What is Tableau Sort Function & its usage?: Simplified 101

Yash Arora • Last Modified: December 29th, 2022

Tableau Sort Function | COver

Ever since Tableau was created, it has been revolutionizing the Business Intelligence and Data Analytics industry for good. It has democratized smart decision-making for non-technical and technical users from all walks of life. Today, we are going to talk about one feature of Tableau that enables smart decision-making by helping in sorting information such that it makes better sense.

In this tutorial article, we are going to talk about Tableau Sort Function in a manner that is easy to understand. Let’s begin.

Table of Contents

What is Tableau?

Tableau Sort Function | Tableau logo in blog

Tableau is a well-known Business Intelligence and Data Analytics tool created to aid in data visualization and analytics understanding of complex business data so that data-driven choices can be made. The most significant characteristic of this application is that it makes organizing, managing, visualizing, and understanding data exceedingly simple for non-technical users.

For now, eight years, Tableau has been a market leader, also featuring in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and BI Platforms. Today, Tableau has three products that fit well in the Tableau ecosystem:

  • Tableau Prep,
  • Tableau Desktop, and
  • Tableau Server or Tableau Online

Key Features

Here are some exciting features of Tableau: 

  • Ease of use: Tableau’s learning curve is substantially lower than that of competing platforms. Tableau’s drag & drop feature allows users to accomplish practically anything in a matter of no time. Almost every option is available with a single click, and everything appears to be intuitive and straightforward. In short, Tableau’s user-friendliness makes data analysis and visualization a fun, engaging, and rewarding experience.
  • Ever-happening developments & investments: With four significant updates every year, Tableau invest a lot in R&D. So, if your worry is regarding proper maintenance and hygiene factors, Tableau takes care of that.
  • A thriving community of developers: Tableau’s annual conference in the United States attracts 15k people eager to learn about all the latest features of Business Intelligence platforms from around the globe. User groups, webinars, Tableau Public users, and Twitter specialists constantly disseminate helpful information to individuals in need — a terrific method to improve learning and development.

How to Use Sort Tableau Function in a Visualization?

Let’s learn to use the sort Tableau Function in visualization as follows:

Although Tableau provides a single click button dedicated to the sorting function, there are multiple methods too.
The general principle is:

  • One click assorts ascending,
  • Two clicks assort descending, and 
  • Three clicks clear the sort.

As shown in the representation below, the change in primary values will affect data sorting.

Tableau Sort | How to Use Sort Tableau Function From an Axis, Header, & Field Label?
Tableau Documentation

1. Tableau Sort From an Axis

  • Step 1: Bring up the sort icon by hovering over any numerical axis.
  • Step 2: To start sorting, click on the icon.

As shown in the representation below, the sort function has been used to color-code every variant in decreasing the order of Metric A.

Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort From an Axis
Tableau Documentation

Based on the values for Metric A, the sort function is applied to Color which in fact sorts the rows in a color-coded manner. The sort is done to the innermost dimension if there are hierarchical dimensions.

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2. Tableau Sort From a Header

  • Step 1: To sort from a header, try hovering over a header. The step will bring up the sort icon.
  • Step 2: Once the icon is clicked, the sort begins.

As shown in the reference below, the sort function has been used to arrange materials in decreasing order of Metric B. The highlighted part is for the green material.

Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort From a Header
Tableau Documentation

3. Tableau Sort From a Field Label

  • Step 1: To Start sorting from a field label, first, find the sort icon by hovering over a field label.

The sort icon for the field label sort option differs slightly from that of a header or axis. Although the default option remains the alphabetical sorting, you can also choose to sort by a field in the view from the menu drop-down.

Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort From a Field Label
Tableau Documentation
  • Step 2: To enable alphabetical sorting, click on the A-Z button or open the menu to view a list of fields you can sort by, then select one. The icon changes to a bar icon, and you can sort by clicking on it.
Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort From a Field Label
Tableau Documentation

The sort is applied to the outermost dimension (Hue) based on total Metric B in this case. (Hue is sorted and Metric B is aggregated for all the colors within each hue.) As a result, Purple comes first, followed by Green, and finally Blue.)

How to Use Tableau Sort Function in an Authoring Environment?

In Tableau’s authoring environment, some special editing privileges are present, which by default are not present on information that is published. Let’s learn to sort data using the following ways:

1. Tableau Sort From the Toolbar

  • Step 1: First, it’s required to select the dimensions in which you need to sort. By default, Tableau will sort to the deepest dimension present if a field is not selected before.
  • Step 2: Now, choose the buttons in the toolbar to define the sort to function.
Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort From the Toolbar
Tableau Documentation

Unless the Material field is selected before sorting, the sort is applied to the variant as shown in the reference above. The leftmost measure, Metric B, is similarly sorted using the toolbar. To sort by Metric A, it’s a prerequisite to have the order on the Columns shelf or use another sorting mechanism.

2. Tableau Sort Using the Drag & Drop Option

Now, you will have to manually select then drag and drop a header on a legend to the right location under this option. 

