How to Sort a List in Python

Effortlessly sort Python lists using sort() and sorted(), unlocking efficient data organization in just a few lines of code.

How to Sort a List in Python

Python is a powerful programming language with a wide array of built-in functions designed to make common tasks straightforward and efficient. Sorting data is a fundamental operation in many applications, and Python provides several methods to sort lists, catering to various requirements and use cases. This article explores the different ways to sort lists in Python, covering both basic and advanced sorting techniques.

Understanding Lists in Python

Before diving into sorting, it's essential to understand what lists are in Python. A list is a collection of items (elements) that are ordered and changeable. Lists can contain items of different types, although typically, lists are used with items of a single type.

Basic Sorting with sort() and sorted()

Python offers two primary approaches to sorting lists: the sort() method and the sorted() function.

The sort() Method

The sort() method modifies the list it is called on. This means that the original list is changed, and elements are sorted in place.

numbers = [3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2]
print(numbers)  # Output: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9]

Customizing Sort Order:

  • Descending Order: Use the reverse=True parameter.
print(numbers)  # Output: [9, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1]
  • Custom Sort Function: Use the key parameter to specify a function to be called on each list element prior to making comparisons.
# Sort by the second letter of each string
words = ['banana', 'apple', 'pear']
words.sort(key=lambda x: x[1])
print(words)  # Output: ['banana', 'apple', 'pear']

The sorted() Function

The sorted() function generates a new list containing all elements from the original list in sorted order, leaving the original list unaffected.

numbers = [3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2]
sorted_numbers = sorted(numbers)
print(sorted_numbers)  # Output: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9]

The sorted() function also accepts the reverse and key parameters, similar to the sort() method.

Sorting Lists of Custom Objects

When working with lists of custom objects, you can still utilize the sort() method or sorted() function by providing a key function that returns a property to sort by.

class Fruit:
    def __init__(self, name, count): = name
        self.count = count

fruits = [Fruit('Apple', 3), Fruit('Banana', 1), Fruit('Cherry', 2)]

# Sort fruits by their count
fruits.sort(key=lambda x: x.count)

# Display sorted fruits by name
for fruit in fruits:
    print(  # Output: Banana, Cherry, Apple

Advanced Sorting: Using the operator Module

For more complex sorting, the operator module provides functions like itemgetter and attrgetter, which offer an alternative to lambda functions for specifying sort keys.

from operator import attrgetter

# Continuing from the previous example
for fruit in fruits:
    print(  # Output: Apple, Banana, Cherry


Sorting lists in Python is a task that can be accomplished in various ways, depending on the specific requirements of your project. Whether you're sorting simple lists of numbers or complex lists of custom objects, Python's built-in sorting capabilities are designed to offer flexibility, efficiency, and ease of use. By mastering the sort() method and sorted() function, along with understanding how to customize the sort order and use sorting keys, you can handle most sorting tasks with confidence and precision.