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(computer science)



an agricultural machine used to sort grain, grass seeds, vegetable seeds, potato tubers, onion sets, and fruits, such as tomatoes and apples, and to remove foreign matter. Grain-cleaning machines are usually used to clean and sort grain; very simple sorters, such as seed sorters, are used for small batches. There are also specialized sorters, such as potato sorters and onion sorters.



one of the basic machines in a punch card computer unit, designed to arrange, or sort, punch cards automatically into groups according to some specified criterion, such as the number of a shop, the number of an order, or the address of a freight shipment. The code for the criterion—usually a number of several digits—appears on the card in the form of a system of perforations punched in columns. During sorting, the machine reads the code for a criterion and groups the punch cards according to the code numbers.

The major units and mechanisms of a sorter include a card feeder, a card reader, a sorting mechanism, and, usually, 13 pockets in which the sorted cards are accumulated. The punch cards to be sorted are first laid in the card feeder, and the card reader locates the perforations in one specified column. The punch card is directed by the sorting mechanism into one of 12 pockets corresponding in number to the number of the line in which a hole has been punched. The cards that have no hole in the specified column fall into the 13th, or spare, pocket. The procedure is repeated as many times as the number of digits contained in the criterion code.

The sorting rate varies from 400–500 to 700 cards per min. For example, the models S45–5M and S80–5M sorters, widely used in the USSR for processing 45- and 80-column punch cards, have rates of 400–500 cards per min. The model SE80–3 sorter has a sorting rate up to 700 cards per min.


Vychislitel’nye klavishnye i perforatsionnye mashiny. Moscow, 1970.
Vinokurov, P. S. Mashiny raskladochno-podborochnye i sortiroval’nye. Moscow, 1972.



(1) A sort program.

(2) A person who manually puts data into a specific sequence.

(3) An early tabulating machine that enabled punch cards to be rearranged into numerical or alphabetical order by directing them into separate stackers based on the content of one card column. For example, to sort a 10 digit account number, the entire set of cards had to be passed through the machine 10 times.

From the early 20th century to the 1960s and even thereafter, data processing was a sequential operation. All the data on punch cards, and eventually magnetic tape, were maintained in sequence by some type of account number, and updating was accomplished by sorting the transactions into that same order and matching them sequentially against the master data. By the 1950s, millions of punch cards were sorted daily in machines such as the IBM sorter below. See punch card.

A Punch Card Sorter
Machines like this IBM sorter were in every major company in the world when this picture was taken in 1960 of Alan Freedman, author of this encyclopedia.
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