August 10, 2023

5 Hidden Challenges of CSV Import

Building a CSV importer is more demanding than it seems

CSV file import is often one of the first features requested for new SaaS products. Before you can start delivering value to a new user you need data, and typically the quickest way to get that data is with a CSV file. The engineering team picks up this request and starts to think through building it. You just need to take a file, read its data, and put it into a database, right? Unfortunately it’s almost never that straightforward. Here are some often overlooked challenges and complexities that come with building and maintaining a CSV import service.

1. File Inconsistency

CSVs might seem simple, but there’s not an agreed upon file standard. Different systems export CSV files in varying formats. Managing different delimiters, character encodings, and escape sequences can become a developer's nightmare. Once you start to consider support for importing Microsoft Excel files (XLSX), as well as their legacy, the scope only grows.

2. Large File Processing

When dealing with a handful of rows, processing can be quick and painless. But what happens when a user imports a CSV with hundreds of thousands or millions of rows? The service needs to be optimized to handle large files without crashing or taking hours to complete. Running these imports can be extremely resource-intensive, and this can slow down servers or lead to increased costs, especially if the processing is not efficiently designed.

3. Data Mapping & Validation

Different systems have varying fields and structures. Developers need to build a flexible mapping tool that can cater to multiple requirements, allowing users to define how CSV columns correspond to system fields. Additionally, the CSV data needs to be validated to confirm it’s ready for import. There are often missing values, mismatched types, and incorrect formats in user-provided files. Building a robust validation mechanism to catch and handle these errors gracefully is crucial.

4. Feedback and Error Reporting

Merely importing the data isn't enough. The service will need to provide feedback on successful imports, partial imports, or failures. This includes generating detailed error reports, highlighting problematic rows or columns, and suggesting possible fixes.

5. User Experience (UX) Design

Building the backend is just one part of the challenge. Creating an intuitive, user-friendly interface for non-technical users to easily upload and map their data is equally challenging and essential. Ideally, users should be able to upload, review, and resolve any data import issues without needing assistance from a support team member.

Building a CSV/XLSX import service can be filled with nuances and intricacies. That’s why solutions like TableFlow exist – to save developers from and facing these complexities and rebuilding solutions for every new product. By leveraging a dedicated platform, you can avoid the unnecessary time and effort required to build and maintain your own CSV import service.

To the top
Background graphic with dots