PowerShell Basics #1: Reading and parsing CSV

I will be giving a talk on the topic of “PowerShell for Developers” at TechDays 2010 in Helsinki, Finland. As a warm-up to my presentation, I will be publishing a series of blog posts on various aspects of PowerShell. My viewpoint is specifically one of developer utility: What can PowerShell do to make a dev’s life easier?

I want to start with something that touches on data. Often, developers receive data in Excel format – usually in order to then import it into a database. Reading data from Excel is somewhat painful, but fortunately, Excel allows for easy saving to the CSV format. PowerShell, on the other hand, provides for several quite easy manipulations.

Simple imports with Import-Csv

Let’s start with a simple CSV file, customers.csv:

1,John,United States

Turning this into objects in PowerShell is very straightforward:

PS D:\temp> import-csv customers.csv 

ID Name     Country
-- ----     -------
1  John     United States
2  Beatrice Germany
3  Jouni    Finland
4  Marcel   France

As you can see, the first line in the text file gets parsed as a header, specifying the names on the PowerShell objects. The import doesn’t have a notion of strong typing; therefore, all the properties are imported as pure text. Often this is enough, but if it isn’t, look below…

Headerlessness and other cultures

There are a few scenarios where this won’t work. For example, if your CSV doesn’t have headers, you would get objects with column names such as “1”, “John” and “United States”. Lacking headers, you can supply them as a parameter:

import-csv .\customers.csv -header ID,Name,Country

That was easy (but don’t do it when your data has headers, or you end up duplicating them).

Well then, perhaps you live in a region where the field separator isn’t the usual comma? This is no problem to PowerShell, either

PS D:\temp> type customers-fi.csv
1;John;United States
PS D:\temp> import-csv .\customers-fi.csv -delimiter ';'

ID Name     Country
-- ----     -------
1  John     United States
2  Beatrice Germany

If you know the file originated from your current UI culture, you can just dispense with the delimiter specification and type import-csv –useCulture customers-fi.csv. That will pick up the delimiter from your Windows settings.

When your CSV ain’t a file…

Often you get your CSV data in a file. Occasionally, you might download it through HTTP, or even pull it from a database. No matter how, you may end up with an array of strings that contains your CSV data. The Import-Csv cmdlet reads a file, but if you need to parse the data from another source, use ConvertFrom-Csv.

PS D:\temp> $csv = 'ID,Name,Country
>> 1,John,United States
>> 2,Beatrice,Germany'
PS D:\temp> ConvertFrom-Csv $csv

ID Name     Country
-- ----     -------
1  John     United States
2  Beatrice Germany

As far as the culture switches go, everything discussed above also applies to ConvertFrom-Csv.

How about CSV content oddities?

There are some uses of CSV that veer away from the normal, safe path. The first and a reasonably common scenario is having the field delimiter in the data, something that is usually handled by quoting the field. Of course, up next is the scenario where a field contains the quotation mark.

imageAnd finally, there is the really controversial aspect of having a newline in a CSV field. Many parsers struggle with this, and in fact, the correct behavior isn’t exactly clear. Of course, for practical purposes, anything that makes Excel exports work correctly is usually good. But let’s look at an example that contains all of these anomalies (the original content for this is shown in the Excel screenshot to the right).

512,"Comma,Rocks","Line 1
Line 2",15.1.2010 15:14
57,"Cool ""quotes""","First
Second",7.1.2010 9:33

The data is split across five lines, but actually contains two records and a header. This alone is somewhat controversial, given CSV’s starting point of one line per record. Anyway, it often still needs to be parsed, and PowerShell does a good job here:

PS D:\temp> Import-Csv .\oddstrings.csv

Number String        Multiline     Date
------ ------        ---------     ----
512    Comma,Rocks   Line 1...     15.1.2010 15:14
57     Cool "quotes" First...      7.1.2010 9:33

There is one key thing to notice. Import-Csv works, because it treats the data source as a single whole. However, ConvertFrom-Csv misparses the multiline fields, as it handles the input line-by-line.

PS D:\temp> type .\oddstrings.csv | ConvertFrom-Csv

Number  String          Multiline Date
------  ------          --------- ----
512     Comma,Rocks     Line 1
Line 2" 15.1.2010 15:14
57      Cool "quotes"   First
Second" 7.1.2010 9:33

Strong typing, then?

For this, there are no pre-cooked solutions. But once your data is imported correctly, separators, multiline fields and all, it’s rather easy to just typecast the stuff, providing you input validation at the same time. Consider this CSV file of event descriptions:

9.3.2010,TechDays 2010,Helsinki
15.2.2010,Mobile World Congress,Barcelona

Next, you want to filter the data to just show the occurring within the next 30 days. For this, you'll want the datetimes parsed into System.DateTime objects.

