I have the data:

"John Smith","2007-03-01"
"Joe Richard","2002-01-21"
"Harry Lee",""

And the columns are "First/Last Name","Last Login". It's an administrative page that generally shows all users in a table that can sort by any column.

  • In ascending order (oldest to newest) do dateless entries display first or last?
  • In descending order does it reverse? (I could see the argument be made they always belong last)
  • 2
    In most databases and programming languages by default a null is sorted first in ascending and last in descending. Maybe not the best UX experience but that is what is presented most of the time.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:14

4 Answers 4


We face that ALL the time at work (sales orders, etc...). The newest items default to the top and the dateless items are placed at the bottom (under the oldest date). To find them the user has to select ascending order to place them at the top.

Users don't have the slightest problem with them.


It depends on the context.

For example, the most common use for dates in an email program is viewing the most recent messages. In this context, sorting undated messages as newer than everything else would clog up the view, so undated messages get sorted as if they were infinitely old.

On the other hand, if lack of a date represents an incompletely-entered record (say, an event that you don't know the date of yet), it may make sense to sort "lack of date" as the newest element on the list.

For that matter, there may be contexts where it makes sense to sort an undated record as always coming first (or last) regardless of whether you're sorting by date ascending or descending.

  • When and in what email program do undated emails appear? In what contexts do always sorting last/first make sense? Dec 30, 2014 at 19:48
  • 1
    @JosephLennox, undated emails appear when the sending program didn't include a Date: header in the email. Usually this is spam, but you can also get it with automated status messages, malfunctioning email clients, manually-generated test messages, and many other ways.
    – Mark
    Dec 31, 2014 at 0:00

In OS X Finder "No Date" items are shown last (after the oldest), there is no sorting by ascending order there, but I personally would still keep it at the bottom of the list in ascending order, too.


Logical ordering by date would put the empty date entries first. Is it possible to make the date a required field? Depending on the nature of the application that may be the best approach.

  • 1
    This is not answering the question. "Logical" from whose point of view, and what validation is there to support that beyond a personal opinion? Setting the field to required is not the issue be sought, but rather dealing with dates already (or lack thereof) being presented in an appropriate order. Dec 29, 2014 at 21:47
  • @Evil Closet Monkey - Most DB implementations are going to order the data exactly as I have stated when the Date is queried using an ORDER BY clause. That's not my personal opinion, and I don't really care either way. My suggestion to make the date a required field would help with the problem going forward as fewer dates would be input as blank. Heck, default to current date or something.
    – Stephen
    Jan 5, 2015 at 19:19

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