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Reading CSV files with variable columns

Some CSV files don't conform to RFC4180 and have a different number of columns on each row. For example, the following file doesn't always have a birthDate column.


If you are unfortunate enough to have a CSV file with a variable number of columns, you'll have to use CsvListReader, as it's the only reader that supports it.

You won't be able to use the read() method that uses cell processors, as you don't know how many processors to use until you've read the line. But that doesn't mean you can't use cell processors!

As shown below you can execute the cell processors after calling read() by calling the executeProcessors() method. Because it's done after reading the line of CSV, you have an opportunity to check how many columns there are (using listReader.length()) and supplying the correct number of processors.

 * An example of reading a file with a variable number of columns using CsvListReader. It demonstrates that you can
 * still use cell processors, but you must execute them by calling the executeProcessors() method on the reader,
 * instead of supplying processors to the read() method. In this scenario, the last column (birthDate) is sometimes
 * missing.
private static void readVariableColumnsWithCsvListReader() throws Exception {
        final CellProcessor[] allProcessors = new CellProcessor[] { new UniqueHashCode(), // customerNo (must be unique)
                new NotNull(), // firstName
                new NotNull(), // lastName
                new ParseDate("dd/MM/yyyy") }; // birthDate
        final CellProcessor[] noBirthDateProcessors = new CellProcessor[] { allProcessors[0], // customerNo
                allProcessors[1], // firstName
                allProcessors[2] }; // lastName
        ICsvListReader listReader = null;
        try {
                listReader = new CsvListReader(new FileReader(VARIABLE_CSV_FILENAME), CsvPreference.STANDARD_PREFERENCE);
                listReader.getHeader(true); // skip the header (can't be used with CsvListReader)
                while( ( != null ) {
                        // use different processors depending on the number of columns
                        final CellProcessor[] processors;
                        if( listReader.length() == noBirthDateProcessors.length ) {
                                processors = noBirthDateProcessors;
                        } else {
                                processors = allProcessors;
                        final List<Object> customerList = listReader.executeProcessors(processors);
                        System.out.println(String.format("lineNo=%s, rowNo=%s, columns=%s, customerList=%s",
                                listReader.getLineNumber(), listReader.getRowNumber(), customerList.size(), customerList));
        finally {
                if( listReader != null ) {


lineNo=2, rowNo=2, columns=4, customerList=[1, John, Dunbar, Wed Jun 13 00:00:00 EST 1945]
lineNo=3, rowNo=3, columns=3, customerList=[2, Bob, Down]
lineNo=4, rowNo=4, columns=3, customerList=[3, Alice, Wunderland]
lineNo=5, rowNo=5, columns=4, customerList=[4, Bill, Jobs, Tue Jul 10 00:00:00 EST 1973]