Differences Between CSV & XLS


Professionals use spreadsheets widely across the private, public and educational sectors. They are tools that allow efficient methods of storing and manipulating large amounts of data. Among the different formats for storing spreadsheet data are XLS and CSV.

FIle Format Defined

  • A file format is a specified pattern of storing data so programs can read in the data and make sense of it in the way that you originally authored it. In order to read a specific data file, an application has to be programmed to understand what the data in a given file format means.


  • XLS (.xls) is the file format, and corresponding file extension, for Microsoft's spreadsheet program, Excel. The file format has the capacity to store raw data, equations, graphs, and specialized data formats such as dates and times. While the format was designed by Microsoft with its own spreadsheet program in mind, the .xls format is readable by the open source software suite, OpenOffice, as well as Google's document program. Microsoft released a new version of the XLS format, .xlsx, with Microsoft Office 2010.


  • CSV, or comma separated values, is a much simpler format than XLS. The format consists of entries of data, either numbers or characters, separated by commas (as the title suggests). The space before each comma represents a single cell and the layout of data entries within the document matches the layout of the spreadsheet. The document cannot store the complex data types that XLS can, nor can it store graphs, but the format is universally recognizable due to its simplicity.

Software Development

  • XLS and CSV formats present unique challenges to software developers. It is easy to write source code that reads and writes data in the CSV format because it requires little code and no special format libraries. However, the format still suffers from a limited capacity to store complex data. While the XLS format can handle more complex data types, developers need to use special, language specific, libraries to read and write data into that format.

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