Clientside sorting of HTML TABLE in JavaScript

To save network bandwidth and server resources, it is often beneficial to to sorting of tabular data on the client. Here’s a workable solution that I’ve implemented several times.

Additionally, the need to make the solution ‘accessible’ to screen-reader technology and be backward compatible for users without JavaScript often become challenging.

There are some small “quirks” that you should be aware of…

  • The ‘sortTable’ method uses the ID of the ‘TBODY’. Working to remove this requirement through better use of the DOM.
  • Will likely rework this to use Prototype framework which should result in smaller code.
  • Future enhancement will add a class to the header indicating the sort order of the column(s).
  • Creating the ‘SPAN’ for dates to be sorted is best handled by a taglib.
  • Large TABLE’s can take a significant amount of time to sort on a client, so it’s sometimes better to use a server side solution. Developers should use their experience to make this judgment call.

Example code (XHTML logic removed as usual for brevity):

<title>Client Side TABLE sorting</title>
<style type=”text/css”>
/* SCROLL */
div.scroll {width:100%;overflow:scroll;}
html>body div.scroll {width:100%;overflow:scroll} /* fixes IE6 hack */
/*** TABULAR ***/
tr.even {background-color:#eee;}
th.first, td.first {border-width:0;}
th.memo {text-align:left;padding:0;}
td.sorted {background-color: #f0f0f0;}
th.sorted {background-color: #99f;}
tr.even td.sorted { background-color: #d0d0d0; }
table.sorted tr.error { background-color:red; }
table.sorted tr.scroll th { background-color:#99f; text-align:left;}
table.sorted tr.scroll th a.sorted { color:#fff; text-decoration:none;}
table.sorted tr.scroll th a.sorted:hover { color:#fff; text-decoration:underline;}
<script type=”text/javascript”>
// sortTable(id, col, rev,xcase)
// id – ID of the TABLE, TBODY, THEAD or TFOOT element to be sorted.
// col – Index of the column to sort, 0 = first column, 1 = second column, etc.
// rev – If true, the column is sorted in reverse (descending) order initially.
// xcase – makes sort NOT case sensitive.
// The following is an example of jsp code for setting up the reformatted copy of a date
// field to allow sorting by date:
// <fmt:formatDate var=”varSortDate” value=”${searchResult.dateOfBirth}” pattern=”${sortableDateTimePattern}” />
// <span title=”<c:out value=”${varSortDate}” />”><fmt:formatDate value=”${searchResult.dateOfBirth}” pattern=”${dateFormatPattern}” /></span> | etc.
// The above code creates html code that contains, for example, a line like the following:
// <span title=”19640101000000″>01/01/1964</span>
// This sort routing concatenates the title element and the text node
// content to sort on the following string:
// 1964010100000001/01/1964
// This effective ignores the date containing slashes and used the yyyyMMdd etc. value.
// Fields that are not dates should not use the span element and title attribute, unless
// it is desired to sort on something other than the text node content.
function sortTable(id, col, rev, xcase) {
// Get the table or table section to sort.
var tblEl = xgetHelper(id);
if(tblEl != null){
// The first time this function is called for a given table, set up an array of reverse sort flags.
if (tblEl.reverseSort == null) {
tblEl.reverseSort = new Array();
// Also, assume the column zero is initially sorted.
tblEl.lastColumn = 0; // was 1

// If this column has not been sorted before, set the initial sort direction.
if (tblEl.reverseSort[col] == null)
tblEl.reverseSort[col] = rev;

// If this column was the last one sorted, reverse its sort direction.
if (col == tblEl.lastColumn)
tblEl.reverseSort[col] = !tblEl.reverseSort[col];

// Remember this column as the last one sorted.
tblEl.lastColumn = col;
// Set the table display style to “none” – necessary for Netscape 6 browsers.
var oldDsply =; = “none”;
// Sort the rows based on the content of the specified column using a selection sort.

var tmpEl;
var i, j;
var minVal, minIdx;
var testVal;
var cmp;
for (i = 0; i < tblEl.rows.length – 1; i++) {

// Assume the current row has the minimum value.
minIdx = i;
minVal = getTextValue(tblEl.rows[i].cells[col], xcase);

// Search the rows that follow the current one for a smaller value.
for (j = i + 1; j < tblEl.rows.length; j++) {
testVal = getTextValue(tblEl.rows[j].cells[col], xcase);
cmp = compareValues(minVal, testVal);
// Negate the comparison result if the reverse sort flag is set.
if (tblEl.reverseSort[col])
cmp = -cmp;
// If this row has a smaller value than the current minimum, remember its
// position and update the current minimum value.
if (cmp > 0) {
minIdx = j;
minVal = testVal;

// By now, we have the row with the smallest value. Remove it from the
// table and insert it before the current row.
if (minIdx > i) {
tmpEl = tblEl.removeChild(tblEl.rows[minIdx]);
tblEl.insertBefore(tmpEl, tblEl.rows[i]);

// Make it look pretty.
makePretty(tblEl, col);

// Restore the table’s display style. = oldDsply;

return false;

// Functions to get and compare values during a sort.

