Are you dealing with structured table data on a daily basis? You might be keen to know the pros and cons of the two most popular spreadsheet formats that help millions of people to manage, update, and store important data. CSV or a comma-separated values file and an Excel workbook or XLSX are mostly interchangeable, and both are used equally by individuals and corporations in their daily routine. However, there are several differences between CSV and Excel formats.

A CSV is a comma-separated values file that stores data in a tabular format. Microsoft Excel file is a standard editable file format of a popular spreadsheet processor, which is used in business analysis, human resource management, operations management, and performance reporting.

Let's review the top 5 differences between CSV and Excel files.

  • Excel is a binary file format, whereas CSV is in plain text format information.
  • If an Excel file holds information in worksheets for the entire workbook, CSV has lines of values in a single sheet, which are separated by commas.
  • CSV files open faster and also consume less memory, whereas Excel requires more machine resources while importing data.
  • CSV format can be opened with almost any text editor. XLSX file needs special commercial software.
  • It is also important to mention, that CSV files can't perform operations on their data, they store it as-is, while Excel can perform operations on the data for deep analysis and performing functions and formulas. Excel provides some add-in features as well.

Here is the comparison table, which lists the most important features of CSV and Excel file formats.

# Feature CSV Excel / XLSX
1 File extension .csv .xls / .xlsx
2 Primary format Series of ASCII text Binary Interchange File Format
3 Data limits 32,767 characters per cell 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns per sheet
4 Computer resources requirement Low Medium
5 VBA Coding, support No Yes
6 Functions & formulas support No Yes
7 Data formatting No Yes
8 Multimedia support No Yes
9 Multiple sheets support No Yes
10 External linking of data No Yes
11 Associated programs All text editors, spreadsheets and database management systems Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice
12 MIME type text/comma-separated-values application/

As a key takeaway, I may state that Excel is a superior file format in comparison to CSV.

Although CSV is a much faster and widely adopted format, it can't manipulate data. You might be wondering, are these formats interchangeable, or do users need to use both formats?

The answer is that CSV and Excel spreadsheets can work in tandem with each other, they have their own goals and use cases. Now, let's review how to work with both data formats in order to get the maximum value from them.

Although the Excel file format is good for the majority of spreadsheet needs, it lacks suitability, your data in CSV files can be recognized by the majority of applications. Want to know the best part? Here is how to take most of the advantages of CSV and XLSX data formats:

  1. Microsoft Excel is a good software to analyze data and do computation with formulas. For instance, you can make a summary of huge data. Excel files can be saved as CSV or converted to CSV online with a service like to import that data to the majority of other services, such as CRM or Analytics.
  2. Vice versa, you can export data from some software applications or popular services to CSV in a few clicks. After that, such data can be imported into Microsoft Excel for further analysis or other calculations.
  3. You can store data from several CSV files in a single Excel workbook as spreadsheets. All you need to do to achieve that is to import data from every CSV as a separate sheet.
  4. Since CSV files can hold many more rows in comparison to Excel workbooks, you can use that format to collect and store immense data volume.
  5. Because of its specificity, data in CSV looks less readable, it is less suitable for humans. Thus, import data from CSV to Excel to format it properly, print it and present it to your colleagues.

Both formats are designed to serve their purposes. The best practice for using CSV is data exchange, whereas XLSX helps you with data formatting and manipulation. Keep in mind that you can always convert CSV files into Excel format and back with a plethora of free online service. Most provides you with the best quality of data recognition and high velocity of conversion, so you can do your job quickly and accurately.