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Correctly Saving Delimited Files

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Correctly Saving Delimited Files.

Raymond indicated that he was having some problems properly exporting delimited files from within Excel. Raymond was requesting that Excel create a file using the tab character as a delimiter. It seems that Excel would not reliably add a tab character at the end of a row when the last field in the row was empty.

Actually, this is how Excel is designed to operate. When exporting information to a delimited file, each row in the data table is handled independently. If one particular row has fewer fields than other rows, Excel doesn't "pad out" the exported row with "blank" fields. This can, of course, lead to problems with some other programs that use the Excel-created file and rely on a static number of fields in each input row.

A workaround for this potential problem is to simply make sure that Excel always has something in every cell of the final column of your data table. This is actually easier than it sounds—all you need to do is make sure the right-most column contains some unique text string, perhaps something like [{|}]. (It is unlikely that such a string would be used elsewhere in your data.) When you export to a delimited file, Excel will always export the same number of fields per row, right up to the unique text string. Then, when you import the delimited file into your other program, you can instruct it to ignore the last field of each row that it imports.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2589) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Correctly Saving Delimited Files.

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