Customers and project managers seem to have one thing in common, they both like working with Excel. Though Excel isn’t really my favorite application, there is one thing very nice about it. It is very easy to read an Excel file in .Net.

In this post, I will try to describe how you can read and parse an Excel file.

This post is based on a computer which has Office 2010 installed. If you try to read excel files on a computer or server without office installed, you first need to install this.


Nobody seems to care about interfaces anymore, that’s why I’m telling you that I do think it is important. It makes your application loosely coupled and unit testable! It also makes you think about generic solutions for problems.

Program to an interface, not an implementation!!

The interface I created for my reader file:

public interface IFileReader<T>
     T Read(string filename);

I created the following class which implements the IFileReader interface

public class ExcelReader : IFileReader<DataTable>
     public DataTable Read(string filename)

The connection string

The Excel file can be read as a database, using an OleDb  (Object Linking and Embedding, Database) connection. This is a connection designed by Microsoft for accessing a variety of sources.

I use two different connection strings for reading Excel files, one for the good old xls files and one for the xlsx files.

I check on file extension for detecting the right connection string (I know this is dirty!!!)

 string connectionString;
 var filename = filePath.Trim().ToLower();
 if (filename.EndsWith(".xlsx"))
    connectionString = string.Format("Provider=Microsoft.ACE.OLEDB.12.0;Data Source={0};Extended Properties=\"Excel 12.0 Xml;HDR=YES;IMEX=1\";", filePath);
 else if (filename.EndsWith(".xls"))
    connectionString = string.Format("Provider=Microsoft.Jet.OLEDB.4.0;Data Source={0};Extended Properties=\"Excel 8.0;HDR=Yes;IMEX=1\";", filePath);

Please put these connection strings in the connectionstrings section of your app.config or web.config!!

Reading sheets

Now that we have a connection string, we can create a connection.

OleDbConnection connection = new OleDbConnection(connectionString);

Make sure you use try/catches for the connection.
Now that the connection is open, the next step is reading the tables. The tables in Excel are the available sheets.

DataTable tableSheets = connection.GetOleDbSchemaTable(OleDbSchemaGuid.Tables, null);

Every row in the tableSheets is a sheet

string dataTableName = tableSheets.Rows[0]["TABLE_NAME"].ToString(); 

The above code will give you the name of the first sheet. The sheet name can be used to retrieve the data of this sheet. You can also use a foreach or for loop to retrieve all sheet names if you need to collect data of all sheets.

Reading data

OleDbCommand command = new OleDbCommand(string.Format("SELECT * FROM [{0}]", dataTableName), connection);
command.CommandType = CommandType.Text;

This Command reads the data of the first sheet.
I like to use a DataTable to store the retrieved data. A DataTable is a representation of one table and contains both Columns and Rows.
The first row in a excel sheet are read as columns. The data in the Rows can be retrieved by using the name of the column as index key (like a dictionary).

So we need to fill the DataTable with the result of the Command:

var dataTable = new DataTable();
OleDbDataAdapter dataAdapter = new OleDbDataAdapter(command);

The OleDbDataAdapter executes the command and fills the DataTable with the resultset.

The datatable is filled and ready to use. Make sure you handle exceptions properly!

Clean up!

The only thing left to do is clean up! Close the connection and dispose all disposable objects! Why? Because you don’t want memory leaks or other strange behavior in your application! Always dispose disposable objects!  

if (connection.State == ConnectionState.Open)

I recommend using usings instead of calling dispose!