vertices we want to visit.
  const unvisitedSet = {}
  graph.getAllVertices().forEach(vertex => {
    unvisitedSet[vertex.getKey()] = vertex

  // Create a set for all vertices that we've already visited.
  const visitedSet = {}

  // Create a stack of already ordered vertices.
  const sortedStack = new Stack()

  const dfsCallbacks = {
    enterVertex: ({ currentVertex }) => {
      // Add vertex to visited set in case if all its children has been explored.
      visitedSet[currentVertex.getKey()] = currentVertex

      // Remove this vertex from unvisited set.
      delete unvisitedSet[currentVertex.getKey()]
    leaveVertex: ({ currentVertex }) => {
      // If the vertex has been totally explored then we may push it to stack.
    allowTraversal: ({ nextVertex }) => {
      return !visitedSet[nextVertex.getKey()]

  // Let's go and do DFS for all unvisited nodes.
  while (Object.keys(unvisitedSet).length) {
    const currentVertexKey = Object.keys(unvisitedSet)[0]
    const currentVertex = unvisitedSet[currentVertexKey]

    // Do DFS for current node.
    depthFirstSearch(graph, currentVertex, dfsCallbacks)

  return sortedStack.toArray()