From time to time users ask how to use the DelimitedFiles module with DataFrames.jl so today I have decided to write a short tutorial on this topic.

The examples were tested under Julia 1.7.0 and DataFrames.jl 1.3.2.

Reading CSV files in Julia

The CSV.jl package is a go-to package for reading CSV files. It provides dozens of options allowing you to customize parsing of such files and is fast when you read large files.

However, there are cases when you have small data stored in CSV format and might want to avoid having the CSV.jl package as a dependency. In such situations you can consider using the built-in DelimitedFiles module. In what follows I will explain you how to use it with DataFrames.jl.

A basic scenario:

Assume you have the following data you want to parse as CSV:

csv = """

Normally you would read the data from disk, but here I will use the IOBuffer wrapper on a string to avoid creating such file.

Let us read this data using the DelimimitedFiles module:

julia> using DelimitedFiles

julia> mat, head = readdlm(IOBuffer(csv), ',', header=true)
([1.0 2.0 3.0; 4.0 5.0 6.0], AbstractString["a" "b" "c"])

julia> mat
2×3 Matrix{Float64}:
 1.0  2.0  3.0
 4.0  5.0  6.0

julia> head
1×3 Matrix{AbstractString}:
 "a"  "b"  "c"

The readdlm function, when passed header=true keyword argument returned two values. The first is mat matrix containing data, the second is a 1-row matrix head containing column names.

If you want to ingest this data into a data frame write:

julia> using DataFrames

julia> DataFrame(mat, vec(head))
2×3 DataFrame
 Row │ a        b        c
     │ Float64  Float64  Float64
   1 │     1.0      2.0      3.0
   2 │     4.0      5.0      6.0

A crucial element of the process is vec(head). The DataFrame constructor expects that column names are passed as a vector, not as a matrix. Therefore we use the vec function.

Mixed element types in CSV source

Let us now consider the following CSV data:

csv2 = """

In this case we see that the first two columns contain numbers, but the last column consists of strings. Reading it using readdlm produces:

julia> mat2, head2 = readdlm(IOBuffer(csv2), ',', header=true)
(Any[1 2 "x"; 4 5 "y"], AbstractString["a" "b" "c"])

julia> mat2
2×3 Matrix{Any}:
 1  2  "x"
 4  5  "y"

julia> head2
1×3 Matrix{AbstractString}:
 "a"  "b"  "c"

Observe that now element type of mat2 matrix is Any. Therefore when we create a data frame we will get columns having Any element type:

julia> df2 = DataFrame(mat2, vec(head2))
2×3 DataFrame
 Row │ a    b    c
     │ Any  Any  Any
   1 │ 1    2    x
   2 │ 4    5    y

Fortunately it is easy to narrow down the element types of columns by broadcasting the identity function:

julia> identity.(df2)
2×3 DataFrame
 Row │ a      b      c
     │ Int64  Int64  SubStrin…
   1 │     1      2  x
   2 │     4      5  y


What is the benefit of using DelimitedFiles module over CSV.jl? The first that it is shipped with Base Julia so it does not require installation. The second is that for small files it will be faster on the first run as compilation of functions from the CSV.jl package takes several seconds.

What are the drawbacks? For large data the readdlm function will be slower. Additionally it lacks many options. DelimitedFiles is best suited for reading data having homogeneous type. If columns have mixed types it becomes less convenient. Similarly, e.g. when you have missing data in the CSV file you would have to manually identify them after reading it in with the readdlm function.