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Reordering Arrays with Array#sort

Originally published in A Drip of JavaScript.

In last week's issue I briefly mentioned the standard sort method available on all JavaScript arrays. It does just what you'd expect.

// Produces [1, 2, 3]
[3, 2, 1].sort();

// Produces ["a", "b", "c"]
["c", "b", "a"].sort();

// Produces [1, 2, "a", "b"]
["b", 2, "a", 1].sort();

As you can see, it sorts by dictionary order (numbers first, followed by letters). But what if you want to sort your array differently? For example, listing "better" cars first? How would you go about that? Fortunately, sort accepts a custom comparison function.

var cars = [
    "Honda Civic",
    "Ford Taurus",
    "Chevy Malibu"
]

cars.sort(function(a, b) {
    // Default to 0, which indicates
    // no sorting is necessary
    var returnVal = 0;

    // If `a` is a Chevy, subtract 1
    // to move `a` "up" in the sort order
    // because Chevys are awesome.
    if (a.match(/Chevy/)) {
        returnVal = returnVal - 1;
    }

    // If `b` is a Chevy, add 1
    // to move `b` "up" in the sort order
    if (b.match(/Chevy/)) {
        returnVal = returnVal + 1;
    }

    return returnVal;
});

// Outputs:
// ["Chevy Malibu", "Honda Civic", "Ford Taurus"]
console.log(cars);

The comparison function compares two values and returns a number.

When you pass sort a comparison function, that function will be called repeatedly and given different values from the array until the array has been completely sorted.

It is important to note that returning 0 does not guarantee that a and b will remain in the same order. It merely means that sorting is not necessary. JavaScript engines may choose to keep them in the same order, but that is not part of the language spec.

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