Python read and write csv files

Learn to work with CSV files in Python. CSV (Comma Separated Values) format is a very popular import and export format used in spreadsheets and databases. Python language contains the csv module which has classes to read and write data in the CSV format.

Table of Contents

Reading CSV file with csv.reader()
Reading CSV file with csv.DictReader
Writing CSV file using csv.writer()
CSV Dialects
Custom CSV Dialects

Reading CSV file with csv.reader()

The csv.reader() method returns a reader object which will iterate over lines in the given CSV file.

Let’s suppose that we have the following numbers.csv file containing numbers:


The following python script reads data from this CSV file.


import csv

f = open('numbers.csv', 'r')

with f:

    reader = csv.reader(f)
    for row in reader:

In above code example, we opened the numbers.csv for reading and loaded the data with the csv.reader() method.

Now imagine that the CSV file would use a different delimiter. (Strictly speaking, it would not be a CSV file, but this practice is common.) For instance, we have the following items.csv file where the elements are separated by the pipe character (|):


The following script reads the data from the items.csv file.


import csv

f = open('items.csv', 'r')

with f:

    reader = csv.reader(f, delimiter="|")
    for row in reader:
        for e in row:

We specify the new separating character with the delimiter parameter in the csv.reader() method.

Reading CSV file with csv.DictReader

The csv.DictReader class operates like a regular reader but maps the information read into a dictionary.

The keys for the dictionary can be passed in with the fieldnames parameter or inferred from the first row of the CSV file.

We have the following values.csv file:

min, avg, max
1, 5.5, 10

The first row represents the keys to the dictionary and second row represents the values.


import csv

f = open('values.csv', 'r')

with f:

    reader = csv.DictReader(f)
    for row in reader:

Above python script reads the values from the values.csv file using the csv.DictReader.

This is the output of the example.

$ ./ 
{' max': ' 10', 'min': '1', ' avg': ' 5.5'}

Writing CSV file using csv.writer()

The csv.writer() method returns a writer object responsible for converting the user’s data into delimited strings on the given file-like object.


import csv

nms = [[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]]

f = open('numbers2.csv', 'w')

with f:

    writer = csv.writer(f)
    for row in nms:

The script writes numbers into the numbers2.csv file. The writerow() method writes a row of data into the specified file.

The script produces the following file (numbers2.csv):


It is possible to write all data in one shot. The writerows() method writes all given rows to the CSV file.

The next code example writes a Python list to the numbers3.csv file. The script writes three rows of numbers into the file.


import csv

nms = [[1, 2, 3], [7, 8, 9], [10, 11, 12]]

f = open('numbers3.csv', 'w')

with f:

    writer = csv.writer(f)

When running the above program, below output is written in numbers3.csv file:



It is possible to quote words in CSV files. There are four different quoting modes in the Python CSV module:

  • QUOTE_ALL — quotes all fields
  • QUOTE_MINIMAL — quotes only those fields which contain special characters
  • QUOTE_NONNUMERIC — quotes all non-numeric fields
  • QUOTE_NONE — does not quote fields

In the next example, we write three rows to the items2.csv file. All non-numeric fields are quoted.


import csv

f = open('items2.csv', 'w')

with f:

    writer = csv.writer(f, quoting=csv.QUOTE_NONNUMERIC)
    writer.writerows((["coins", 3], ["pens", 2], ["bottles", 7]))

The program creates the following items2.csv file. The item names are quoted, the quantities expressed in numbers are not quoted.


CSV Dialects

Despite CSV format being a very simple format, there can be many differecies, such as different delimiters, new lines, or quoting characters. Therefore, there are different CSV dialects available.

The next code example prints the available dialects and their characteristics.


import csv

names = csv.list_dialects()

for name in names:
    dialect = csv.get_dialect(name)
    print(repr(dialect.delimiter), end=" ")
    print(dialect.doublequote, end=" ")
    print(dialect.escapechar, end=" ")
    print(repr(dialect.lineterminator), end=" ")
    print(dialect.quotechar, end=" ")
    print(dialect.quoting, end=" ")
    print(dialect.skipinitialspace, end=" ")

The csv.list_dialects() returns the list of dialect names and the csv.get_dialect() method returns the dialect associated with the dialect name.

$ ./ 
',' 1 None '\r\n' " 0 0 0
'\t' 1 None '\r\n' " 0 0 0
',' 1 None '\n' " 1 0 0

The program prints this output. There are three built-in dialects: excel, excel-tab and unix.

Custom CSV Dialect

In the last example of this tutorial, we will create a custom dialect. A custom dialect is created with the csv.register_dialect() method.


import csv

csv.register_dialect("hashes", delimiter="#")

f = open('items3.csv', 'w')

with f:

    writer = csv.writer(f, dialect="hashes")
    writer.writerow(("pencils", 2)) 
    writer.writerow(("plates", 1))
    writer.writerow(("books", 4))

The program uses a (#) character as a delimiter. The dialect is specified with the dialect option in the csv.writer() method.

The program produces the following file (items3.csv):


In this tutorial, we have explored the Python csv module and gone through some examples of reading and writing CSV files in python.

Happy Learning !!

The tutorial was written by Jan Bodnar who runs

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