What Are The Different Dataset File Formats?

Key Points

  • A dataset stores information in tabular form, tree-like structure, or in simple text lines.
  • Dataset files can contain text, numbers, images, videos, and audio files.

Have you ever created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, or used a table to denote information? If yes, then you are already familiar with datasets.

A dataset, or data set, is a collection of information usually sorted in human or machine-readable ways. Like all other file types, a dataset file also has different formats, each designed to be handled differently.

Here, we discuss the different dataset types and formats so you have a better understanding of how and where they can be used.

What is a dataset?

By definition, a dataset is a collection of all relating to a single object, topic, or theme. A dataset can be structured, like a table, or a tree form, or it can be constructed, with no pattern at all. Moreover, it can include text, numbers, special characters, images, videos, and audio.

That said, a dataset can be stored in many different formats. The format defines how the data inside will be stored, whether it will be structured, unstructured, or hybrid.

Moreover, a dataset can also be classified as one of the following types:

  • Numerical datasets: Includes numbers and usually used for quantitative analysis.
  • Text datasets: Contain posts, documents, and text messages.
  • Multimedia datasets: Contain audio, video, and image files.
  • Time-series datasets: Includes incremental data collected over time to analyze patterns and trends.
  • Spatial dataset: Contains data with geographic information, like GPS data and coordinates.

Understanding what a dataset is is important to know the different formats.

Dataset file formats

A dataset file can be either common or proprietary. A proprietary dataset file format is created so that it works with the vendor’s software or platform.

Below are some of the common dataset file formats that you may see today.

Comma Separated Values (CSV)

A Comma-Separated Values file is a plain text file where the information is stored in lines, and separated by commas. For example, it may store the details of the company’s employees. Here is an example:

department, surname, f.name
HR, Gonzales, Speedy
Marketing, Zafar, Subhan

As you can see in the example above, a new row of information is stored in the next line. However, the information is separated by a simple command.

Moreover, if you notice the first row of the CSV file format, you’ll notice that it defines the information denoted after each comma. This is not always necessary and is optional to include in a CSV file – depending on how the software that uses the CSV file is programmed to read the information.

CSV files are commonly used to export and import the dataset from one app to another. For example, some platforms create CSV files for data, which can be imported into Microsoft Excel and become human-readable.

Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet (XLS, XLSX)

Both XLS and XLSX are spreadsheet formats proprietary to Microsoft Excel. While the XLS format stores both the dataset and the formatting in the binary format, the XLSX file stores it in the Open XML Format.

The XLS and XLSX file formats are usually created by people to store different sorts of data in a structured manner regarding the same theme. For example, you can keep employee information stored in these formats, which can include their names, IDs, departments, salaries, and whatnot. Another example is giving cost quotations and estimates for different products.

An Excel spreadsheet can be used in several ways, by a variety of different professions and users. You can apply mathematical equations and other formulas to compute numbers and perform a bunch of other operations. Therefore, these dataset file formats are used widely today and have been for the last 3 decades.

Plain Text (TXT)

As the name implies, the TXT file format is a plain and simple file. It stores information in plain text and includes only alphabets, numbers, and standard symbols.

A .TXT file is rarely used as a dataset file but can be used depending on the ideal situation. For example, a plain text dataset file can be used when fetching all of the content inside of it. Therefore, it should only contain information regarding a single theme or topic.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

Like a TXT file, a PDF file is also a document file. However, it can also contain information that can be used as a dataset.

Since a PDF file is cross-platform and can be used by a variety of software, it is normally used to exchange information between them, provided that the source and the destination both support the PDF file format.

Note that a PDF file is rarely used as a dataset file.

JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)

Unlike CSV file format, a JSON file dataset has a tree-like structure. The information is stored in a tree structure, and each tree item can be expanded and collapsed. A JSON file also includes other metadata, such as column names, types, dataset names, etc.


SQLite is an open-source database stored in a dataset file. It is mostly used for embedded software that can handle light to medium traffic. It usually consists of multiple tables, each of which contains data in a tabular format. These tables support large datasets, which the CSV dataset format lacks, but are otherwise very much alike.

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML)

HTML is normally used in creating web pages. They may also contain HTML tables that display tabular information to the readers. These can be created using HTML.

An HTML dataset is created using a specific syntax, and the information is displayed accordingly. The syntax is in plain text but specific to the HTML programming language.

These are some of the common dataset files we come across today. However, there are many more types available.

Ending words

Datasets are often referred to as databases. This is because datasets contain information that may be needed somewhere, probably more than once. Datasets contain information and are usually exchangeable across apps and platforms. Therefore, they are stored inside files in one format or another.

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