CleverCSV provides a drop-in replacement for the Python csv package with improved dialect detection for messy CSV files. It also provides a handy command line tool that can standardize a messy file or generate Python code to import it.


  • CSV files are awesome! They are lightweight, easy to share, human-readable,
    version-controllable, and supported by many systems and tools!
  • CSV files are terrible! They can have many different formats, multiple
    tables, headers or no headers, escape characters, and there's no support for
    recording metadata!

CleverCSV is a Python package that aims to solve some of the pain points of
CSV files, while maintaining many of the good things. The package
automatically detects (with high accuracy) the format (dialect) of CSV
files, thus making it easier to simply point to a CSV file and load it,
without the need for human inspection. In the future, we hope to solve some of
the other issues of CSV files too.

CleverCSV is based on
We investigated thousands of real-world CSV files to find a robust way to
automatically detect the dialect of a file. This may seem like an easy
problem, but to a computer a CSV file is simply a long string, and every
dialect will give you some table. In CleverCSV we use a technique based on
the patterns of the parsed file and the data type of the parsed cells. With
our method we achieve a 97% accuracy for dialect detection, with a 21%
improvement on non-standard (messy) CSV files.

We think this kind of work can be very valuable for working data scientists
and programmers and we hope that you find CleverCSV useful (if there's a
problem, please open an issue!) Since the academic world counts citations,
please cite CleverCSV if you use the package. Here's a BibTeX entry you
can use:

        title = {Wrangling Messy {CSV} Files by Detecting Row and Type Patterns},
        author = {{van den Burg}, G. J. J. and Naz{\'a}bal, A. and Sutton, C.},
        journal = {Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery},
        year = {2019},
        volume = {33},
        number = {6},
        pages = {1799--1820},
        issn = {1573-756X},
        doi = {10.1007/s10618-019-00646-y},

And of course, if you like the package please spread the word! You can do
this by Tweeting about it
(#CleverCSV) or clicking the ⭐️ on


The package is available on PyPI:

$ pip install clevercsv


CleverCSV consists of a Python library and a command line tool called


We designed CleverCSV to provide a drop-in replacement for the built-in CSV
module, with some useful functionality added to it. Therefore, if you simply
want to replace the builtin CSV module with CleverCSV, you can import
CleverCSV as follows, and use it as you would use the builtin csv

import clevercsv

CleverCSV provides an improved version of the dialect sniffer in the CSV
module, but it also adds some useful wrapper functions. These functions
automatically detect the dialect and aim to make working with CSV files
easier. We currently have the following helper functions:

  • detect_dialect:
    takes a path to a CSV file and returns the detected dialect
  • read_csv:
    automatically detects the dialect and encoding of the file, and returns the
    data as a list of rows.
  • csv2df:
    detects the dialect and encoding of the file and then uses Pandas to read
    the CSV into a DataFrame.

Of course, you can also use the traditional way of loading a CSV file, as in
the Python CSV module:

# importing this way makes it easy to port existing code to CleverCSV!
import clevercsv as csv

with open("data.csv", "r", newline="") as fp:
  # you can use verbose=True to see what CleverCSV does:
  dialect = csv.Sniffer().sniff(, verbose=False)
  reader = csv.reader(fp, dialect)
  rows = list(reader)

That's the basics! If you want more details, you can look at the code of the
package, the test suite, or the API

Command-Line Tool

The clevercsv command line application has a number of handy features to
make working with CSV files easier. For instance, it can be used to view a CSV
file on the command line while automatically detecting the dialect. It can
also generate Python code for importing data from a file with the correct
dialect. The full help text is as follows:

  clevercsv [-h] [-v] [-V] <command> [<arg1>] ... [<argN>]

  <command>       The command to execute
  <arg>           The arguments of the command

  -h (--help)     Display this help message.
  -v (--verbose)  Enable verbose mode.
  -V (--version)  Display the application version.

  code            Generate Python code for importing the CSV file.
  detect          Detect the dialect of a CSV file
  help            Display the manual of a command
  standardize     Convert a CSV file to one that conforms to RFC-4180.
  view            View the CSV file on the command line using TabView

Each of the commands has further options (for instance, the code command
can generate code for importing a Pandas DataFrame). Use
clevercsv help <command> for more information. Below are some examples for
each command:


Code generation is useful when you don't want to detect the dialect of the
same file over and over again. You simply run the following command and copy
the generated code to a Python script!

$ clevercsv code imdb.csv

# Code generated with CleverCSV

import clevercsv

with open("imdb.csv", "r", newline="", encoding="utf-8") as fp:
    reader = clevercsv.reader(fp, delimiter=",", quotechar="", escapechar="\\")
    rows = list(reader)

We also have a version that reads a Pandas dataframe:

$ clevercsv code --pandas imdb.csv

# Code generated with CleverCSV

import clevercsv

df = clevercsv.csv2df("imdb.csv", delimiter=",", quotechar="", escapechar="\\")


Detection is useful when you only want to know the dialect.

$ clevercsv detect imdb.csv
Detected: SimpleDialect(',', '', '\\')

The --plain flag gives the components of the dialect on separate lines,
which makes combining it with grep easier.

$ clevercsv detect --plain imdb.csv
delimiter = ,
quotechar =
escapechar = \


Use the standardize command when you want to rewrite a file using the
RFC-4180 standard:

$ clevercsv standardize --output imdb_standard.csv imdb.csv

In this particular example the use of the escape character is replaced by
using quotes.


This command allows you to view the file in the terminal. The dialect is of
course detected using CleverCSV! Both this command and the standardize
command support the --transpose flag, if you want to transpose the file
before viewing or saving:

$ clevercsv view --transpose imdb.csv