Tableau Sort | Tableau Sort Using the Drag & Drop Option
Tableau Documentation

Not only does sorting on a legend modify the order of the marks, but it also changes how the legend is shown. The bottommost mark in the picture is the same as the bottommost mark in the tale. In the case of scatterplots and other viz kinds with overlapping markings, this can be nearest to the axis or heading.

3. Sorting Via Specific Fields in the Viz

  • Step 1: If you are on a MAC, control-click or else right-click if you are on Windows to select the type of sort.
  • Step 2: By selecting the “Sort By” option, you can configure the behavior in the following manner:
  1. Data Source Order: The order of the data in the data source determines how the data is sorted. Natural sort order is typically used for relational data sources. Multi-digit numbers are considered a single character in natural sort order, an alphabetic sort. Natural sorting, for example, places 2 ahead of 19 since 2 is less than 19, whereas alphabetic sorting places 19 ahead of 2 because 1 is less than 2. The defined hierarchal order of the members within a dimension is the data source order if you utilize a cube.
  2. Alphabetic: The data is sorted alphabetically. This sort is case sensitive, prioritizes [A-Z] above [a-z], and treats each digit separately (that is, 19 comes before 2). To build a non-case sensitive sort, use the UPPER() or LOWER() functions to remove capitalization variation in a calculated field. See String Functions for further information (Link opens in a new window).
  3. Field: You can choose which field’s value will be utilized to determine the sort order using the Field option. The visualization does not need the use of the field. For the sporting field, you can also choose an aggregation. The field type determines the types of aggregate possibilities.
  4. Manual: Manual allows you to choose a value and drag it to the correct location in the list or by using the right-hand arrows.
  5. Nested: You can choose which field’s value will be used to decide the sort order with Nested. The visualization does not need the use of the field. For the sporting field, you can also choose an aggregation. The field type determines the types of aggregate possibilities.

What is a Nested & Non-nested Tableau Sort?

There are two ways to sort when the values that are meant to be sorted are present in multiple panes — Nested and Non-nested.

Non-nested sort is also known as the Comparative sort. From the difference table below, let’s understand more about the Nested and the Non-nested Sort.

Nested Non-nested (Comparative)
The nested sort considers every pane as primary, sorting rows step-by-step, per pane. In Fig 1, the Purple has been sorted before Green for fabric and paper and below Green for paint.In the non-nested sort, we consider the value across panes, having the same vale value per pane. In Fig 2, the Purple has been positioned above the Green for all materials. The reason being, in aggregate, Purple is higher than Green.
Within the context of the pane, the Nested sort looks fine but fails to convey information on the overall values.Non-nested convey perfectly the comparison for the aggregated values if compared overall.
By default, whenever you are sorting from an axis, Nested sort is provided.If you choose to sort from a field label, non-nested sort is used by default.
Tableau Sort | Nested Sort
Figure 1: Nested Tableau Sort
Tableau Sort | Non-Nested Sort
Figure 2: Non-nested Tableau Sort
  • If a dimension and a measure are on the same shelf, the measure will have an axis in the view for each dimension value. When you select the axis sort icon, a nested sort is created for that value.
Tableau Sort | non-Nested Sort
Tableau Documentation
  • In this case, a new field for the sorted dimension is added to the sort menu dialogue. Uncheck the “Filter By box” to avoid the sort from being broken down by this value.
Tableau Sort | non-Nested Sort
Tableau Documentation

What are “Incorrect” Tableau Sorts?

It’s simple to mistakenly believe a view is sorted wrongly when the sort logic is simply unclear. When a non-nested sort is expected (or vice versa), a view with a nested sort can be seen as inappropriate. When there are numerous panes, sorting can produce results that appear unsorted.

This view, for example, may appear to be unsorted when, in fact, it is sorted on Hue by Metric A.

Tableau Sort | What are "Incorrect" Tableau Sorts?
Tableau Documentation

By simplifying the view, the new sorted chart seems more intuitive. Have a look at the below-given reference.

Tableau Sort | What are "Incorrect" Tableau Sorts?
Tableau Documentation

Now, start hovering over the sort icons to see the sort description to help you understand what’s going on, a little bit better.

What are Clear Tableau Sorts?

In the authoring environment, sorting can be done from a variety of locations. Despite the fact that there are symbols in the view and on the fields that show where a sort is applied, clearing all sorts at once can be handy at times.

You can right-click to access the menu and pick clear sort to remove the sort on a specific field.

Open the menu next to the clear sheet symbol in the toolbar and select Clear Kinds to remove all sorts from the view. Worksheet > Clear > Sorts is another option.

How to Remove the Ability to sort?

You can disable the sort icons in published content as an author. This is useful for preserving the sort of visualization as you built it. Uncheck the option to Show Sort Controls under the Worksheet menu. The sort icons will not appear when a consumer hovers over an axis, header, or field label; the sort icons will not appear.

The sort icons will be hidden if field labels, headers, or the axis are hidden.


So to conclude, in this tutorial article we have gone through the basics of the Tableau Sort Function in detail. We have talked about the various different scenarios in which we can use the Tableau Sort Function. If you want to understand the subject in greater detail, either of these two articles can help.

  1. Sort Data in a Visualization
  2. Filter and Sort Data in the View

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