When sort on table column with empty data, what order should empty cells appear in?

For example, say there is a Latest Date column where we have a number of dates and sort by earliest date first. Sort is easy when there is a date but what about when a cell has no date? Irrespective of whether blanks should come first or last before cells with dates, what order should the blanks appear in?

  • 05-Feb-1979
  • 03-Jan-1995
  • 01-Dec-2004
  • (Blank 1)
  • (Blank 2)
  • (Blank 3)
  • I'm no expert, but I'd imagine that the second most important aspect of the cells would be used for sorting them
    – Quelklef
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 1:49

2 Answers 2


It's not hugely important to define the sort order in this case. It would probably be fine to have the order of any identical values be undefined when sorting by that column.

If you do want a defined behavior, keep the existing order for any columns that have the same value. For example, if the data was previously sorted by column A, then when sorting by date, any columns that have the same value (or lack a value) will be sorted by column A.

This enables the user to determine what data they see in this case, by doing two or more column sorts in order. It can be quite helpful if you have columns with many repeat values. It is the typical behavior in desktop applications.

  • Thanks @dan1111, is there a desktop app example you have seen with this?
    – danielone
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 20:59

The point is not to look at the experience from the point of view of a single column. The blank dates do not matter. What matters is the user's priorities for complete rows. Based on the priority of what the user needs when comparing rows, row ordering may be a function of multiple column's values. At that point you might either provide a sorting mechanism based on cross column rankings or an additional view affordance.

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