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Posted 3 Mar 2009

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Generate Excel files without using Microsoft Excel

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22 Jun 2011CPOL2 min read
A C# class to create Excel files without requiring Microsoft Excel.

Introduction

Generating Excel files from web pages or other applications is a major subject in many articles. I'd like to present here a solution that does not require MS Excel to be installed on the target computer. This article shows how to create Microsoft Excel Binary Interchange File Format (BIFF) without using Microsoft Excel. BIFF is the native file format for Excel data, and can be viewed and modified in Microsoft Excel 97 or later.

Approaches and problems

The technique that is most frequently used to transfer data to an Excel workbooks is Automation. With Automation, you can call methods and properties that are specific to Excel tasks, but this solution has many drawbacks. Some of them are described in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Additionally, you have to manage the lifetime of the temporary XLS files created on the server. Also, it is slow, because Excel runs in a separate process.

ExcelWriter class

The solution presented here is to write directly to a stream in Excel binary file format. For this purpose, I created very small C# class called ExcelWriter.

ExcelWriter class diagram
C#
/// <summary>
/// Produces Excel file without using Excel
/// </summary>
public class ExcelWriter
{
    private Stream stream;
    private BinaryWriter writer;

    private ushort[] clBegin = { 0x0809, 8, 0, 0x10, 0, 0 };
    private ushort[] clEnd = { 0x0A, 00 };


    private void WriteUshortArray(ushort[] value)
    {
        for (int i = 0; i < value.Length; i++)
            writer.Write(value[i]);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Initializes a new instance of the <see cref="ExcelWriter"/> class.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="stream">The stream.</param>
    public ExcelWriter(Stream stream)
    {
        this.stream = stream;
        writer = new BinaryWriter(stream);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Writes the text cell value.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="row">The row.</param>
    /// <param name="col">The col.</param>
    /// <param name="value">The string value.</param>
    public void WriteCell(int row, int col, string value)
    {
        ushort[] clData = { 0x0204, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0 };
        int iLen = value.Length;
        byte[] plainText = Encoding.ASCII.GetBytes(value);
        clData[1] = (ushort)(8 + iLen);
        clData[2] = (ushort)row;
        clData[3] = (ushort)col;
        clData[5] = (ushort)iLen;
        WriteUshortArray(clData);
        writer.Write(plainText);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Writes the integer cell value.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="row">The row number.</param>
    /// <param name="col">The column number.</param>
    /// <param name="value">The value.</param>
    public void WriteCell(int row, int col, int value)
    {
        ushort[] clData = { 0x027E, 10, 0, 0, 0 };
        clData[2] = (ushort)row;
        clData[3] = (ushort)col;
        WriteUshortArray(clData);
        int iValue = (value << 2) | 2;
        writer.Write(iValue);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Writes the double cell value.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="row">The row number.</param>
    /// <param name="col">The column number.</param>
    /// <param name="value">The value.</param>
    public void WriteCell(int row, int col, double value)
    {
        ushort[] clData = { 0x0203, 14, 0, 0, 0 };
        clData[2] = (ushort)row;
        clData[3] = (ushort)col;
        WriteUshortArray(clData);
        writer.Write(value);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Writes the empty cell.
    /// </summary>
    /// <param name="row">The row number.</param>
    /// <param name="col">The column number.</param>
    public void WriteCell(int row, int col)
    {
        ushort[] clData = { 0x0201, 6, 0, 0, 0x17 };
        clData[2] = (ushort)row;
        clData[3] = (ushort)col;
        WriteUshortArray(clData);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Must be called once for creating XLS file header
    /// </summary>
    public void BeginWrite()
    {
        WriteUshortArray(clBegin);
    }

    /// <summary>
    /// Ends the writing operation, but do not close the stream
    /// </summary>
    public void EndWrite()
    {
        WriteUshortArray(clEnd);
        writer.Flush();
    }
}

Using the code

The ExcelWriter sample is a console application that writes an XLS file to the name and location specified. The XLS file that is created is simply an empty spreadsheet. Then, you can start to write cell values by calling the WriteCell method with the row number, column number, and a cell value as parameters:

C#
namespace XLSExportDemo
{
    class Program
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            FileStream stream = new FileStream("demo.xls", FileMode.OpenOrCreate);
            ExcelWriter writer = new ExcelWriter(stream);
            writer.BeginWrite();
            writer.WriteCell(0, 0, "ExcelWriter Demo");
            writer.WriteCell(1, 0, "int");
            writer.WriteCell(1, 1, 10);
            writer.WriteCell(2, 0, "double");
            writer.WriteCell(2, 1, 1.5);
            writer.WriteCell(3, 0, "empty");
            writer.WriteCell(3, 1);
            writer.EndWrite();
            stream.Close();
        }
    }
}

The picture below shows the final result of this sample:

The ExcelWriter class supports numeric and text values for the cells, and can be used for exporting data from the database to an XLS file, or for producing an XLS stream from a website on the fly.

