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

View your inbox however you prefer

What to Know

  • First, determine if the viewing layout is Default or Classic. Go to Mail > Preferences > Viewing.
  • Default layout: Click Sort by… in message header > choose criteria, then select ascending or descending order.
  • Classic layout: Select View tab > Columns > choose display options > click columns to sort. Click columns again to change order.

By default, Apple's Mac OS X Mail sorts its inbox chronologically with the newest messages on top. But that's not the only way to organize your emails; you can sort by almost any element of the emails, including size, sender's email address, subject line.

Which Layout Are You Using?

The sorting options available to you and how you use them depends on which view you're using in Mail. It offers two appearance options: default and classic.

The classic layout shows all of your emails on single lines at the top of the screen with the contents of the message you've selected beneath them. The default layout includes preview text and puts the full emails in a pane to the right. Here's how to switch between the two.

  1. Open the Mail menu and select Preferences.

    You can also press Command-comma (,) on your keyboard.

    Mail > Preferences
  2. Click the Viewing tab.

    Preferences in OS X Mail with the Viewing tab highlighted
  3. Click the box next to Use classic layout to turn that viewing mode on. Leave the box blank to keep the default viewing mode.

    Viewing pane of OS X Mail preferences with the box next to "use classic layout" highlighted
  4. The layout will change as soon as you click the box, so you can decide which looks better.

Change or Reverse the Mail Sorting Order in Default Layout

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

  1. ​Click Sort by ___ in the message list's header.

    OS X Mail in box with the Sort By header highlighted
  2. Choose the desired sort criterion from the list. Your options are:

    • Attachments: separate messages with files attached from ones that don't.
    • Date: sort emails based on when you received them.
    • Flags: separate messages you've flagged from ones you haven't.
    • From: sort emails based on who sent them.
    • Size: arrange messages based on how much space they take up.
    • Subject: sort messages alphabetically by subject line.
    • To: list emails based on whom they're addressed to.
    • Unread: separate messages you've read from ones you haven't.
    OS X Mail inbox with the sort menu highlighted
  3. Below the sort types, you can choose which order to sort in. Depending on how you're organizing your inbox, these commands will have different labels. The general choice, however, is Ascending or Descending.

    If you sort by Attachments or Flagged, the Descending option will show the attachments or flagged messages on top.

    Sort menu in OS X Mail with the ascending/descending order choices highlighted
  4. Your inbox will arrange itself as you select options from the menu.

Change or Reverse the Mail Sorting Order in Classic Layout

To sort your messages in Mac OS X Mail with classic layout enabled:

  1. Select View > Columns to see the available viewing options.

    Mail in OS X with the Columns heading under the View menu highlighted
  2. Click the options you want to display in your inbox to make them active.

    Active columns will have checkmarks next to them in the menu.

    Columns list under the View menu in OS X Mail with a checkmark highlighted
  3. Click any of the visible columns to sort by that criterion.

    Keep clicking to switch between ascending and descending order.

    OS X Mail in classic layout with the columns highlighted

How to Sort OS X Mail Using the Menu

Alternatively, you can quickly sort in both layouts by opening the View menu and selecting Sort By. This menu includes both sorting criteria and the ascending/descending options.

View > Sort By
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