Is there a built in function for string natural sort?

There is a third party library for this on PyPI called natsort (full disclosure, I am the package’s author). For your case, you can do either of the following:

>>> from natsort import natsorted, ns
>>> x = ['Elm11', 'Elm12', 'Elm2', 'elm0', 'elm1', 'elm10', 'elm13', 'elm9']
>>> natsorted(x, key=lambda y: y.lower())
['elm0', 'elm1', 'Elm2', 'elm9', 'elm10', 'Elm11', 'Elm12', 'elm13']
>>> natsorted(x, alg=ns.IGNORECASE)  # or alg=ns.IC
['elm0', 'elm1', 'Elm2', 'elm9', 'elm10', 'Elm11', 'Elm12', 'elm13']

You should note that natsort uses a general algorithm so it should work for just about any input that you throw at it. If you want more details on why you might choose a library to do this rather than rolling your own function, check out the natsort documentation’s How It Works page, in particular the Special Cases Everywhere! section.

If you need a sorting key instead of a sorting function, use either of the below formulas.

>>> from natsort import natsort_keygen, ns
>>> l1 = ['elm0', 'elm1', 'Elm2', 'elm9', 'elm10', 'Elm11', 'Elm12', 'elm13']
>>> l2 = l1[:]
>>> natsort_key1 = natsort_keygen(key=lambda y: y.lower())
>>> l1.sort(key=natsort_key1)
>>> l1
['elm0', 'elm1', 'Elm2', 'elm9', 'elm10', 'Elm11', 'Elm12', 'elm13']
>>> natsort_key2 = natsort_keygen(alg=ns.IGNORECASE)
>>> l2.sort(key=natsort_key2)
>>> l2
['elm0', 'elm1', 'Elm2', 'elm9', 'elm10', 'Elm11', 'Elm12', 'elm13']

Update November 2020

Given that a popular request/question is “how to sort like Windows Explorer?” (or whatever is your operating system’s file system browser), as of natsort version 7.1.0 there is a function called os_sorted to do exactly this. On Windows, it will sort in the same order as Windows Explorer, and on other operating systems it should sort like whatever is the local file system browser.

>>> from natsort import os_sorted
>>> os_sorted(list_of_paths)
# your paths sorted like your file system browser

For those needing a sort key, you can use os_sort_keygen (or os_sort_key if you just need the defaults).

Caveat – Please read the API documentation for this function before you use to understand the limitations and how to get best results.

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