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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.

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By: Chris Heilmann
Rating: 3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars / 7
July 25, 2005
  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 - Laziness as a benefit
(Page 4 of 4 )

Instead of writing a server based tool to allow the users to create, maintain, sort, filter and extend a small amount of data, all we need for a CSV file is a download/upload script. Everybody wins:

  • Instead of writing a lot of code, and developing and testing a user interface, we just write our upload/download script and can deliver the functionality in a lot shorter time period.
  • Fancy enhancements like a mail functionality, preview or a simple version control (rollback to previous versions) are possible within budget. They also save us the headache of being called to help when a user overwrote something he was not supposed to. (Hint: Making a copy of the old file before replacing it might be a clever move in any case).
  • Editors don’t need to get their head around a new interface; to edit our data they take what they use daily anyway.
  • Editors can start entering content while we develop the site, and don’t need to be online to do so. This parallel development can speed up things immensely.
Warning – Naming conventions

As good as it feels to give editing tasks –- and with that the responsibility for the outcome –- to editors who know how to write, there are dangerous areas we should not give them control over. One of them is file names. The average office user does not know about file name restrictions and problems that might occur when you transfer a file that reads perfectly on a Windows system to a Linux server. There is a high possibility that they have never seen any operating system other than Windows.

Therefore you will end up with file names with non-alphanumeric characters, spaces and mixed case. One way to work around that is to clean those file names via regular expressions. A cleaner way though is to give the pages IDs and cross-reference those to file names that are within our control.


[1] Markdown: http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/

[2] BBCode: http://www.phpbb.com/phpBB/faq.php?mode=bbcode

[3] Textile: http://www.textism.com/article/648/

[4] HTML Tidy: http://tidy.sourceforge.net/

[5] XML Notepad: http://www.snapfiles.com/get/xmlnotepad.html

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