Sorting Collections using Natural Order and Custom Comparators

In Java, collections provide a way to group multiple elements together. However, in certain cases, it becomes necessary to sort these elements based on their values or custom criteria. Thankfully, Java provides two approaches for sorting collections - using natural order and custom comparators. In this article, we will explore how to sort collections using these two methods.

Sorting Using Natural Order

When we say "natural order," we refer to the default order defined by the elements themselves. Many classes in Java, such as String, Integer, and Double, implement the Comparable interface, which allows objects of their class to be compared and sorted.

To sort a collection in natural order, we must ensure that the elements it contains implement the Comparable interface and override the compareTo method. The implementation of this method defines how the objects should be compared.

Let's take an example where we have a list of strings and we want to sort them alphabetically using natural order:

List<String> fruits = new ArrayList<>();
Collections.sort(fruits); // sorts the list using natural order

The Collections.sort() method is used to sort the collection in its natural order. After executing the code above, the fruits list will contain the sorted strings: ["apple", "banana", "orange"].

Sorting Using Custom Comparators

While the natural order is suitable for built-in classes, we may encounter scenarios where we need to sort elements based on our own criteria. This is when custom comparators come into play.

A custom comparator is simply a class that implements the Comparator interface. This interface contains a single method, compare(), which compares two objects of a given type.

Suppose we have a list of employees, and we want to sort them based on their age. We can define a custom comparator to achieve this:

class EmployeeComparator implements Comparator<Employee> {
    public int compare(Employee emp1, Employee emp2) {
        return emp1.getAge() - emp2.getAge();

List<Employee> employees = new ArrayList<>();
employees.add(new Employee("John", 25));
employees.add(new Employee("Emma", 30));
employees.add(new Employee("Adam", 22));
Collections.sort(employees, new EmployeeComparator()); // sorts the list using custom comparator

In the above code snippet, we define a EmployeeComparator class that implements the Comparator interface. The compare() method compares employees based on their age. We then pass an instance of this comparator to the Collections.sort() method to achieve custom sorting.

After executing the code, the employees list will contain the employees sorted by age: [Adam, John, Emma].


Sorting collections is a common operation in Java, and understanding how to sort them using natural order and custom comparators is crucial.

By utilizing natural order, we can easily sort collections of classes that implement the Comparable interface.

On the other hand, custom comparators provide us with the flexibility to define our own sorting criteria for elements that do not have a natural order or require specific sorting logic.

Remember to choose the appropriate sorting method based on your needs and enjoy the benefits of organized and sorted collections in your Java applications.

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