ppolv’s blog

February 25, 2008

Parsing CSV in erlang

Filed under: erlang — Tags: , , — ppolv @ 9:23 pm

So I need to parse a CSV file in erlang.

Although files in CSV have a very simple structure, simply calling lists:tokens(Line,”,”) for each line in the file won’t do the trick, as there could be quoted fields that spans more than one line and contains commas or escaped quotes.

A detailed discussion of string parsing in erlang can be found at the excellent Parsing text and binary files with Erlang article by Joel Reymont. And the very first example is parsing a CSV file!; but being the first example, it was written with simplicity rather than completeness in mind, so it didn’t take quoted/multi-line fields into account.

Now, we will write a simple parser for RFC-4180 documents ( witch is way cooler than parse plain old CSV files 😉 ) . As the format is really simple, we won’t use yecc nor leex, but parse the input file by hand using binaries,lists and lots of pattern matching.

Our goals are

  • Recognize fields delimited by commas, records delimited by line breaks
  • Recognize quoted fields
  • Being able to parse quotes, commas and line breaks inside quoted fields
  • Ensure that all records had the same number of fields
  • Provide a fold-like callback interface, in addition to a return-all-records-in-file function

What the parser won’t do:

  • Unicode. We will treat the file as binary and consider each character as ASCII, 1 byte wide. To parse unicode files, you can use xmerl_ucs:from_utf8/1, and then process the resulting list instead of the raw binary

A quick lock suggest that the parser will pass through the following states:
cvs parsing states

  • Field start
  • at the begin of each field. The whitespaces should be consider for unquoted fields, but any whitespace before a quoted field is discarded

  • Normal
  • an unquoted field

  • Quoted
  • inside a quoted field

  • Post Quoted
  • after a quoted field. Whitespaces could appear between a quoted field and the next field/record, and should be discarded

Parsing state

While parsing, we will use the following record to keep track of the current state

   state = field_start,  %%field_start|normal|quoted|post_quoted
   cols = undefined, %%how many fields per record
   current_field = [],
   current_record = [],
   fold_fun  %%user supplied fold function

API functions

parse_file(FileName,InitialState,Fun) ->
   {ok, Binary} = file:read_file(FileName),
parse_file(FileName)  ->
   {ok, Binary} = file:read_file(FileName),

parse(X) ->
   R = parse(X,[],fun(Fold,Record) -> [Record|Fold] end),
parse(X,InitialState,Fun) ->
   do_parse(X,#ecsv{fold_state=InitialState,fold_fun = Fun}).

The tree arguments functions provide the fold-like interface, while the single argument one returns a list with all the records in the file.


Now the fun part!.
The transitions (State X Input -> NewState ) are almost 1:1 derived from the diagram, with minor changes (like the handling of field and record delimiters, common to both the normal and post_quoted state).
Inside a quoted field, a double quote must be escaped by preceding it with another double quote. Its really easy to distinguish this case by matching against


sort of “lookahead” in yacc’s lexicon.

%% --------- Field_start state ---------------------
%%whitespace, loop in field_start state
do_parse(<<32,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=field_start,current_field=Field})->		

%%its a quoted field, discard previous whitespaces		
do_parse(<<$",Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=field_start})->		

%%anything else, is a unquoted field		
do_parse(Bin,S = #ecsv{state=field_start})->
%% --------- Quoted state ---------------------	
%%Escaped quote inside a quoted field	
do_parse(<<$",$",Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=quoted,current_field=Field})->
%%End of quoted field
do_parse(<<$",Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=quoted})->
%%Anything else inside a quoted field
do_parse(<<X,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=quoted,current_field=Field})->
do_parse(<<>>, #ecsv{state=quoted})->	
%% --------- Post_quoted state ---------------------		
%%consume whitespaces after a quoted field	
do_parse(<<32,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=post_quoted})->	

%%---------Comma and New line handling. ------------------
%%---------Common code for post_quoted and normal state---

%%EOF in a new line, return the records
do_parse(<<>>, #ecsv{current_record=[],fold_state=State})->	
%%EOF in the last line, add the last record and continue

%% skip carriage return (windows files uses CRLF)
do_parse(<<$r,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{})->
%% new record
do_parse(<<$n,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{}) ->	
do_parse(<<$, ,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{current_field=Field,current_record=Record})->	

%%A double quote in any other place than the already managed is an error
do_parse(<<$",_Rest/binary>>, #ecsv{})->	
%%Anything other than whitespace or line ends in post_quoted state is an error
do_parse(<<_X,_Rest/binary>>, #ecsv{state=post_quoted})->

%%Accumulate Field value
do_parse(<<X,Rest/binary>>,S = #ecsv{state=normal,current_field=Field})->

Record assembly and callback

Convert each record to a tuple, and check that it has the same number of fields than the previous records. Invoke the callback function with the new record and the previous state.

%%check	the record size against the previous, and actualize state.
new_record(S=#ecsv{cols=Cols,current_field=Field,current_record=Record,fold_state=State,fold_fun=Fun}) ->
	NewRecord = list_to_tuple(lists:reverse([lists:reverse(Field)|Record])),
		(tuple_size(NewRecord) =:= Cols) or (Cols =:= undefined) ->
			NewState = Fun(State,NewRecord),
		(tuple_size(NewRecord) =/= Cols) ->

Final notes

We used a single function, do_parse/2, with many clauses to do the parsing. In a more complex scenario, you probably will use different functions for different sections of the grammar you are parsing. Also you could first tokenize the input and then parse the resulting token stream, this could make your work simpler even if your aren’t using a parser generator like yecc (this is the approach i’m using to parse ldap filters).


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