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Excel Sort With a Formula Using SORT and SORTBY


September 25, 2018 - by Bill Jelen

Excel Sort With a Formula Using SORT and SORTBY

This week at the Ignite Conference in Orlando Florida, Microsoft debuted a series of new, easier array formulas in Excel. I will be covering these new formulas every day this week, but if you would like to read ahead:

Sorting with a Formula in Excel used to require an insane combination of formulas. Take a look at this data which will be used throughout this article.

Data in A3:C11
Data in A3:C11.

In order to sort this with a formula before this week, you would just have to knock out RANK, COUNTIF, MATCH, INDEX and INDEX. Once you finished this set of formulas, you would be ready for a nap.

The old way to sort with a formula
The old way to sort with a formula

Joe McDaid and his team have brought us SORT and SORTBY.

Let's start with SORT. Here is the syntax =SORT(Array, [Sort Index], [Sort Order], [By Column])


The SORT Function
The SORT Function

Let's say you want to sort A3:C16 by the Score field. Score is the third column in the array, so your Sort Index will be 3.

The choices for the Sort Order are 1 for ascending or -1 for descending. I am not complaining, but there will never be support for Sort by Color, Sort by Formula, or Sort by Custom List using this function.

Specify 3 as the sort column and -1 as the sort order for descending.
Specify 3 as the sort column and -1 as the sort order for descending.

The forth argument is going to be rarely used. It is possible in the Sort dialog to sort by column instead of rows. 99.9% of people sort by rows. If you need to sort by column, specify True in the final argument. This argument is optional and defaults to False.

If you need to sort by columns, use True in the 4th argument
If you need to sort by columns, use True in the 4th argument

Here are the results of the formula. Thanks to the new calc engine, the formula spills into adjacent cells. One formula in O2 produces this solution.

There is no need to press Ctrl+Shift+Enter
The original data is sorted
The original data is sorted

What if you need a two-level sort? Sort by column 2 ascending and column 3 descending? Supply an array constant for the 2nd and 3rd arguments: =SORT(A2:C17,{2;3},{1;-1})

Two-level sort
Two-level sort

The SORTBY function lets you sort by something not in the results

The SORTBY function syntax is =SORTBY(array, by_array1, sort_order1,)

SORTBY something else
SORTBY something else

Going back to the original data. Say you want to sort by Team then Score, but only show the names. You could use SORTBY as shown here.

Sort column A by column B and column C
Sort column A by column B and column C

Random Drug Testing and Random With No Repeats

Difficult scenarios like Random Drug Testing and Random with No Repeats become mind-numbingly simple when you combine SORT with RANDARRAY.

In the figure below, you want to sort the 13 names randomly without repeats. Use =SORTBY(A4:A16,RANDARRAY(13)). Read more about RANDARRAY on Friday.

Sorting randomly without repeats
Sorting randomly without repeats

Is Ctrl + Shift + Enter completely dead? No. There is still a use for it. Let's say you wanted only the top 3 results from the SORT function. You could select three cells, type the SORT function and follow it with Ctrl + Shift + Enter. This will prevent the results from spilling beyond the bounds of the original formula.

Ctrl + Shift + Enter
Ctrl + Shift + Enter

Watch Video

Download Excel File

To download the excel file: excel-sort-with-a-formula-using-sort-and-sortby.xlsx

Excel Thought Of the Day

I've asked my Excel Master friends for their advice about Excel. Today's thought to ponder:

"there is no need for a mouse when using excel."

Title Photo: Farsai C. on Unsplash


Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
Excel Dynamic Arrays Straight to the Point

The new Dynamic Array Functions are just one side-effect of an effort to completely rewrite the Calculation Engine in Excel. Joe McDaid and the rest of the CALC team have the laid the groundwork for all future functions in Excel. Yes, the first crop of SORT, SORTBY, FILTER, UNIQUE, SEQUENCE and RANDARRAY are awesome and powerful, but they are just the first of many new functions that will come to Office 365 over the coming years.