PS D:\temp> $events = Import-Csv event.csv | foreach {
  New-Object PSObject -prop @{
    StartsAt = [DateTime]::Parse($_.StartsAt);
    Title = $_.Title;
    Venue = $_.Venue
PS D:\temp> $events                            

StartsAt          Venue     Title
--------          -----     -----
9.3.2010 0:00:00  Helsinki  TechDays 2010
15.2.2010 0:00:00 Barcelona Mobile World Congress

Now, filtering the list is a snap.

PS D:\temp> $events | where { $_.StartsAt -lt (get-date).AddDays(30) }

StartsAt          Venue     Title
--------          -----     -----
15.2.2010 0:00:00 Barcelona Mobile World Congress

One more thing to notice here: In the example above, it worked because the date format (“15.2.2010”) was in Finnish and I happened to run the PowerShell in a thread with the Finnish culture. However, if your data happens to come from a culture different than your UI, you need to pass in the correct culture specifier. For example, to parse a date in the US locale, use the following:

$usCulture = [System.Globalization.CultureInfo]::CreateSpecificCulture("en-US")
[DateTime]::Parse("04/07/2009", $usCulture)

Note that specifying the culture explicitly is always a good idea if you plan on saving the script and reusing it later. Although you might pay attention to the parsing details at the time of writing, it is quite conceivable for someone to run the script later on in another thread. As dates are prone to silent misparsing (for example, is 04/07/2009 7th April or 4th July?), you could end up manipulating incorrect data.

In addition to dates, you’ll want to look at cultures when parsing decimal numbers and such. Remember: the –UseCulture switch on Import-Csv only applies to the separator settings, not the optional parsing phase.


January 22, 2010 · Jouni Heikniemi · 43 Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: .NET

43 Responses

  1. WebApe - April 22, 2010

    Well done…saved me a lot of time re headerless csv.

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  3. Stef - August 26, 2010

    This has been the most helpful thing I've found on import-csv including two leading books on Powershell. Thank you for addressing what the results will look like and how to address/manipulate them!

  4. pradeep - July 8, 2011

    How to import .csv file for different culture in vb.net? In usa culture value in excel sheet is 10.0 but in dutch its displaying 10,0. Please give me the code..

  5. TJ - April 27, 2012

    In your example:

    StartsAt Venue Title
    ——– —– —–
    9.3.2010 0:00:00 Helsinki TechDays 2010
    15.2.2010 0:00:00 Barcelona Mobile World Congress

    How do you make StartsAt, Venue, and Title variables and call them in a script?

    The script will have loop until the last line is read.

  6. Jouni Heikniemi - May 2, 2012

    @pradeep: CSV import in VB.NET is an entirely different thing to do. Find out some VB.NET import tutorials and you'll be on your way. Typically, you'd use a CSV import library and set the separator to semicolon (typically used as a field separator in locales where comma is the decimal separator).

    @TJ: I'm not sure I understand what you mean. The example in this post constructs event objects which have these fields parsed as variables. Can you be more specific?

  7. maksemuz - March 6, 2013

    Thanks a lot!
    Your guide is more useful then the technet.microsoft document about import CSV using powershell.

  8. rahul - March 29, 2013

    Thanks alot!
    I have one problem, in my csv file headers are in the form of 10-05-08-11 which contains numbers as data, due to which the above mentioned methods are not working. Could you please tell me how can i read the same?

    10-05-08-11,10-08-07-12,10-15-08-99 (Headers)
    2,55,100 (data)
    55,45,88 (data)

    I want to read above data. How can i do it?


  9. Jouni Heikniemi - April 22, 2013

    @Rahul, the CSV you mentioned parses just fine (copy that content into a file and do a import-csv foo.csv). Without you specifying what you mean by "not working", I'm not sure I can help.

  10. Importing from CSV and sorting by Date - Just just easy answers - September 6, 2013

    […] http://www.heikniemi.net/hardcoded/2010/01/powershell-basics-1-reading-and-parsing-csv/ […]

  11. santosh - October 24, 2013


    I want to know how to apply background color and other formatting aspects to the header column to a csv file using powershell. Can you please help me with some code sample.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Santosh Kumar Patro

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  13. Matt - August 15, 2016


    import-csv does not appear to create a "real array" from the csv, but an "array like powershell object". Is there any way to make a real array, so that i can (for example) count the number of elements as you would with an array like this:

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    There is no .count (or any other standard array type options / functions) to the object you receive when using import-csv.

    Thanks !

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