Trick or treat? Group items by month

OrderedMonthsIt’s that time of the year again when the unnatural becomes the norm, so let’s continue the tradition started last year with the SPELL program. Our goal today will be to display list or library items grouped by month, as shown in the screenshot.

The deal is that we don’t want any custom code or workflow here, just the regular out of the box UI features. We’ll be creating two calculated columns, called Year and Month, where we’ll insert the appropriate formulas. I chose the “Modified” column for my sample formulas, but of course any other date column would work too.

The YEAR and MONTH functions

YearNumber

A quick review of the SharePoint date functions gives you YEAR and MONTH that should fit the bill:

Year:  =YEAR(Modified)
Month: =MONTH(Modified)

The result is less than satisfactory though (see screenshot), as the year is displayed with a thousands separator. and months are displayed as numbers.

The magical TEXT function

MixedMonthsFurther exploration will take you to the TEXT function. It is not very well documented in SharePoint, fortunately you can rely on the Excel documentation and come out with the following formulas:
Year:  =TEXT(Modified,"yyyy")
Month: =TEXT(Modified,"mmmm")

Still not happy with the result? Right, the months are displayed in alphabetical order, not sequential order, not yet an ideal experience for our end user.

So let’s pull our last trick, and use the following formula for the calculated month:
Month: =REPT(" ",13-MONTH(Modified))&TEXT(Modified,"mmmm")

You can see the final result live on this page.

What’s the trick? We are still relying on the out of the box alphabetical sorting, but to force the order, we are adding a bunch of white spaces before the month name. The calculated Month actually contains the following values (each _ represents a white space):
____________January
___________February
__________March

__November
_December

Now, why don’t we see these spaces on the Web page? What makes the magic work is that when you insert multiple spaces in a Web page, the html specification says that

user agents should collapse input white space sequences

That’s it!

If you want to get really fancy, you could even use the zero-width space character. The best part is that people who edit your formula won’t even understand the trick, as the zero-width space won’t be visible (there’s however a good chance that they break your cool formula).

To take this further

You can apply this trick to other situations. A typical example is a color code. The alphabetical order will give you Green-Red-Yellow or Amber-Green-Red, you can address that by adding the appropriate leading spaces.

Be careful with this technique though: even if the rendering looks fine, the spaces are indeed stored in the field, and this might break other customizations. So this trick is better kept in a calculated column that will be exclusively used for rendering purposes.

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7 thoughts on “Trick or treat? Group items by month

  1. You are awesome … worked like a charm. Thank You so much for all your help. Where ever I looked it showed me how to get the year and month by using the calculated field but the alphabetical arrangement continued to be an issue. The formula works great to get the months in order . Thanks again 🙂

  2. This would come in handy, but not having any luck on SP2013. Ive tried creating a column called Month as a single line of text and pasting the long formula from above…I get an error. Then I do the same thing, but choose calculated column instead of single line of text and still get an error. I am pretty sure I’m missing a step somewhere, so looking for an assist…anyone willing to give step by step instuctions?

    • Kris, these formulas are for calculated columns. The instructions are simple, just copy one of the bold formulas and it should work.
      If you have never used calculated columns before, check out the Microsoft documentation or search for older postswith screenshots on my blog.

  3. Could you please explain all steps? What columns I must create? I didn’t understand the first step (The YEAR and MONTH functions)

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