Go by Example: Sorting by Functions

Sometimes we’ll want to sort a collection by something other than its natural order. For example, suppose we wanted to sort strings by their length instead of alphabetically. Here’s an example of custom sorts in Go.

package main
import "sort"
import "fmt"

In order to sort by a custom function in Go, we need a corresponding type. Here we’ve created a byLength type that is just an alias for the builtin []string type.

type byLength []string

We implement sort.Interface - Len, Less, and Swap - on our type so we can use the sort package’s generic Sort function. Len and Swap will usually be similar across types and Less will hold the actual custom sorting logic. In our case we want to sort in order of increasing string length, so we use len(s[i]) and len(s[j]) here.

func (s byLength) Len() int {
    return len(s)
func (s byLength) Swap(i, j int) {
    s[i], s[j] = s[j], s[i]
func (s byLength) Less(i, j int) bool {
    return len(s[i]) < len(s[j])

With all of this in place, we can now implement our custom sort by casting the original fruits slice to byLength, and then use sort.Sort on that typed slice.

func main() {
    fruits := []string{"peach", "banana", "kiwi"}

Running our program shows a list sorted by string length, as desired.

$ go run sorting-by-functions.go 
[kiwi peach banana]

By following this same pattern of creating a custom type, implementing the three Interface methods on that type, and then calling sort.Sort on a collection of that custom type, we can sort Go slices by arbitrary functions.

Next example: Panic.