If you spend any time with spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets – or even import certain kinds of data into Microsoft Outlook – you will inevitably encounter a comma-separated values file, commonly known as a CSV.
A CSV file is a simple text file that you can open in a wide variety of programs, including any program that works with plain text like the Notepad app; what makes a CSV file unique is the way its content is organized.
What to know about a CSV file
A CSV file, as the name implies, typically separates information using commas. It’s a way to exchange structured information, like the contents of a spreadsheet, among programs that can’t necessarily talk to one another directly.
As long as two programs can both open a CSV file, they can exchange data. For example, you can save contact information from Microsoft Excel as a CSV file, and import it into the address book in Microsoft Outlook.
A typical CSV file looks like this, where each line contains the same sequence of data so any program which needs to read it knows what to expect:
Product, Size, Color, Price
Shirt, Medium, Blue, $14
Shirt, Large, Red, $15
Pants, Medium, Khaki, $23
Despite the name, a CSV doesn’t need to rely on commas as the separator between pieces of information. This separator, called a delimiter, can be a semicolon, space, or some other character, though the comma is most common.
And of course, once you’ve imported your CSV file into any of these programs, you can then edit the data like you would with any other file.