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Comma-separated values (CSV)
Written by Sigrid Suski   

The comma-separated values (or CSV; also known as a comma-separated list or comma-separated variables) file format is a file type that stores tabular data. The format dates back to the early days of business computing. For this reason, CSV files are common on all computer platforms.

CSV is one implementation of a delimited text file, which uses a comma to separate values (where many implementations of CSV import/export tools allow an alternate separator to be used). However CSV differs from other delimiter separated file formats in using a " (double quote) character around fields that contain reserved characters (such as commas or newlines). Most other delimiter formats either use an escape character such as a backslash, or have no support for reserved characters.

CSV is a delimited data format that has fields/columns separated by the comma character and records/rows separated by newlines. Fields that contain a special character (comma, newline, or double quote), must be enclosed in double quotes. However, if a line contains a single entry which is the empty string, it may be enclosed in double quotes. If a field's value contains a double quote character it is escaped by placing another double quote character next to it. The CSV file format does not require a specific character encoding, byte order, or line terminator format.

  • Each record is one line terminated by a line feed (ASCII/LF=0x0A) or a carriage return and line feed pair (ASCII/CRLF=0x0D 0x0A), however, line-breaks can be embedded.
  • Fields are separated by commas.
  • In some CSV implementations, leading and trailing spaces or tabs, adjacent to commas, are trimmed. This practice is contentious and in fact is specifically prohibited by RFC 4180, which states, "Spaces are considered part of a field and should not be ignored."
    1997,   Ford   , E350
    same as
  • Fields with embedded commas must be delimited with double-quote characters.
    1997,Ford,E350,"Super, luxurious truck"
  • Fields with embedded double-quote characters must be delimited with double-quote characters, and the embedded double-quote characters must be represented by a pair of double-quote characters.
    1997,Ford,E350,"Super ""luxurious"" truck"
  • Fields with embedded line breaks must be delimited by double-quote characters.
    1997,Ford,E350,"Go get one now
    they are going fast"
  • Fields with leading or trailing spaces must be delimited by double-quote characters.
    1997,Ford,E350,"  Super luxurious truck    "
  • Fields may always be delimited by double-quote characters, whether necessary or not.
  • The first record in a csv file may contain column names in each of the fields.

The CSV file format is very simple and supported by almost all spreadsheets and database management systems. Many programming languages have libraries available that support CSV files. Even modern software applications support CSV imports and/or exports because the format is so widely recognized. In fact, many applications allow .csv-named files to use any delimiter character.

See also: Comma-separated values
Delimiter-separated values

The SOBI2 data can be imported and exported as CSV by using our Import and Backup Plugin.

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