With this question assume the users understand CSV/Excel.

I am looking for the most usable approach for importing data (5-15 rows) into an application.

  1. Is it better to let the users download an Excel/CSV template, populate then upload?


  2. Is it better to let the users upload whatever Excel/CSV they have and allow mapping functionality?


  3. Tell me a better way.

My thoughts are they you usually give the users some-kind of confirmation on what to import, so why not just go ahead with the mapping functionality and kill two birds with one stone?

  • 1
    I've never seen #1 before. Great idea. Aug 18, 2010 at 1:22
  • 1
    We use #1 at our company almost exclusively. We combine our imports with exports that follow the same layout. the idea being a user can download their data into an xls, edit it, then re-import it. Works at treat. We also have error checking for mis-matched columns Aug 19, 2010 at 16:42
  • 1
    A related question about interface for mapping the fields, if option #2 is chosen. Jun 9, 2011 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


You could tell them what columns are expected and have a button to download a blank file for convenience (#1) or let them create / use their own file.

Once the file is uploaded, if the column names don't already match, you could provide the mapping functionality (#2).

An experienced user might already have the file with the right column names and could skip both steps.

  • 1
    I like the idea of checking to see if the columns match and then presenting them with an error and a mapping ui when they don't already match. Aug 17, 2010 at 14:35
  • It is a really good question. Is there yet a better way to solve this, I wonder?
    – mg1075
    May 21, 2011 at 22:56

I actually have this exact problem on the app I design. Header mapping never made it into the roadmap so users are forced to fix the headers in Excel. We give them a template, but users still get really annoyed. They often get lists from 3rd party sources and having to do the fixup is a pain.

I wish I had escalated the header-mapping UI a long time ago. I am still trying to get it on the roadmap.

Currently, we give good feedback on the columns that DO match properly and the ones that don't, but it's not ideal.

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