Jonathan Cardoso Machado
[en] / pt-br

Client-Supplied Custom Sorting Using GraphQL


It’s not uncommon the need to sort/order data returned from an API, based on arguments sent by the client. With REST we could just use query-strings, but how to do it in GraphQL?

Most databases allow to sort on multiple fields at the same time, and the sorting order can differ from one to another, one way to translate this into GraphQL, and that I’ve been using, is to use enums and object input arguments.


Let’s say we have a resolver getUsers: [User!]! which returns users from MongoDB, and we are sorting the results by name and createdAt:

const users = await ctx.db.users.find().sort({
  name: 1, // ascending
  createdAt: -1, // descending

But we want to allow the client to specify the fields that are going to be sorted, and their respective order.

First, we could have a Direction enum, whose values are ASC and DESC:

enum DirectionEnum {

Using graphql-js this could be defined like the following:

import { GraphQLEnumType } from 'graphql'

export const DirectionEnumType = new GraphQLEnumType({
  name: 'DirectionEnum',
  values: {
    ASC: {
      value: 1,
    DESC: {
      value: -1,

Now let’s create a enum to represent the fields that are allowed to be sorted on our User:

enum UserSortFieldEnum {

In graphql-js:

import { GraphQLEnumType } from 'graphql'

export const UserSortFieldEnumType = new GraphQLEnumType({
  name: 'UserSortFieldEnum',
  values: {
    NAME: {
      value: 'name',
      value: 'createdAt',

Now, to connect those two together, we are going to make a input type called UserSort:

input UserSort {
  field: UserSortFieldEnum!
  direction: DirectionEnum!


import { GraphQLInputObjectType, GraphQLNonNull } from 'graphql'

import { DirectionEnumType } from './DirectionEnum'
import { UserSortFieldEnumType } from './UserSortFieldEnum'

const UserSortInputType = new GraphQLInputObjectType({
  name: 'UserSort',
  fields: () => ({
    field: {
      type: GraphQLNonNull(UserSortFieldEnumType),
    direction: {
      type: GraphQLNonNull(DirectionEnumType),

Then our getUsers resolver will become:

  getUsers(sort: [UserSort!]): [User!]!

And now the client can query it and specify any sort order they need:

query GetUsers {
  getUsers(sort: [
      field: NAME,
      direction: DESC,
      field: CREATED_AT,
      direction: ASC,
  ]) {
    # ...

And if you are using MongoDB, and are going to start using this, @entria/graphql-mongo-helpers has a simple helper to transform the sort argument supplied by the client to something that can be used on MongoDB sort() method.

It’s called buildSortArg, using it on our getUser resolver would look like this:

// ...

import { buildSortFromArg } from '@entria/graphql-mongo-helpers'

// ... inside getUser resolver:
const users = await ctx.db.users.find().sort(buildSortFromArg(args.sort))

The library also exports a SDL definition and GraphQLObject for the Direction enum, DirectionEnum and DirectionEnumType respectively.


This same idea can be used with any other database library, knex for example has the orderBy method which accepts an argument in the format:

  column: string,
  order: 'asc' | 'desc'

and for that, a function called buildOrderByFromArg can be as simple as:

export default function buildOrderByFromArg(orderByArg) {
  return orderByArg.reduce(
    (acc, item) => [
        column: item.field,
        order: item.direction === -1 ? 'desc' : 'asc',

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