Sorting Lists at Runtime

Have you ever needed to sort the content of a list box or drop down list at runtime (e.g. in a form loaded in PDF with Acrobat or HTML with a browser)?

Unfortunately, neither the XFA nor the AcroForm Object Models give you either properties or methods to achieve this functionality. The only thing available are Sort Ascending and Sort Descending buttons on the list of items you define in the Object palette’s Field tab in Designer — not very useful at runtime! Say you were loading data from an XML Data File into your form and this was populating a list with values that needed to be sorted: There wouldn’t be a built-in way for you to do that.

The only solution I’m aware of at this time is to flex your scripting muscles and write some functions that’ll get you sorting lists (from either list boxes or drop down lists) and that’s exactly what I did today while replying to a post on Adobe’s Designer Forums:

Download Sample [pdf]

Minimum Requirements: Designer 7.0, Acrobat 7.0.

Update: It looks like Acrobat 8.0 broke something that prevents my sample form from working correctly. It has to do with the call to


Fortunately, the bug will be fixed in Acrobat’s next release.

As a workaround, I would encourage you to have a look at the new list object properties and methods now available in Acrobat 8.0. You should be able to use a combination of those new properties/methods along with some of the original script in this sample in order to come-up with an update solution that works.

All the code is located in the script object appropriately named, “ScriptObject”.

The idea was to make use of the JavaScript Array object’s built-in sorting function, sort, by giving it a custom sorting function that was able to sort pairs of text and value items. Remember that for XFA choiceList fields, there’s always one <items save=”1”> node but there may be a second <items> node if text and value items are defined.

From Designer’s UI, you define value items by default by entering items in the list on the Object palette’s Field tab. This defines an <items save=”1”> node. If you then go to the Bindings tab and specify values, the items you specified on the Field tab become the “text” items, defined in the second <items> node, and the values are set in the <items save=”1”> node.

When sorting the list, it’s important to maintain the association between text and value item pairs and that’s why the script is a little complex — not to mention the fact that getting items out of an XFA choiceList field (list box or drop down list) isn’t as easy as 1-2-3 either!

So the script attempts to find text and/or value items, create ListItem objects for each pair, sort them using the custom sort function __SortFunction and then replaces the current items in the list with the ones in the sorted order.

Updated: April 11, 2007