I hope this article gives you a head start in working with Excel files from .NET and C#.

History

  • 03 March 2009 - Initial submission.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Serhiy Perevoznyk
Architect
Belgium Belgium
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralSet the width of the Columns of the Excel file Pin
Dazheng Xu11-Mar-10 12:42
MemberDazheng Xu11-Mar-10 12:42 
GeneralRe: Set the width of the Columns of the Excel file Pin
Serhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 10:38
MemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 10:38 
QuestionHow to write excel with exporting data from ms word doc table? Pin
ssuriyani223-Dec-09 16:09
Memberssuriyani223-Dec-09 16:09 
GeneralMicrosoft Excel 2.1 Worksheet format Pin
Edgardo Reyes28-Nov-09 8:52
MemberEdgardo Reyes28-Nov-09 8:52 
GeneralRe: Microsoft Excel 2.1 Worksheet format Pin
Serhiy Perevoznyk28-Nov-09 23:33
MemberSerhiy Perevoznyk28-Nov-09 23:33 
GeneralCell limitation to 255 chars Pin
eddy mulyono28-Oct-09 19:12
Membereddy mulyono28-Oct-09 19:12 
GeneralDutch characters break the document Pin
D.Janjicek10-Aug-09 21:40
MemberD.Janjicek10-Aug-09 21:40 
GeneralRe: Dutch characters break the document Pin
Daniel Leykauf9-Oct-09 4:06
MemberDaniel Leykauf9-Oct-09 4:06 
Set Encoding.ASCII.GetBytes(value) to default; that should allow all characters.
GeneralRe: Dutch characters break the document Pin
Member 30944881-Jan-10 22:57
MemberMember 30944881-Jan-10 22:57 
QuestionRe: Dutch characters break the document Pin
JTordgeman21-Apr-10 3:14
MemberJTordgeman21-Apr-10 3:14 
AnswerRe: Dutch characters break the document Pin
Phr34ker18-Mar-11 3:01
MemberPhr34ker18-Mar-11 3:01 
QuestionCan I modify an existing file ? Pin
trikeur10-Jun-09 0:25
Membertrikeur10-Jun-09 0:25 
AnswerRe: Can I modify an existing file ? Pin
Member 864037323-Oct-13 6:06
MemberMember 864037323-Oct-13 6:06 
QuestionHow to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
apiacheredelchino3-Jun-09 11:40
Memberapiacheredelchino3-Jun-09 11:40 
QuestionRe: How to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
Edgardo Reyes28-Aug-09 11:55
MemberEdgardo Reyes28-Aug-09 11:55 
AnswerRe: How to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
FilipKrnjic29-Aug-09 6:56
MemberFilipKrnjic29-Aug-09 6:56 
GeneralRe: How to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
Edgardo Reyes14-Sep-09 13:42
MemberEdgardo Reyes14-Sep-09 13:42 
GeneralRe: How to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
Serhiy Perevoznyk29-Oct-09 22:56
MemberSerhiy Perevoznyk29-Oct-09 22:56 
GeneralRe: How to write a Cell with Date format? Pin
Mark Carranza12-Jan-11 20:43
MemberMark Carranza12-Jan-11 20:43 
GeneralCreate Workbook/Worksheet Pin
yemo31-May-09 3:41
Memberyemo31-May-09 3:41 
GeneralRe: Create Workbook/Worksheet Pin
senthilraj.cro31-Jul-09 1:36
Membersenthilraj.cro31-Jul-09 1:36 
GeneralMessage Closed Pin
20-Nov-09 0:56
Membergg423720-Nov-09 0:56 
GeneralRe: Create Workbook/Worksheet Pin
Serhiy Perevoznyk22-Nov-09 21:27
MemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Nov-09 21:27 
GeneralRe: Create Workbook/Worksheet Pin
Carlos B1-Dec-09 9:26
MemberCarlos B1-Dec-09 9:26 
QuestionHow can I use your class to make users download an Excel file without actually creating it in server's disk? Pin
Yalin Meric24-May-09 10:13
MemberYalin Meric24-May-09 10:13 

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