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What is a CSV File?

By Troy Holmes
Updated May 16, 2024
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In computing, there are many types of file formats. A comma-separated value (CSV) is a special file formatted with commas as the delimiter between each data element. The comma is the flag that signifies the ending and beginning of a new data value in the file. This CSV file is often used by programs as a method of quickly parsing data from one file to another.

A CSV file is one of the simplest files to create. It is a text file that uses commas to separate the data elements. This file is easy to read and understand by both humans and computer applications.

Many applications can export data in multiple file formats. This data can be easily shared and imported into other computer systems. The CSV file is a standard method of exporting and importing data from software applications. This type of feature is supported by most Microsoft® products including Microsoft Excel®.

Software developers have been using the CSV file format for many years. This is a simple method of delimitating data in a file, which makes it extremely flexible. It can be used by multiple operating systems and programming languages because it is based on a simple string text delimiter, which is common for all software programs.

From a security standpoint, a CSV file is not considered a safe method of sharing data between computer systems. This is a simple text file and can be easily read and interpreted by computers. Most security professionals would recommend encrypting this type of file before sharing it. This will limit the viewing of data to people with authorized access.

Most database programs use the CSV format. This makes it easy to import and export data into a database. The data can also be dumped into a CSV format for reporting purposes because most reporting tools also use this format.

A tab-delimited file is another example of a text file format. This type of file is similar to a CSV file except it uses a special tab control character to separate the data elements. The tab-delimited file format suffers from the same security issues as the CSV format and should also be encrypted.

Extensible markup language (XML) is a another text file format. XML tags data elements, which creates a definition of the data being shared. An XML file is similar to a mini dictionary of the data in the file. This format has become a standard method of sharing data between computer systems and is far superior to a CSV format.

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Discussion Comments

By amohamed — On Nov 08, 2014

Macbook laptops have recently become the new college student's computer of choice. But most of these students opt for the built in Numbers software or to use free data processing software. Consistently saving your needed data as a CSV file helps significantly when going from computer to computer. Most still consider Microsoft Excel to be the 'granddaddy' of data manipulating software, so it's helpful to have this type of file.

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