File formats, character encoding, and spreadsheet tools

The roundtrip tools all make use of spreadsheets, and some tools make use of additional ZIP archives. 

File formats and character encoding:

  • All spreadsheets must use CSV (comma-separated values) spreadsheets.
    • CSV is a non-proprietary spreadsheet format that can be opened by all spreadsheet tools. 
    • While it does not support things like cell highlighting and text styling, it is very reliable, portable, and accessible.
  • All spreadsheets must use Unicode UTF-8 character encoding.
    • UTF-8 is the most commonly used character encoding system used online.
    • Most non-English keyboards are developed to use UTF-8 encoding to ensure that their characters are accurately and reliably displayed across operating systems and web browsers.
  • Certain imports must use ZIP archives.

Spreadsheet tools:

In general, any spreadsheet tool that supports the above file format and character encodings requirements should work fine. We have some recommendations based on our testing and experiences:

  • Google Sheets:
    • Good for online/collaborative work.
    • Works on all operating systems and browsers.
    • Supports CSV export.
    • Defaults to UTF-8 encoding.
    • Free, but requires a Google account to use, and in certain cases using a service like this may not be appropriate, especially if sensitive information is being entered.
  • LibreOffice and OpenOffice
    • Good for offline/local work.
    • Work on all operating systems.
    • Supports saving as CSV.
    • Supports UTF-8 encoding.
    • Free to download.
  • Microsoft Excel is NOT recommended.
    • Defaults to XLS, not as easy to use CSV.
    • Defaults to a proprietary encoding, and does not reliably support UTF-8 encoding.
    • Note that on Windows, sometimes it will work well enough, but on macOS, these issues cannot be reliably avoided.
    • At this time, we have not thoroughly tested any of Microsoft’s online services (eg: Office 365) and are not sure how they address these issues.
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