Assume PHP/MYSQL but I don't necessarily need actual code, I'm just interested in the theory behind it.
A good use-case would be Facebook's photo gallery page. You can drag and drop a photo on the page, which fires an Ajax event to save the new sort order. I'm implementing something very similar.
For example, I have a database table "photos" with about a million records:
photos id : int, userid : int, albumid : int, sortorder : int, filename : varchar, title : varchar
Let's say I have an album with 100 photos. I drag/drop a photo into a new location and the Ajax event fires off to save on the server.
Should I be passing the entire array of photo ids back to the server and updating every record? Assume input validation by "
loggedin_id", so malicious users can only mess with the sort order of their own photos
Should I be passing the photo id, its previous sortorder index and its new sortorder index, retrieve all records between these 2 indices, sort them, then update their orders?
What happens if there are thousands of photos in a single gallery and the sort order is changed?
What about just using an
integer column which defines the order? By default you assign numbers * 1000, like 1000, 2000, 3000.... and if you move 3000 between 1000 and 2000 you change it to 1500. So in most cases you don't need to update the other numbers at all. I use this approach and it works well. You could also use
double but then you don't have control about the precision and rounding errors, so rather don't use it.
So the algorithm would look like: say you move B to position after A. First perform select to see the order of the record next to A. If it is at least +2 higher than the order of A then you just set order of B to fit in between. But if it's just +1 higher (there is no space after A), you select the bordering records of B to see how much space is on this side, divide by 2 and then add this value to the order of all the records between A and B. That's it!
(Note that you should use transaction/locking for any algorithm which contains more than a single query, so this applies to this case too. The easiest way is to use InnoDB transaction.)
Store as a linked list, sortorder is a foreign key reference to the next photo_id in the set.
this would probably be a 'linked list' construct.
To me the second method of updating is the way to go (update only the range that changes). You are mentioning "What happens if there are thousands of photos in a single gallery ...", and to me that is never going to happen. Lets take your facebook example. Facebook doesn't show thousands of photos on one page, they split it up to about 10-20 per page.
The way I'd do this in a nonrelational database is to store a list of photo IDs on the 'album' entity/record, in the order desired. Reordering the photos results in reordering the list, and only a single database write.
Some SQL databases (Eg, PostgreSQL) have native list datatypes, but MySQL doesn't. You could serialize the list as a string or binary on MySQL.
3rd-normal-form trained database gurus will scream at you that this is a terrible approach, but RDBMSes are optimized for OLAP type queries, where query flexibility is more important than read performance. Webapps are best written with a 'write heavy, read light' strategy in mind, and this sort of denormalization is exactly in line with that.