Tag Archives: excel

Widths & Heights with xlwt + Python

This article about using xlwt to generate Excel in Python reminded me I needed to see exactly how to set column widths (the xlwt documentation doesn’t cover it).

Let’s create a new Excel workbook and add a sheet:

>>> import xlwt
>>> book = xlwt.Workbook(encoding='utf-8')
>>> sheet = book.add_sheet('sheeeeeet')

We need to get a column in order to set its width. You do that by call col() on the sheet, passing the column’s index as the only argument (or row() for accessing rows):

>>> sheet.col(0)    # First column
<xlwt.Column.Column object at 0x10b2a6190>
>>> sheet.row(2)    # Third row
<xlwt.Row.Row object at 0x10b2a7050>

The index is zero-based. You can fetch a column even if you have not written to any cell in that column (this applies equally to rows).

Columns have a property for setting the width. The value is an integer specifying the size measured in 1/256 of the width of the character ‘0’ as it appears in the sheet’s default font. xlwt creates columns with a default width of 2962, roughly equivalent to 11 characters wide.

>>> first_col = sheet.col(0)
>>> first_col.width = 256 * 20              # 20 characters wide (-ish)
>>> first_col.width

For rows, the height is determined by the style applied to the row or any cell in the row. (In fact rows also have a property called height but it doesn’t do what you want.) To set the height of the row itself, create a new style with a font height:

>>> tall_style = xlwt.easyxf('font:height 720;') # 36pt
>>> first_row = sheet.row(0)
>>> first_row.set_style(tall_style)

Setting the style on the row does not change the style of the cells in that row.

There is no obvious way to set a default width and height for all columns and rows. An instance of xlwt.Worksheet.Worksheet has properties for col_default_width and row_default_height but changing those does not actually change the defaults.

The problem is that new columns are always created with an explicit width, while rows take their height from the style information.

My first attempt at setting defaults set the width on every column and the height on every row. It works, but creates 65,536 unnecessary empty row objects.

A slightly better approach is to set the width on every column and to set the font height on the default style record in the workbook:

import itertools
import xlwt

book = xlwt.Workbook(encoding='utf-8')
sheet = book.add_sheet('sheeeeeet')

col_width = 256 * 20                        # 20 characters wide

    for i in itertools.count():
        sheet.col(i).width = col_width
except ValueError:

default_book_style = book.default_style
default_book_style.font.height = 20 * 36    # 36pt


Here I used itertools.count() and wrapped the loop in a try block so I can forget exactly how many columns are permitted. When the loop tries to access a bad index it will throw ValueError and the loop will exit.

You mustn’t replace the default style on an instance of xlwt.Workbook.Workbook, you have to update the property of the existing style (to ensure you are changing the first style record). Unfortunately there is no way to set a default column width (as of xlwt version 0.7.2) so the brute force method of setting every column will have to do – it isn’t so bad since there are only 256 columns.

Talking of widths and heights, have you heard “Widths & Heights” by Magic Arm? Is good.

CSV sucks

For future reference: CSV is a terrible format for spreadsheet data.

Any by spreadsheet data I mean CSV is a terrible format for text data that will be opened in Microsoft Excel (unless you only speak English).

My objection to CSV as a spreadsheet format is it has no way to indicate the text encoding, and Excel (at least Excel 2008 for Mac and Excel 2007 for Windows) has no way of choosing the encoding when opening a CSV file. When your data is text from any number of non-English languages you will likely be dealing with characters outside the standard ‘latin-1’ character set.

Even if Excel did have a little pop-up menu for choosing the encoding when opening a CSV file, it would mean instructing your Excel-happy friends to “open as UTF-8” whenever they wanted to open your CSV data.

Wot you mean you don’t have Excel-happy friends?

Styling your Excel data with xlwt

This post is about how to create styles in Excel spreadsheets with the most excellent xlwt for Python. The documentation for xlwt (version 0.7.2) is a little sketchy on how to use formatting. So here goes…

To apply formatting to a cell you pass an instance of the xlwt.XFStyle class as the fourth argument to the xlwt.Worksheet.write method. The best way to create an instance is to use the xlwt.easyxf helper, which takes a string that specifies the formatting for a cell.

The other thing about using styles is you should only make one instance of each, then pass that same style object every time you want to apply it to a cell.

