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How to Sort by Column in a file using Python?
  • Difficulty Level : Medium
  • Last Updated : 29 Dec, 2020

For sorting files particularly CSV or tab or space separated files, We use Pandas and sort the data. Because Pandas provide multiple functions to achieve the same. But one thing we have to realize here is Pandas are built for bigger data sets and not for smaller files. For small files, we can even use the built-in functions provided by python, and no need to install additional libraries like Pandas to get the required. 

The main reason for writing this article is to show how we can use built-in functions like the sort to order smaller files which are of <10K lines in the required manner and still get what we want. In this article, we will understand how to use the sort function to customize the sorting according to our requirement rather than relying on the default element wise sorting provided by the function. 

Sort is a built-in list function in python that can sort any given object in place such as integers, float, string in ascending or descending order. Besides that, it provides a special attribute called “key” using which we can customize the sorting. To the “key” attribute we can either pass a one-liner function like Lambda or a user-defined function. 

Syntax: 

sort(self, /, *, key=None, reverse=False)

Let us understand how to use the sort function of list data type by applying two common types of data we see in general i.e. numerical and categorical data. 



Method 1#: How to Sort Numerical data using sort function?

Download the MallSalesData.csv file from the github link into your current directory and save it as MallSalesData.csv. then the sample file MallSalesData.csv downloaded has information about sales data in Mart store containing fields such as product code, production description, and price of the product. In the below code we will use the sort function to sort the CSV file downloaded by price in ascending order. 

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def my_sort(line):
    line_fields = line.strip().split(',')
    amount = float(line_fields[2])
    return amount
  
  
# opening file MallSalesData.csv
# and getting contents into a list
fp = open('MallSalesData.csv')
contents = fp.readlines()
  
# sorting using our custom logic
contents.sort(key=my_sort)
  
# printing the sorting contents to stdout
for line in contents:
    print(line)
      
fp.close()

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Output:

22633,HAND WARMER UNION JACK,11.1

22632,HAND WARMER RED POLKA DOT,11.1

85123A,WHITE HANGING HEART T-LIGHT HOLDER,15.3

22752,SET 7 BABUSHKA NESTING BOXES,15.3

71053,WHITE METAL LANTERN,20.34

84029G,KNITTED UNION FLAG HOT WATER BOTTLE,20.34

84029E,RED WOOLLY HOTTIE WHITE HEART,20.34

84406B,CREAM CUPID HEARTS COAT HANGER,22

21730,GLASS STAR FROSTED T-LIGHT HOLDER,25.5

84879,ASSORTED COLOUR BIRD ORNAMENT,54.08

In the above, you can see we are defining our own custom logic i.e. my_sort function which guides the sort function to sort on a particular field such as price to sort the records. You can see in the above output the entire file is sorted based on the price field. 

How does this work?

  • When we use the key attribute in the sort() function each time an element of the list which is a customer purchase record in this case is passed to our function my_sort().
  • my_sort function will split the record by comma, fetch the price, and store in amount variable.
  • The amount variable is further returned as the return value of my_sort() function which is used by sort() to sort the records.
  • This means each time sort() function see the amount() value in numbers to sort the records.

Method 2#: How to Sort Categorical data using sort function?

1. Download the Flights.txt file from the github link into your current directory and save the filename as Flights.txt. The sample file Flights.txt downloaded has information about flight passengers such as their ticket number, passenger name, ticket code, and cabin class they are traveling. In the below code we will use the sort function to sort the text file downloaded based on their cabin class. That is ECONOMY followed by PREMIUM ECONOMY followed by BUSINESS followed by FIRST CLASS. 

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def my_sort(line):
    flight_class = {'ECONOMY': 1,
                    'PREMIUMECONOMY': 2,
                    'BUSINESS': 3,
                    'FIRSTCLASS': 4}
    line_fields = line.strip().split()
    cabin_class = line_fields[-1]
    return flight_class[cabin_class]
  
  
# reading flights.csv and storing in list
# variable contents
fp = open('Flights.txt')
contents = fp.readlines()
  
# sorting based on categorical variable cabin class
contents.sort(key=my_sort)
  
# displaying contents on stdout after sorting
for line in contents:
    print(line)
  
fp.close()

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Output:

001 AALAM SAMIMI/MOJGAN MRS 5SZKUU ECONOMY

007 AFSHAR GHAHREMANKHANI/ARA ZYA4NT ECONOMY

010 AHMADI SOBHANI/JALEH MS 2ASCHO ECONOMY
002 ABDOLI/AHMAD DR MR 5AMBNC PREMIUMECONOMY

008 AFSHARGHAHREMANKHANI/ALI 8CP4YE PREMIUMECONOMY

003 ABDOLLAHIMOTLAGHSOMEHSA/M 6VXREM BUSINESS

009 AFSHARGHAHREMANKHANI/ARIA 8CQFCB BUSINESS

004 AFRASIABI/HASSAN MR 2Y24ER FIRSTCLASS

005 AFSHAR BAKESHLOO/LIDA MRS 8CQFCB FIRSTCLASS

006 AFSHAR GHAHREMANKHANI/ALI 25KO4X FIRSTCLASS

In the above, you can see we have defined our custom logic i.e. my_sort function which guides the sort function to sort on a categorical variable called cabin class. You can see in the above output the entire file is sorted on the last field i.e. cabin class where you can observe that the records are ordered with ECONOMY followed by PREMIUM ECONOMY followed by BUSINESS followed by FIRST CLASS. 

How does this work?

  • When we use the key attribute in sort() function each time an element of the list which is passenger traveling in-flight information is passed to our function my_sort().
  • my_sort function will split the record by space and fetch the last field which is cabin class into variable cabin_class.
  • We also have defined a dictionary flight_class where we defined the cabin class order according to our requirement i.e. ECONOMY to 1, PREMIUM ECONOMY to 2, and so on. This will help us to send the order we want to sort these categorical values.
  • Once we get cabin_class from each record we will check in dictionary flight_class what is the order priority mentioned and pass that value as return value to sort() function.
  • This means each time sort() function will see the order priority defined for flight cabin class and sort the records accordingly.

This way we can customize any type of sorting functionality by just using the basic functions provided by python. Similarly, we can customize max, min, and other built-in functions of python to perform the operations according to our requirements. 

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