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Generate Excel files without using Microsoft Excel

, 22 Jun 2011
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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
/// <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:

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)

About the Author

Serhiy Perevoznyk
Architect
Belgium Belgium
No Biography provided
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Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralAlternative way to create Excel files without the need of Excel beeing installed [modified] Pinmemberaron.sinoai16-Jun-11 12:02 
GeneralHow to do CELL Format PinmemberMember 390017225-May-11 20:55 
GeneralRe: How to do CELL Format PinmemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 9:34 
GeneralHow can we format a cell like make it bold or give a background color using your write cell function? PinmemberSamar pratap28-Apr-11 8:01 
GeneralRe: How can we format a cell like make it bold or give a background color using your write cell function? PinmemberMember 390017225-May-11 21:01 
GeneralRe: How can we format a cell like make it bold or give a background color using your write cell function? PinmemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 9:35 
GeneralCodepage problems PinmemberTiMiNOd9-Apr-11 2:32 
GeneralRe: Codepage problems PinmemberTiMiNOd9-Apr-11 3:26 
The problem was covered in ASCII to the coding, another doesn't support
Cry | :((
GeneralRe: Codepage problems PinmemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 9:39 
GeneralNice PinmemberCikaPero28-Mar-11 23:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 PinmemberJesper Bihrmann2-Feb-11 3:05 
GeneralI didn't open excel file was generated by your code PinmemberHelen.Yu14-Jan-11 13:40 
QuestionHow to write a Cell with DateTime format? PinmemberMark Carranza12-Jan-11 19:59 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pinmembercimsunf29-Nov-10 4:23 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pinmemberrlejason28-Nov-10 20:42 
GeneralNPOI.codeplex.com .NET library (open source) could be considered as alternative, has more and source code PinmemberAlexandreN12-Nov-10 8:03 
GeneralRe: NPOI.codeplex.com .NET library (open source) could be considered as alternative, has more and source code PinmemberSerhiy Perevoznyk13-Nov-10 0:31 
GeneralSuggested change to code sample Pinmembersdesciencelover9-Nov-10 4:30 
GeneralMy vote of 4 Pinmembersdesciencelover9-Nov-10 4:26 
GeneralAdding Formulas Pinmembertwehr9-Nov-10 3:45 
GeneralROCK STAR! PinmemberRoger Ireland3-Nov-10 15:27 
QuestionAdding simple formatting? PinmemberMember 9171743-Nov-10 11:12 
AnswerRe: Adding simple formatting? PinmemberSerhiy Perevoznyk22-Jun-11 9:36 
GeneralHtml is also possible PinmemberTom Janssens2-Nov-10 21:44 
GeneralRe: Html is also possible PinmemberRoger Ireland3-Nov-10 15:28 

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