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Daniel Sipos
02 Mar 2015

In a previous article I showed you how to use the usort() and uasort() PHP functions to sort some more complex data using a comparator callback function. How cool was that?

Although powerful, this technique is quite restricting though because all the logic for the sorting happens inside the comparator function. In other words, you cannot pass parameters to this callback except for the actual default values that are being compared. So what's the problem with this?

Say you have an array of objects that have a name property that can be retrieved by a getName() getter method. And let's say they also have an address property retrieved by getAddress(). And you have a listing of this data and you need to allow for sorting by any of these properties both ASC and DESC. And forget for one second about the possibility of ordering them as they come out of your data store.

Implementing this with just the default usort() function means you will need 4 different comparer functions (one for each combination of property and sort direction). And what if you want to add more columns to the listing? Oh no..

As you can imagine, the solution to this problem is having a dynamic sorting function (or method in a class) to which you can pass the items to be sorted, the property by which to sort and the direction of sort. And then not have to worry about creating all these ridiculous comparer functions. So how might this look like?

function sortByObjectProps(&$items, $method, $order) {
  if ( ! is_array($items)) {
    return false;

  return usort($items, function($a, $b) use ($method, $order){
    $cmp = strcmp($a->$method(), $b->$method());
    return $order === 'asc' ? $cmp : -$cmp;

So what happens here? First of all, $items is passed by reference so we don't need to return it. The return value will just be a boolean indicating the success or failure of the sort. Additionally, we pass the method name that retrieves the property value ($method) and the direction of the sort ($order).

Then we run usort() on the items but - and here is the kicker - with an anonymous function that can use the passed in method and order values. Then it's just a matter of comparing the return values of the getter methods and negate the integer if the order is DESC. Pretty cool no?

So now you can have as many columns as you need and get them sorted in both directions. And obviously even more complex stuff.

Hope this helps.

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Daniel Sipos

CEO @ Web Omelette

Danny founded WEBOMELETTE in 2012 as a passion project, mostly writing about Drupal problems he faced day to day, as well as about new technologies and things that he thought other developers would find useful. Now he now manages a team of developers and designers, delivering quality products that make businesses successful.

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