CSV files are simple and robust – except with ArcGIS 10.1

I like simple things that just work, like CSV files: They are ASCII files, so you can open them in any editor; and they are vendor independent, so great for exchange of tabular data between different software systems. The contain nothing but data, commas and line feeds – the structure is so straightforward, what could possibly go wrong? For ArcGIS the CSV file must have a specific structure, for example the first line must contain the field names.

Now I use a CSV file in ArcGIS 10.1:

  1. I start a blank ArcMap project and load a boundary shapefile and CSV table containing attribute values.
  2. I join the table to the shapefile via a common attribute.
  3. I change the symbolization to Quantities > Graduated Colors > Poverty. At this point ArcMap stalls, and after a few seconds it crashes.

What happened???

Let’s look at our CSV file in Excel (or in a text editor if you are a proper geek):

xls1This looks like expected – all normal so far.

Now we load the file into ArcGIS, and it looks like this:


Scratch head now ….


ArcGIS does not read our CSV file correctly

This seems to cause ArcMap to crash when we apply a symbology based on a field in the CSV table.
I found that this is a known bug in ArcGIS 10.1: NIM084421:

There is a related bug where ArcGIS crashes if your CSV table has a definition query: NIM086787,


Open the CSV in MS Excel, save as an Excel file (xlsx), then load the Excel table into ArcGIS.  I tried with my test data, joined and visualised, and it all works.


4 thoughts on “CSV files are simple and robust – except with ArcGIS 10.1

  1. Thanks so much for the post. Like a lot of errors in ArcGIS, this is something that seems simple enough to always work, but frustratingly, doesn’t.

  2. Thanks alot, but for me Excel file is not working in this scenario. its not showing me all columns in quantities symbology .
    What coud have possibly gone wrong?

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