Difference between XLS and CSV File Format: A Comprehensive Comparison

Difference Between XLS and CSV File Format

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the distinctions between XLS and CSV file formats, shedding light on their unique characteristics, use cases, and benefits.

In the realm of data management and analysis, two widely used file formats are XLS and CSV. They play crucial roles in storing and exchanging data. However many individuals often find themselves puzzled about the differences between them.

What is XLS File Format?

XLS, short for Excel Spreadsheet, is a proprietary file format developed by Microsoft for their spreadsheet application, Microsoft Excel.

XLS files are binary and allow for complex data structures, formulas, and formatting options.

They are widely used by businesses and individuals for tasks ranging from simple data entry to intricate financial analysis.

What is CSV File Format?

CSV stands for Comma-Separated Values and is a plain-text file format used to store tabular data.

Unlike XLS files, CSV files are not limited to any specific software and can be opened and edited with a wide range of applications, including basic text editors.

Each line in a CSV file represents a row of data, with values separated by commas.

difference between xls and csv

Major Differences Between XLS and CSV File Formats

In this section, we will explore the key differences between XLS and CSV file formats:

Features XLS File Format CSV File Format
File Structure XLS files are binary, which means the data is encoded in a proprietary binary format. This binary structure allows for the inclusion of various data types, formatting options, and formulas, making it ideal for complex datasets. Conversely, CSV files use a plain-text structure, where each line represents a row in the spreadsheet, and each value within a row is separated by commas. The simplicity of this structure makes CSV files lightweight and easy to read, but it lacks the capacity for advanced features like formulas and formatting.
Data Types Support XLS files support a wide range of data types, including numbers, text, dates, formulas, and more. This flexibility makes it suitable for handling complex data with specific formatting requirements. CSV files have limited data types support, primarily handling text and numbers. Complex data types, such as formulas, are not supported, making it less suitable for intricate calculations.
File Extensions Excel file saved with extension as .xls or .xlsx CSV file saved with extension as .csv
File Size Due to its binary nature and support for formatting options, XLS files tend to be larger in size, especially when containing multiple sheets and complex data. CSV files are much smaller in size compared to XLS files since they contain plain text without any formatting information.
Software Compatibility Since XLS is a proprietary format developed by Microsoft, it is best suited for Microsoft Excel and related software. While other spreadsheet applications may offer some level of support for XLS files, full compatibility and feature support are ensured within the Microsoft ecosystem. CSV, being a plain-text format, enjoys universal compatibility across various platforms and applications. It can be opened and edited with popular spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, LibreOffice Calc, and even basic text editors.
Data Capacity XLS files are relatively limited in terms of data capacity. The binary format, combined with its intricate features, can lead to larger file sizes, which may impact performance and storage efficiency. CSV files, on the other hand, have a significant advantage in terms of data capacity. Due to their plain-text nature and lack of complex formatting, they tend to have smaller file sizes, making them suitable for managing large datasets efficiently.
Data Integrity and Accuracy XLS files offer advanced data validation and error-checking mechanisms, which help maintain data integrity. Additionally, the ability to use formulas for automatic calculations enhances accuracy. While CSV files lack built-in data validation features, they are less prone to corruption due to their plain-text structure. However, users must exercise caution during data entry and manipulation to ensure accuracy.
Use Cases XLS files are ideal for scenarios that require complex data manipulation, extensive formatting, and the use of formulas. Businesses often utilize XLS files for financial modeling, budgeting, and data analysis. CSV files are preferred when data exchange and compatibility are of utmost importance. They are commonly used for data import/export tasks, statistical analysis, and web-based applications that require lightweight data representation.

When to use XLS File Format?

  • Financial modeling and analysis
  • Complex data management with multiple sheets
  • Macros and automated tasks in Excel

When to use CSV File Format?

  • Data exchange between different software and platforms
  • Integration with programming languages and databases
  • Handling large datasets efficiently
How to Open XLS and XLSX files?

This extension was designed for Microsoft Excel, however it may also be opened in Google Sheets. Simply upload the XLS or XLSX file to your Google Drive and you will be able to open it as a Google Spreadsheet.

You can also use the free Microsoft Office Excel Viewer to open XLSX files. This free viewer allows you to print and copy data from your XLS or XLSX files, which may be all you need.

You can also open and modify CSV and XLS (XLSX) files offline. Simply download and install Microsoft Office on your operating system and open the file using Microsoft Excel.

[Read: Download Microsoft Office Pro Plus 2016 Full Version for Free]

How to Open CSV Files Using Excel?

Microsoft Excel can read CSV files, however depending on your computer’s regional settings, it may misinterpret the separator (semicolon instead of comma) and remove leading + or 0 (which causes phone numbers and zip codes to be incorrect).

A simple approach is to change the filename extension from CSV to txt.  Then open the.txt file in Excel and manually define the delimiters, encoding, column formatting, and so on.

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