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Importing Data from Excel Spreadsheets

MATLAB provides you with the tools to import spreadsheet data both interactively and programmatically. To interactively import spreadsheet data, see Select Spreadsheet Data Using Import Tool. This example shows how to import data programmatically using readtable and spreadsheetDatastore.

  • Use readtable when your data resides in a worksheet of an Excel® spreadsheet file.

  • Use spreadsheetDatastore when your data resides in multiple sheets of a spreadsheet file or in a collection of multiple spreadsheet files.

Data used for this example comes from USA domestic airline flights between 1996 and 2008. The information is organized in an Excel® file with multiple sheets, where each sheet contains data for 1 year. Download the full data set from

Import Spreadsheet Data as Table

Spreadsheets contain data structured as columns of numbers and text. The MATLAB® table data type provides a natural way of working with such column-oriented heterogeneous data. You can use tables to store variable names or row names along with the data in a single container.

Use the readtable function to import data from a spreadsheet into a table. The resulting table, airlinedata, contains one variable for each column in the spreadsheet. By default, readtable treats the data in the first row of the file as the variable names.

airlinedata = readtable('airlinesmall_subset.xlsx');

Import Subset of Data

When you want to import only a portion of the data from the spreadsheet, call the readtable function with the Range name-value pair. The value for the Range name-value pair specifies the subset of rows and columns to be imported.

airlinedata = readtable('airlinesmall_subset.xlsx','Range','A1:F10');

Import from Specific Worksheet

By default, readtable reads data from the first worksheet. However, the Sheet name-value pair lets you specify which worksheet to read from. For instance, the data in this example is organized by worksheet by year. Import the data from a specific worksheet by using the name-value pair argument to specify the worksheet name.

airlinedata = readtable('airlinesmall_subset.xlsx','Sheet','2008');

Represent Variables in Table with MATLAB Data Types

During the import process, readtable detects whether the data is text or numeric. However, to leverage the additional functionality offered by MATLAB® native data types, you may choose to convert the data types of the variables. For instance, converting variables with date and time information to datetime lets you perform efficient computations, comparisons, and formatted display of dates and times.

Create a smaller table with only the variables to be converted, by specifying the variable names.

data = airlinedata(:,{'Year','Month','DayofMonth','UniqueCarrier','ArrDelay'});
ans = 5×5 table
    Year    Month    DayofMonth    UniqueCarrier    ArrDelay
    ____    _____    __________    _____________    ________

    2008    1        3             'WN'               1     
    2008    1        4             'WN'              -4     
    2008    1        6             'WN'              22     
    2008    1        7             'WN'              24     
    2008    1        8             'WN'             -17     

readtable imports the first three variables (columns), Year, Month, and DayofMonth, as numeric data containing date information. The fourth variable UniqueCarrier is imported as text, which contains repeated labels. Finally, the fifth variable ArrDelay is imported as numeric data, which contains duration information.

Represent Year, Month and DayofMonth as type datetime, the UniqueCarrier as categorical, and ArrDelay as duration in minutes.

data.Date = datetime(data.Year,data.Month,data.DayofMonth); % Columns 1 through 3
data.UniqueCarrier = categorical(data.UniqueCarrier);
data.ArrDelay = minutes(data.ArrDelay);

Import Data from Collection of Spreadsheets

A datastore is useful for processing arbitrarily large amounts of data that are spread across multiple files. Both data import and data processing can be performed through the datastore.

Create a datastore from a collection of spreadsheets in airlinesmall_subset.xlsx and preview the contents.

ds = spreadsheetDatastore('airlinesmall_subset.xlsx');
p = preview(ds);
ans = 8×7 table
    Year    Month    DayofMonth    DayOfWeek    DepTime    CRSDepTime    ArrTime
    ____    _____    __________    _________    _______    __________    _______

    1996    1        18            4            2117       2120          2305   
    1996    1        12            5            1252       1245          1511   
    1996    1        16            2            1441       1445          1708   
    1996    1         1            1            2258       2300          2336   
    1996    1         4            4            1814       1814          1901   
    1996    1        31            3            1822       1820          1934   
    1996    1        18            4             729        730           841   
    1996    1        26            5            1704       1705          1829   

Select the variables to import by specifying variable names.

ds.SelectedVariableNames = {'Year','Month','DayofMonth','UniqueCarrier','ArrDelay'};

To leverage the additional functionality of MATLAB® native data types, you can specify the data type of each variable before importing the data.

Import UniqueCarrier as a categorical variable.

ds.SelectedVariableTypes(4) = {'categorical'};
ans = 8×5 table
    Year    Month    DayofMonth    UniqueCarrier    ArrDelay
    ____    _____    __________    _____________    ________

    1996    1        18            HP                 6     
    1996    1        12            HP                11     
    1996    1        16            HP               -13     
    1996    1         1            HP                 1     
    1996    1         4            US                -9     
    1996    1        31            US                 9     
    1996    1        18            US                -2     
    1996    1        26            NW               -10     

Use the read or readall functions to import the data from the datastore. You can import the data, one file at a time using the read function or from all files in the datastore using readall. By default, read brings in all the worksheets in the file as a table.

alldata = read(ds);

To control the amount of data imported, adjust the ReadSize property of the datastore, before calling read.

ds.ReadSize = 'sheet';
data1996 = read(ds); % reads first worksheet
data1997 = read(ds); % reads the next worksheet

Read and Process Data Incrementally from Spreadsheets

When working with very large data sets, which may not fit in memory, it is useful to process each portion incrementally as it is read from the datastore.

Select and process data of interest from the table using the hasdata, read, and reset functions, and compute the maximum arrival delay for each spreadsheet.

reset(ds) % start reading from the first sheet
mdelay = [];
while hasdata(ds)
    t = read(ds);
    m = max(t.ArrDelay);
    mdelay = vertcat(mdelay,m);

Display the maximum arrival delay for each year.

year = 1996:2008 ;     
mdelayInHours = mdelay/60; % Convert to hours
ylabel('Max Delay (hours)')
title('Flight Delay Trend by Year')

A similar processing of the datastore can be used with the MapReduce framework in MATLAB®. For more information, see Analyze Big Data in MATLAB Using MapReduce.

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