Java Collections sort()

Learn to use Collections.sort() method to sort a list of objects using some examples.

By default, the sort() method sorts a given list into ascending order (or natural order). We can use Collections.reverseOrder() method, which returns a Comparator, for reverse sorting.

1. Sorting in Natural Order and Reverse Order

Collections.sort(list);  //Sorts in natural order

Collections.sort(list, Collections.reverseOrder());   //Sorts in reverse order
  1. Above method sorts the specified list of items into their natural order.
  2. All items must implement the Comparable interface.
  3. All items must be mutually comparable and should not throw ClassCastException.
  4. This sort is guaranteed to be stable. It means that equal elements will not be reordered as a result of the sort.
  5. The specified list must be modifiable, but need not to be resizable.
  6. The sort() does not return any value.

1.1. Sorting an ArrayList of Strings

Java program to sort a list of strings lexicographically (in the dictionary order).

List<String> names = 
	Arrays.asList("Alex", "Charles", "Brian", "David");

//Prints - [Alex, Brian, Charles, David]

//Prints - [David, Charles, Brian, Alex]
Collections.sort(names, Collections.reverseOrder());	

1.2. Sorting ArrayList of Objects by Field

We may require to sort a list of custom objects which can have their own sorting logic. In this case, implement the Comparator interface in the custom class.

For example, the domain object Employee has default sorting on the name field. Checkout for comparison logic in compareTo() method.

public class Employee implements Comparable<Employee>{

    private Integer id;
    private String name;
    private String email;
    private LocalDate dateOfBirth;

	//Getters and Setters

	public int compareTo(Employee e) {
		return this.getName().compareTo(e.getName());

Nest Java program sorts the list of Employee objects by their name;

ArrayList<Employee> employees = methodReturnsUnsortedList();

//Narutal order sorting

//Reverse sorting
Collections.sort(employees, Collections.reverseOrder());

2. Custom Sorting using Comparators

The second parameter in sort() method takes an instance of Comparator.

We can implement any kind of comparison logic with the help of comparators and then we can use sort() method to sort the list based on the given custom logic.

Collections.sort(List, Comparator);

We can create a separate Comparator instances for each kind of sorting need, and then we can combine those instances to create group sorting effect.

For example, if we want to sort the Employee list on three fields – id, name, and age. In this case, we need to create 3 Comparator instances.

2.1. Creating Custom Comparator

This is general syntax to create a Comparator in Java. In this case, we are creating a Comparator which will sort the Employee list by id field.

Comparator<Employee> compareById = new Comparator<Employee>() {
	public int compare(Employee o1, Employee o2) {
		return o1.getId().compareTo(o2.getId());

Comparator<Employee> compareByName = new Comparator<Employee>() {
	public int compare(Employee o1, Employee o2) {
		return o1.getName().compareTo(o2.getName());

We can use lambda expression for further shortening the syntax.

//Id Comparator
Comparator<Employee> compareById = (Employee o1, Employee o2) ->
					o1.getId().compareTo( o2.getId() );

//Name Comparator
Comparator<Employee> compareByName = (Employee o1, Employee o2) ->
					o1.getName().compareTo( o2.getName() );

2.2. Using Comparator for Sorting

ArrayList<Employee> employees = getUnsortedEmployeeList();

Comparator<Employee> compareById = 
	(Employee o1, Employee o2) -> o1.getId().compareTo( o2.getId() );

Collections.sort(employees, compareById);

Collections.sort(employees, compareById.reversed());

3. Conclusion

In the above code examples, we learned to sort an ArrayList in default order or reverse order.

We also learned to use the Comparators for implementing the custom sorting logic.

Happy Learning !!


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