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Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV


One of the biggest issues Web developers have to tackle is not server failures, line outages or yet another annoying bug in a really popular browser. It is receiving content in a proper format and ensuring that the maintainers of our products will not mess around with our code too much. One way to do this is by giving those who maintain our products a file format they can handle. Chris Heilmann discusses the advantages of CSV, an Excel file format.

Author Info:
By: Chris Heilmann
Rating: 3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars / 7
July 25, 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV
  2. · Handing out files in different formats
  3. · So what is a CSV file and how can I use it?
  4. · Laziness as a benefit

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Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV - Handing out files in different formats
(Page 2 of 4 )

Tackling the issue of badly formatted text is done in various ways. One of them involves giving the editors the texts in a more restrictive format like XML with an attached schema. As developers, we know all about the funky file extensions and what do to with them. We know that an XML file is data and GIF is an image. Business people and editors do not necessarily know that, which is one reason that viruses can spread easily. They also don’t care and don’t need to care what a file is; all they want and need is a way to edit it.

Developers love XML. It is a data format that can be easily verified, converted and is machine and human readable -- if you know what those brackets around words are.

Sending an XML file to a non-techie person and asking them to open it in a text editor will end in tears and many an email going back and forth with explanations. The right tool can prevent this. Believe it or not, Microsoft had developed one of those (and dropped support for it now). It is called XML Notepad [5] and is available for free. It turns XML documents into a name–value pair table with the elements and the attributes as the name. You cannot make it easier to edit an XML file.

However, do our colleagues and clients really want to install another tool, or -- even more important -- do they know how to and have the permission to install one?

Behavioral studies

A good predator studies the behavior patterns of his prey before starting the hunt. Where does it gather, what tools does it use?

Our prey is the editors and the business people –- the non techie ones. Looking around offices, we will see them using several applications: Word, Visio, and Excel.

Word can read XML, and allows users to edit it and store it in formats only Microsoft considers usable, so that is out of the question.

Visio is a no-go as well, as it is simply a tool for wireframing or creating UML diagrams. That leaves us with Excel, which has a file format that looks like ominous byte soup. However, it does read a lot of formats. What format is readable and editable in Excel, is not binary and will keep its structure when edited?

CSV is one of the options Excel offers us when we save a document. Not all the options and goodies Excel offers its users can be stored in CSVs, but for our purposes, it does the trick.


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