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SORT Function in Excel

SORT Function

SORT is one of Excel’s new dynamic array functions, which were announced by Microsoft on 24 September 2018.  SORT makes use of changes made to the calculation engine, enabling Excel formulas to return (or “spill”, to use the correct terminology) results into multiple cells.

As at the time of writing, Microsoft has only made this new functionality available to Office 365 subscribers on the Insider channel.  The updates will be rolled out to all Office 365 subscribers at a future point, but first Microsoft need to assess the impact the changes to the calculation engine will have.  The new dynamic array functions and features are not available in Excel 2019 or previous versions, so it is definitely worth getting an Office 365 subscription, otherwise, you will be waiting until Excel 2022, and that’s just too long to wait!

Before we look at the arguments required for the SORT function, let’s look at a basic example to appreciate what it does.

As demonstrated below, the SORT function does exactly what you would expect; it sorts the data.  The key point is to notice that it achieves this with a single function in a single cell and spills the other results into the cells below.

SORT Function Basic Example.

Arguments of the SORT function

SORT has four arguments:

=SORT(array, [sort_index], [sort_order], [by_col])
  • array: The range of cells, or array of values to be sorted.
  • [sort_index]: The nth column or row to apply the sort to.  For example, to sort by the 2nd column the sort index would be 2.  It is possible to sort by multiple columns (covered in Example 6 below).  If this argument is excluded it will default to sorting by the first column.
  • [sort_order]: 1 = sort in ascending order, -1 = sort in descending order (if excluded the argument will default to 1).
  • [by_col]: TRUE = sort by columns, FALSE = sort by rows (if excluded the argument will default to FALSE).

Examples of using the SORT function

The following examples illustrate how to use the SORT function.

Example 1 – SORT returns an array of rows and columns

In this example, a single formula in Cell G3 sorts the values in the first column and returns the full range of cells provided by the array argument.

SORT Function - Example 1

The formula in Cell G3 is:


This single formula is returning eight rows and four columns of data.

Example 2 – SORT by another column in descending order

Example 2 shows how to sort by the second column in descending order.

SORT Function - Example 2

The formula in Cell G3 is:


The second argument in the SORT function is the sort_index.  The formula above is sorting by the 2nd column of the array.

The third argument in the SORT function is the sort_order.  The -1 in this formula denotes the data sorts in descending order.

Example 3 – SORT expands automatically when linked to a Table

The animation below shows how the SORT function responds when linked to an Excel Table.

SORT Function - Example 3b

In this example, the SORT function is using a Table called Table1 as it’s source data array.  New records added to the Table are automatically added to the spill range of the function.

Example 4 – Using SORT to return a top 5 and specific columns

Example 4 shows how to create a top 5 and select which specific columns to return.

The formula in Cell G3 is:


We are using two additional functions in this example, SEQUENCE (also a new function) and INDEX.

The SORT is applied to the 4th column in descending order, we have seen similar examples to this above.

INDEX is taking the result of the SORT function and using:

  • The SEQUENCE function to only show the first 5 results
  • A constant array to display only columns 1 and 4.

In the past, this would have needed a lot of calculations, but now it’s possible with a single function – Amazing!

Example 5 – Combining FILTER and SORT

The dynamic array functions can be nested within each other.  This example shows the FILTER function nested inside the SORT function.

The formula in Cell G3 is:


The FILTER function is returning only three rows, where the values in Cells C3-C10 are 100 or greater.  The SORT is then applied to the result of the FILTER, to provide those filtered rows in alphabetical order.

Example 6 – SORT on multiple columns

SORT can be applied to multiple columns at the same time.

SORT Function - Example 6a

The formula in Cell G3 is:


This formula contains two constant arrays.   The first, {2,1} is the sort_order, which in this example is sorting by column 2 then by column 1.  The second constant array is {1,-1}, which determines how each column sorts.  The first sort (applied to column 2) is in ascending order, and the second sort (applied on column 1) is in descending order.

Want to learn more?

There is a lot to learn about dynamic arrays and the new array functions.  Check out my other posts here to learn more:

  • Introduction to dynamic arrays – learn how the excel calculation engine has changed.
  • UNIQUE – to list the unique values in a range
  • SORT – to sort the values in a range
  • SORTBY – to sort values based on the order of other values
  • FILTER – to return only the values which meet specific criteria
  • SEQUENCE – to return a sequence of numbers
  • RANDARRAY – to return an array of random numbers

Also, here are some other resources you might find useful:

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