Useful JS Tips

#04 - Sorting strings with accented characters

2016-01-04 by @loverajoel

Javascript has a native method sort that allows sorting arrays. Doing a simple array.sort() will treat each array entry as a string and sort it alphabetically. Also you can provide your own custom sorting function.

['Shanghai', 'New York', 'Mumbai', 'Buenos Aires'].sort();
// ["Buenos Aires", "Mumbai", "New York", "Shanghai"]

But when you try order an array of non ASCII characters like this ['é', 'a', 'ú', 'c'], you will obtain a strange result ['c', 'e', 'á', 'ú']. That happens because sort works only with the English language.

See the next example:

// Spanish
['único','árbol', 'cosas', 'fútbol'].sort();
// ["cosas", "fútbol", "árbol", "único"] // bad order

// German
['Woche', 'wöchentlich', 'wäre', 'Wann'].sort();
// ["Wann", "Woche", "wäre", "wöchentlich"] // bad order

Fortunately, there are two ways to overcome this behavior localeCompare and Intl.Collator provided by ECMAScript Internationalization API.

Both methods have their own custom parameters in order to configure it to work adequately.

Using localeCompare()

['único','árbol', 'cosas', 'fútbol'].sort(function (a, b) {
  return a.localeCompare(b);
});
// ["árbol", "cosas", "fútbol", "único"]

['Woche', 'wöchentlich', 'wäre', 'Wann'].sort(function (a, b) {
  return a.localeCompare(b);
});
// ["Wann", "wäre", "Woche", "wöchentlich"]

Using Intl.Collator()

['único','árbol', 'cosas', 'fútbol'].sort(Intl.Collator().compare);
// ["árbol", "cosas", "fútbol", "único"]

['Woche', 'wöchentlich', 'wäre', 'Wann'].sort(Intl.Collator().compare);
// ["Wann", "wäre", "Woche", "wöchentlich"]
  • For each method you can customize the location.
  • According to Firefox Intl.Collator is faster when comparing large numbers of strings.

So when you are working with arrays of strings in a language other than English, remember to use this method to avoid unexpected sorting.

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