created_at2019-11-11 16:38:04.078377
updated_at2023-06-05 18:35:58.127738
descriptionCommand-line utility to convert stylesheets (ODS or excel) to text



xls2txt: converting spreadsheets to text


xls2txt and xsl2csv allow converting spreadsheet files to text for compatibility with terminals and command-line utilities (e.g. diff or less). Despite the name, they should work with both excel (xls, xlsx or xlsb) and OpenDocument (ods) files.

The two executables provided by this package broadly work the same way, returning one line per row separated by a unix newline (\n) and quoting field values if necessary, they differ only in their default field (cell) separator:

  • xls2txt separates cells with a TAB character
  • xls2csv uses a comma (,)

The tab separator seems like a better default for readability and compatibility with various unix utilities.


Both utilities have the same parameter and options, differing only by their default:

  • PATH is a mandatory path to a spreadsheet file to convert.

  • --sheet (-s) is the sheet to convert. By default, the first sheet is converted.

    sheet can be either the name of a sheet, or its position in the workbook (starting at 1, though 0 will be treated as 1).

  • --record-separator (-r) is the separator used between sheet rows, it defaults to a unix newline for both utilities.

  • --field-separator (f) is the separator used between sheet cells, it defaults to a TAB character for xsl2txt and a COMMA for xls2csv.

  • --formula specifies the formula display mode:

    • by default (cached-value), formulas are not displayed, if a formula cell has a cached value that is displayed, otherwise the cell is empty
    • if-empty will show the cached value if there is one, but will show the formula if there isn't one
    • always will always display the formula of a formula cell, never the cached value
  • the converted data is written to stdout

  • error messages can be written to stdout, including on success e.g. if an error occurs while parsing formulas and the formula mode is not the default, an error will be signaled then the formula mode will be reset to default

  • returns 0 if the entire conversion succeeded, 1 otherwise:

    • no input file was provided
    • the input file was not found or not recognized as a valid spreadsheet file
    • the provided record or field separator is invalid (it must be a single ascii character)
    • the specified sheet was not found
    • an error was found in one of the sheet cells
    • an problem occurred while writing data to stdout


git text conversion

This allows viewing textual diffs of spreadsheet files using git log or git diff rather than get an unhelpful "binary files differ":

  1. create a $HOME/.gitattributes file, or set an arbitrary file as the attributes file (git config --global core.attributesFile <filename>)

  2. in that file, associate the relevant spreadsheet extensions with the proper category (hunk-header):

     *.ods diff=spreadsheet
     *.xls diff=spreadsheet
     *.xlsx diff=spreadsheet
     *.xlsb diff=spreadsheet
  3. set xls2txt (or xls2csv), possibly configured as you desire, as the diff text converter:

     git config --global diff.spreadsheet.textconv xls2txt



  • Add support for displaying formulas

    • if there is no cached value for a formula cell
    • or instead of the cached value


  • Update dependencies to latest versions, bump edition


  • Switch back to calamine proper as 0.16.1 guarantees sheets are in-order


  • calamine makes getting data out of spreadsheet files a breeze
  • rust-csv is not strictly necessary as generating value-separated data is fairly easy (as opposed to consuming it), but it provides confidence that the output will be properly quoted / escaped when necessary
Commit count: 12

cargo fmt