How to Change the Mail Sorting Order in Mac OS X Mail

Mac Mail app shown running on macOS Sierra

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Sort messages in OS X Mail according to many criteria to quickly spot the emails you need or process them in the order you prefer easily.

What Makes It to the Top?

Who wants their mail sorted by date with the latest on top?

We do. We bet many do. Apple's Mac OS X Mail seems to like that setup as well.

What, though, if you do love to see your inbox sorted chronologically but prefer to go through your mail in chronological order, oldest to newest from top to bottom? What if you would like to spot the biggest messages fast, maybe just this once? What if sorting purely by the sender's email address—or maybe the subject—would be most useful for a folder? What if you need to sort your mailbox by a different criterion altogether?

Take heart: changing—or reversing—a folder's sort order is easy (if not always or immediately obvious) in Mac OS X Mail, and Mail comes with many a criterion and column you can use for sorting your emails.

Change or Reverse the Mail Sorting Order in Mac OS X Mail

To sort the messages in any folder in OS X Mail using one of several criteria:

  1. Make sure classic view is not enabled:
    1. Select Mail | Options… from the menu in OS X Mail.
    2. Open the Viewing tab.
    3. Make sure Use classic layout is not selected.
      1. ​See below for changing the sort order in classic layout.
  2. ​Click Sort by ___ in the message list's header.
  3. Choose the desired sort criterion from the list that appears.
  4. To reverse the sort order for the current criterion:
    1. Click Sort by ___ again in the email list header.
    2. Choose Ascending or Descending, A to Z or Z to A or Smallest/Oldest Message on Top or Largest/Newest Message on Top from the menu that has appeared.

Change or Reverse the Mail Sorting Order in Mac OS X Mail (Classic Layout)

To sort your messages differently in Mac OS X Mail with classic layout enabled for mailbox view:

  1. Make sure classic layout is enabled for OS X Mail:
    1. ​Select Mail | Options… from the menu.
    2. Go to the Viewing tab.
    3. Make sure Use classic layout is checked.
      1. ​You can leave the preferences window open and switch back to standard layout at any time with but a click.
  2. Now make sure the column by which you want to sort is visible:
    1. Select View | Columns from the menu to see what's available.
    2. In addition to Date Sent (which is the date given in the email), there's the more accurate Date Received, for example, that makes sure no emails with wacky dates show up out of order.
  3. Click the desired column to sort.
  4. Click again to reverse the sort order.
  5. Optionally, remove the column again using View | Columns.

(Updated April 2016, tested with OS X Mail 9)