(completing-read "test: " '("a" "b" "c"))


(completing-read "test: " '("c" "b" "a"))

produces the same result in completion buffer when pressing TAB. How do I make it respect the sorting order?


4 Answers 4


The sorting order in the *Completions* list is determined by the display-sort-function property of your completion table (as returned by completion-metadata). In your case, your completion table has no such property, so it falls back to the default, which is to sort alphabetically.

You can use:

(defun my-presorted-completion-table (completions)
  (lambda (string pred action)
    (if (eq action 'metadata)
        `(metadata (display-sort-function . ,#'identity))
      (complete-with-action action completions string pred))))

and then

(completing-read "test: " (my-presorted-completion-table '("a" "b" "c")))

[ This assumes you're using lexical-binding. ]

  • 1
    If you want icomplete to also respect the order, you can add a (cycle-sort-function . ,#'identity) to the metadata list.
    – Omar
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 0:35
  • I needed to use reverse instead of identity to display the list in the original order! Why? (24.3.1)
    – John H.
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 15:19
  • @JohnH.: Sounds like a bug (in 24.3). If you can reproduce the problem in Emacs-27, you might want to report it as a bug.
    – Stefan
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 16:09

Give completing-read a list of lists, and it will respect the order:

(completing-read "test: " '(("a") ("b") ("c")))
(completing-read "test: " '(("c") ("b") ("a")))

The docstring says:


Read a string in the minibuffer, with completion. PROMPT is a string to prompt with; normally it ends in a colon and a space. COLLECTION can be a list of strings, an alist, an obarray or a hash table. ...

It can therefore take an alist as a collection. In effect, you're creating an alist with keys but without values.

  • This doesn't work for me in Emacs 27. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 19:27

I'd suggest not using this ancient spell.

The built-in ido-completing-read doesn't have this deficiency:

(ido-completing-read "test: " '("a" "b" "c"))
(ido-completing-read "test: " '("c" "b" "a"))

Neither does helm:

(helm :sources
      `((name . "test: ")
        (candidates . ("a" "b" "c"))))
(helm :sources
      `((name . "test: ")
        (candidates . ("c" "b" "a"))))
  • 1
    The problem with ido-completing-read is that it has weird newline character ^ from semantic-format-tag-summarize. As for Helm, I cannot assume everyone use it. That's why completing-read is the only option.
    – Tu Do
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:32
  • That's a lame reason not to use it. Just postprocess whatever semantic-format-tag-summarize gives you.
    – abo-abo
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:36
  • Or submit a bug report for ido
    – abo-abo
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:36
  • 1
    I did that as well but did not succeed. The output from semantic-format-tag-summarize returns something at the end, but the character is not displayed in completing-read or helm-comp-read. I already wrote another function in place of semantic-format-tag-summarize, without face yet. For displaying tags (with colors) to users, I still use semantic-format-tag-summarize but use a custom buffer with text widgets instead.
    – Tu Do
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 16:20
  • Probably I will submit bug to Ido after finding out what semantic-format-tag-summarize returns at the end. I had a solution but I still want to know a solution to completing-read. I know Helm can make it but just wanted to know if an easy way with completing-read exists.
    – Tu Do
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 16:22

If you use Icicles then the order is respected by completing-read.

(And you can sort using different sort orders, either interactively or via Lisp. And unlike vanilla Emacs, sorting affects both *Completions* display and cycling order.)

  • 1
    Same as the comment in abo-abo's answer, I cannot rely on external packages. And ido-completing-read is having some problem.
    – Tu Do
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 15:33
  • 2
    Perhaps you cannot, but perhaps someone else can. ;-) This is a simple solution to the problem as posed: just use completing-read with Icicles. You can even just turn on icicle-mode temporarily (e.g. for the call to completing-read), using, e.g., macro icicle-with-icy-mode-ON.
    – Drew
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 16:58

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