// This code is necessary for browsers that don’t reflect the DOM constants
// (like IE).
if (document.ELEMENT_NODE == null) {
document.ELEMENT_NODE = 1;
document.TEXT_NODE = 3;

function getTextValue(el, xcase){
var i;
var s;
var spanTitleValue;

// Find and concatenate the values of all text nodes contained within the element.
s = “”;

for (i = 0; i < el.childNodes.length; i++) {
if (el.childNodes[i].nodeType == 1) {
if (el.childNodes[i].nodeName != null) {
if (el.childNodes[i].nodeName == “SPAN”) {
spanTitleValue = el.childNodes[i].getAttribute(“Title”);
s += spanTitleValue;
else {
// Use recursion to get text within sub-elements.
s += getTextValue(el.childNodes[i]);
else if (el.childNodes[i].nodeType == document.TEXT_NODE) {
s += el.childNodes[i].nodeValue;
else {
// Gets here when element is empty! <span title=””></span>
//alert(‘Error — Not element or text node’);
return normalizeString(s, xcase);

function compareValues(v1, v2) {

var f1, f2;
// If the values are numeric, convert them to floats.

f1 = parseFloat(v1);
f2 = parseFloat(v2);
if (!isNaN(f1) && !isNaN(f2)) {
v1 = f1;
v2 = f2;

// Compare the two values.
if (v1 == v2)
return 0;
if (v1 > v2)
return 1
return -1;

// Regular expressions for normalizing white space.
var whtSpEnds = new RegExp(“^\\s*|\\s*$”, “g”);
var whtSpMult = new RegExp(“\\s\\s+”, “g”);

function normalizeString(s, xcase) {

s = s.replace(whtSpMult, ” “); // Collapse any multiple whites space.
s = s.replace(whtSpEnds, “”); // Remove leading or trailing white space.

var rc = s;
if(xcase == true) {
rc = s.toUpperCase();
return rc;

// Functions to update the table appearance after a sort.

// Style class names.
var rowClsNm = “even”;
var colClsNm = “sorted”;

// Regular expressions for setting class names.
var rowTest = new RegExp(rowClsNm, “gi”);
var colTest = new RegExp(colClsNm, “gi”);

function makePretty(tblEl, col) {
var i, j;
var rowEl, cellEl;

// Set style classes on each row to alternate their appearance.
for (i = 0; i < tblEl.rows.length; i++) {
rowEl = tblEl.rows[i];
rowEl.className = rowEl.className.replace(rowTest, “”);
if (i % 2 != 0)
rowEl.className += ” ” + rowClsNm;
rowEl.className = normalizeString(rowEl.className);
// Set style classes on each column (other than the name column) to
// highlight the one that was sorted.
for (j = 0; j < tblEl.rows[i].cells.length; j++) { /* was j=2 */
cellEl = rowEl.cells[j];
cellEl.className = cellEl.className.replace(colTest, “”);
if (j == col)
cellEl.className += ” ” + colClsNm;
cellEl.className = normalizeString(cellEl.className);

// Find the table header and highlight the column that was sorted.
var el = tblEl.parentNode.tHead;
rowEl = el.rows[el.rows.length – 1];
// Set style classes for each column as above.
for (i = 2; i < rowEl.cells.length; i++) {
cellEl = rowEl.cells[i];
cellEl.className = cellEl.className.replace(colTest, “”);
// Highlight the header of the sorted column.
if (i == col)
cellEl.className += ” ” + colClsNm;
cellEl.className = normalizeString(cellEl.className);
function xgetHelper(id){
var obj = null;
try {
obj = document.getElementById(id);
} catch(z) {
//var dummy=alert(“Error:” + z);
return obj;
<div id=”ex_div” class=”scroll”>
<table summary=”” id=”names” class=”sorted” cellspacing=”0″>
<col style=”first labels” />
<col style=”form_fields” />
<tr class=”scroll”>
<th scope=”col” id=”ex_0″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” class=”sorted” onclick=”return sortTable(‘ex_sort’,0,true,true);”>Alpha</a></th>
<th scope=”col” id=”ex_1″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” class=”sorted” onclick=”return sortTable(‘ex_sort’,1,true,true);”>Date</a></th>
<th scope=”col” id=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” class=”sorted” onclick=”return sortTable(‘ex_sort’,2,true,true);”>Url</a></th>
<tbody class=”scroll” id=”ex_sort”>
<tr class=”even”>
<td headers=”ex_0″>Alpha</td>
<td headers=”ex_1″><span title=”20070701″>July 2, 2007</span></td>
<td headers=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” onclick=”alert(‘view.php?userid=6’);”>5</a></td>
<tr class=”odd”>
<td headers=”ex_0″>Bravo</td>
<td headers=”ex_1″><span title=”20050903″>Sept 3, 2005</span></td>
<td headers=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” onclick=”alert(‘view.php?userid=8’);”>4</a></td>
<tr class=”even”>
<td headers=”ex_0″>Charlie</td>
<td headers=”ex_1″><span title=”19700709″>July 9, 1970</span></td>
<td headers=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” onclick=”alert(‘view.php?userid=4’);”>2</a></td>
<tr class=”odd”>
<td headers=”ex_0″>Delta</td>
<td headers=”ex_1″><span title=”20001213″>Dec. 13, 2000</span></td>
<td headers=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” onclick=”alert(‘view.php?userid=5’);”>3</a></td>
<tr class=”even”>
<td headers=”ex_0″>Echo</td>
<td headers=”ex_1″><span title=”20010911″>Sept 11, 2001</span></td>
<td headers=”ex_2″><a href=”javascript:void(0);” onclick=”alert(‘view.php?userid=2’);”>1</a></td>


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.