About Data Encoding
Important information about data encoding when exporting data from, and importing data to, ContractorTools
Dan Fellman avatar
Written by Dan Fellman
Updated over a week ago

The human readable text and numbers stored in computers is "encoded" in the computer as a series of 0's and 1's. In the early days of computers, the system of encoding, called ASCII (for "American Standard Code for Information Interchange"), was only designed to encode up to 128 different characters (letters, digits, and punctuation). 

This was more than enough for languages in western countries that have only 26 letters in the alphabet. But to support languages which have thousands of different characters, it was necessary to expand the text encoding system to support more than 128 characters. A number of different encoding systems exist, but the most common one used is called UTF-8 (for "Unicode Transformation Format"). 

If you are exporting item cost data so you can edit it and re-import it into ContractorTools, you will want to use either Microsoft Excel or Apple's Numbers app to edit it. ContractorTools, and most Apple software, supports UTF-8 text encoding by default. So if you use Numbers to edit your exported ContractorTools item cost data, you will have no trouble. 

On the other hand, if you use Microsoft Excel, things are a little more complicated. If you simply open (File > Open) an item cost data file that was exported from ContractorTools, Microsoft Excel will not appropriately recognise characters beyond the original 128 ASCII characters, and so these will appear as "garbage characters" in the spreadsheet.

If any "garbage characters" appear in the spreadsheet when you open it in Excel, you have two options:

The easiest solution is to use Numbers to edit the spreadsheet. If you want to use Excel, then you have two options:

  1. Remove non ASCII characters from the text of item names and descriptions in ContractorTools. This will only be possible if you are using ContractorTools in English (other languages require non ASCII characters for accented text characters), and even if you are using English, it might be difficult because the non ASCII characters are sometimes difficult to notice. Examples of non ASCII Characters are the left or right leaning quotation marks. While ASCII only provides one version of (single or double) quotation marks, UTF encoding has additional versions that lean either left or right.

  2. "Import" the spreadsheet into Excel instead of "Opening" it. Rather than simply opening the exported ContractorTools .csv spreadsheet file, when you "import" it, Excel will give you options that will allow you to import non ASCII character data.

    Here's how:
    - Open Excel with a blank spreadsheet.
    - Go to File > Import.
    - Select "CSV" as the type of file you want to import.
    - Navigate to and select the ContractorTools export file to import. Click Get Data.
    - In the next step of the import wizard, select "UTF-8" in the prompt for File Origin. This will tell Excel to interpret any non ASCII characters appropriately.
    - In the next step, change the Delimiter to comma, and check "Treat consecutive delimiters as one", and select the double quote in the prompt for Text Qualifier.
    - Click Finish.
    - When you are done editing the file, when you click Save, Excel will default to saving the spreadsheet as a .xlsx file. To import it back into ContractorTools, select "CSV UTF-8 (comma delimited) (.csv)" in the prompt for File Format.

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