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What is a CSV File And How Do I Open It? (2020)

What is a CSV File? 

Comma Separated Values (CSV) file is nothing but a plain text file, where the comma is used to separate data which is saved in a tabular format.

CSV files are very easy to import and thus can be used with every spreadsheet program like ExcelSheets or GoogleSheets as well as any other storage database irrespective of whatever software you use. 

CSV files as mentioned above are plain-text files. These files work as a great help for the web developers to start creating. Such files are also called Character Separated Values files.

What is a CSV File And How Do I Open It?

This occurs when a character, like a semi-colon, or horizontal tab is used to separate or delimit data, instead of a comma. Some other character, like a semi-colon, or a horizontal tab, is used to separate or delimit information.

A set of values is represented in every row of a CSV file. It is delimited with a specific delimiter (the comma is the default delimiter). Every row has same number of values.

The Values from all rows that have the same index create a column. Same type of data of is represented with values in a single column.

Characteristics of a CSV File

  • The most crucial aspect of CSV files is simplicity. It can be easily created by website developers since it’s a plain text file.
  • It is easy to export data and import it into other programs by using CSV files. The resultant data is human-readable and can be viewed easily with a text editor.
  • CSV files can be conveniently imported into a spreadsheet or other storage databases irrespective of any specific software you are using.
  • CSV files are particularly helpful in e-commerce. It helps companies export high size data to a more concerted database. Thus, it is easier to meet the objective to reach many customers. For example, a technical content writing business buys customer data from a social media website. The network sends the information to the database of the e-commerce business in CSV format. The export-import happens easily and quickly and with the right formatting. Thus, information is converted to other file types without any hassle.

Structure of a CSV File

Structurally, these files are ubiquitous and straightforward and are not object-oriented. Therefore, they are very easy to import, export and convert.

 Entries in a typical contact list in a CSV file format will appear as name, e-mail, phone number, address. 

For example, 

Aravind Mahajan,,98765-12345,420 Bright Street, Mumbai.

M K Gandhi, Mahesh@, 87654-54321, Moon Avenue, Pune.

Opening a CSV file

What is a CSV File And How Do I Open It?

You can view a CSV file easily in a spreadsheet program. Most of the operating systems installed in computers will have a default spreadsheet application such as MS-Excel. Otherwise, you can use an online spreadsheet like Google Sheets.  

Opening in MS- Excel

Usually, most computers will have MS Excel installed as part of the operating system. By default, CSV files will open automatically in Excel when you double click the file. 

You can also do it by opening MS Excel: select File > Open > and then select the CSV file. 

In case if the file is not listed, you need to change the file type to TextFiles (*.prn, *.txt, *.csv)

The file is now opened, but you may find all the text in a single column and not separated by commas. To fix this:

  1. 1
    Use Text Import wizard > It will prompt you to indicate how you want the text to be separated.
  2. 2
    Select the "Delimited" option.
  3. 3
    On the next screen, choose the "Comma" option.
  4. 4
    The entire text which was bundled into a single column will get separated at each comma and will get placed in individual columns.

What is CSV file?

There may be an issue when CSV files are imported into a third- party application. When you open the file(CSV) in Excel, it will try to interpret the data in the file as per Excel's programming.

Let's say Excel interprets a data(in the CSV file) as DATE - it will change the date format automatically as per the default date setting in Excel.

This leads to a breaking of the original format (as in the CSV file) for third-party applications. A difference is thus created in the original structure of the CSV file.

The following steps ensure opening of a CSV file in Excel without breaking it-

  1. 1Select the Data tab in an Excel sheet.
  2. 2
    Choose "Get External Data" and click on "from text."
  3. 3
    Find your CSV file and select "Import."
  4. 4
    Once the import wizardopens, choose "Delimited"as the original data type and then click "Next."
  5. 5
    Select "Comma" as the delimiter.
  6. 6
    De-select the tab checkbox.
  7. 7
    Choose the firstcolumn in the data preview and move to the lastcolumn holding on to the shift key. You have selected all the columns as part of the data format. Click "Finish."
  8. 8
    Finally, click "OK"to insert the data into the first cell.

The spreadsheet is now ready with the imported data in the original formatting ready for third-party applications.

In case you have made some changes were made in the data while working, you will need to export the file from Excel to CSV again before uploading it onto third- party applications.

Opening in Open Office Calc

Wherever this program is installed on the computer by default, CSV files will open with a double-click in Calc.

It can also be opened by selecting File in the menu bar(File > open > select the CSV file).

Opening in Google Drive

  1. 1
    Put in your information to log into your Google account.
  2. 2
    Click “Open” to open Google Drive.
  3. 3
    Reduce the size of the window to about half the width of the monitor.
  4. 4
    Locate the file (or folder) which you want to add to Google Drive.
  5. 5
    Drag- and- drop the CSV file from its location to the open space in the My Drive section.
  6. 6
    A confirmation prompt will appear at the lower right corner of the browser window.
  7. 7
    The particular CSV file will now appear under the My Drive section.
  8. 8
    Once the upload is over, double-click the CSV file to open it.

Opening in Google Sheets

To open a CSV file in Google sheets, follow the following steps:

  1. 1
    Open Google Sheets and tap on "Start."
  2. 2
    A fresh untitled spreadsheet will open.
  3. 3
    Select the "File" menu and click on "Import."
  4. 4
    Select "Open a File" Window > go to the "Upload" tab.
  5. 5
    Select the file from whichever drive it is in your computer.
  6. 6
    Get to the import filesettings window, choose "No" for converting text numbers and dates. Next, click on the "import data"button.
  7. 7
    Your CSV file is ready and opened as a table.
  8. 8
    If required, you can freely edit this spreadsheet
  9. 9
    To save this spreadsheet in the CSV format, click on the “File” menu.
  10. 10
    Select "Download as" and click on the "Comma-separated values" button.
  11. 11
    Your CSV file is saved and ready for further use.

Importing a CSV file into an application

Significant usage of CSV files is in the area of transferring a large amount of data to other programmes. For instance, the preparation of a large departmental store mailing list requires its customer database.

The CSV file containing the necessary information has to be imported into applications that support it.

  • Google contacts can export data in either Google CSV or Outlook CSV formats. Both are CSV files but are formatted differently.
  • One needs to look for the "Import CSV" option. It allows the selection of the particular file to export.
  • In MS Outlook, you can click File > Open > comma separated values > import contacts from CSV file.

Saving CSV files

It is quite simple to save a CSV file. In a Microsoft operating system, just click on File > Save as. Select “comma-delimited, (*csv).”


To conclude, we hope you now understand that CSV files are comma-separated plain text files. They are primarily used to view tabular data.

They are also used to save and retrieve data in a spreadsheet application and to import data tables into a database application.

This also helps you to advance your skills and learn more about how you can make work easier as CSV files can arrange a large amount of data instantly.


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About the Author

Piyush Kashyap is a Ph.D student at Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur. He is a budding editor/ writer and has been working as a part-time reviewer for online content. He loves to read tech-based articles and has a knack for reviewing such articles He likes to stay updated about the latest trends in technology. He has also been working as a reviewer for many scientific journals. He also writes articles based on science. Know More About Piyush

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