An example which uses a few styles:

import xlwt

styles = dict(
    bold = 'font: bold 1',
    italic = 'font: italic 1',
    # Wrap text in the cell
    wrap_bold = 'font: bold 1; align: wrap 1;',
    # White text on a blue background
    reversed = 'pattern: pattern solid, fore_color blue; font: color white;',
    # Light orange checkered background
    light_orange_bg = 'pattern: pattern fine_dots, fore_color white, back_color orange;',
    # Heavy borders
    bordered = 'border: top thick, right thick, bottom thick, left thick;',
    # 16 pt red text
    big_red = 'font: height 320, color red;',

I have no idea what it is based on, but 20 = 1 pt. So 320 = 16 pt text.

book = xlwt.Workbook()
sheet = book.add_sheet('Style demo')

for idx, k in enumerate(sorted(styles)):
    style = xlwt.easyxf(styles[k])
    sheet.write(idx, 0, k)
    sheet.write(idx, 1, styles[k], style)


It isn’t included with the current distribution on the cheese shop, but there is a useful Excel spreadsheet demonstrating cell patterns in the source repository.

You can find the complete list of possible cell formats by reading the source for xlwt.Styles.

Excel scroll bar bug

Microsoft Excel 2008 for Mac has an irritating bug where only the active document window has scroll bars. If a second document is open, or even if you only have one document but Excel is not the front-most application then the window has no scroll bars and ignores scroll messages from the mouse. This happens in Excel 12.2.0 (and a couple of earlier revisions behave the same).

Excel scroll bars in inactive window

Excel scroll bars in an inactive window

The correct behaviour is for scroll bars in inactive windows to be drawn in an inactive state and to allow scrolling even when the window is not front-most.

I rather like Excel. I thought it was the least crashy of the assorted junk Microsoft released as Office 4.2 for Mac back in 1993. Fuck me that was a pile of shit.

Outputting Excel with Django

xlwt is an excellent Python module for generating Microsoft Excel documents (xlrd is its counterpart for consuming Excel documents). I use it in a Django Web application so a visitor can export her data as a spreadsheet.

Django’s documentation includes an example of how to export data in comma-separated values (CSV) format. CSV has the significant advantage of being a standard Python module as well as being a relatively simple and non-vendor specific format. However there are some disadvantages to using CSV:

  1. Values can only be stored as strings or numbers.
  2. Unicode text must be explicitly encoded as UTF-8.
  3. Users are often unfamiliar with the .csv file name extension – “What the hell do I do with this damn you?”

It would be unfriendly of me to expect a user to open a CSV file and then format a column of date strings as proper date values (especially when the user is almost certainly using Excel already). So I choose Excel format over CSV format.

Dates in Excel documents (97/2004 format) are actually stored as numbers. In order to have them appear as dates one must apply a date formatting. You do this by using xlwt.easyxf to create a suitable style instance and then pass that when writing the cell data.

A word of advice: do not instantiate style objects more than once! My initial approach created a new style whenever writing a date/time value. Only once I was testing with more than a few dozen rows did I discover that Excel will grow grumpy and complain about too many fonts being open when trying to display the spreadsheet. The correct approach is to have one instance for each different style and then re-use that instance for the appropriate type of value.

Here is an example that writes all objects of one class to a spreadsheet and sends that file to the client’s browser. You could stuff this in a Django view method.

from datetime import datetime, date
from django.http import HttpResponse
from myproject.myapp.models import MyModel
import xlwt

book = xlwt.Workbook(encoding='utf8')
sheet = book.add_sheet('untitled')

default_style = xlwt.Style.default_style
datetime_style = xlwt.easyxf(num_format_str='dd/mm/yyyy hh:mm')
date_style = xlwt.easyxf(num_format_str='dd/mm/yyyy')

values_list = MyModel.objects.all().values_list()

for row, rowdata in enumerate(values_list):
    for col, val in enumerate(rowdata):
        if isinstance(val, datetime):
            style = datetime_style
        elif isinstance(val, date):
            style = date_style
            style = default_style

        sheet.write(row, col, val, style=style)

response = HttpResponse(mimetype='application/vnd.ms-excel')
response['Content-Disposition'] = 'attachment; filename=example.xls'
return response

That code works a peach with a 30,000 row / 25 column database, taking about a minute to generate a 13 megabyte file on my lowly iMac G5.

You want to buy me a new Intel iMac, don’t you? Yes, you do.