Read and Write Open XML Files Using MS Office 2007
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by Zeljko Svedic
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Excel 2007 Open XML specifics

Excel 2007 extends on the basis of Open Packaging Conventions by adding its own application-specific XML types.  Reference schemas for all XML files used in Office can be downloaded from MSDN, but some things are still open to change until the final Excel 2007 release.

We just want to write/read worksheet data, so we need to look in the folder “\xl\worksheets” inside XLSX file where all the worksheets are located.  For every worksheet there is a separate XML file, “sheet1.xml,”  “sheet2.xml” and so on.  When you open such a file you will notice that all of the sheet data is inside the <sheetData> element.  For every row there is a <row> element and for every cell there is a <c> element.  Finally, the value of the cell is stored in a <v> element.

However, real world XML is never as simple as schoolbook XML.  You will notice that numbers get encoded as numbers inside <v> element.

Listing 1

<c r="A1">

However, string value (like “John”) also gets encoded as a number.

Listing 2 

<c r="B1" t="s">

That is because MS Excel uses internal table of unique strings (for performance reasons).  Zero is an index of that string in an internal table of strings and attribute t="s" tells us that the underlying type is a string, not a number.  So where is the table of unique strings located?  It is in “\xl\sharedStrings.xml” XML file and contains all strings used in the entire workbook, not just a specific worksheet.

This approach is used for many other things: cell styles, borders, charts, number formats, etc.  In fact, that becomes the major programming problem when working with XLSX files- updating and maintaining various tables of some unique Excel objects.  In this article we will just write/read data values, but if you require some complex formatting you should probably be using some commercial component which does all the tedious work for you.

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