SYmbolic LinK (SYLK)

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Not to be confused with symbolic link.

Symbolic Link (SYLK) is a Microsoft file format typically used to exchange data between applications, specifically spreadsheets. SYLK files conventionally have a .slk suffix. Composed of only displayable ANSI characters, it can be easily created and processed by other applications, such as databases.

Microsoft does not publish a SYLK specification. Variants of the format are supported by Multiplan, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Works, OpenOffice.org, and Gnumeric.

Note that even if a SYLK file is created by an application that supports Unicode (for example Microsoft Excel), the SYLK file will be encoded in the current system's ANSI code page, not in Unicode. If the application contained characters that were displayable in Unicode but have no codepoint in the current system's code page, they will be converted to question marks ('?') in the SYLK file.

Also note that if a character string in the SYLK file is to contain a semicolon (;) then it should be prefixed with another semicolon so the string would appear as e.g.; "WIDGET#04;;AXC1254". MS Excel will strip the first semicolon on import and the data element will appear as "WIDGET#04;AXC1254". It appears that the semicolon acts as an escape character of sorts.

A commonly encountered (and spurious) 'occurrence' of the SYLK file happens when a Comma-separated Value format is saved with an unquoted first field name of 'ID', that is the first two characters match the first two characters of the SYLK file format. Microsoft Excel (at least to Office 2007) will then emit misleading error messages relating to the format of the file, such as "The file you are trying to open, 'x.csv', is in a different format than specified by the file extension...".[1][2]

Sample SYLK code[edit]

As an example, the following SYLK code in a text file with the .slk extension:

ID;P
C;Y1;X1;K"Row 1"
C;Y2;X1;K"Row 2"
C;Y3;X1;K"Total"
C;Y1;X2;K11
C;Y2;X2;K22
C;Y3;X2;K0
E

would be displayed like this when read by an appropriate spreadsheet:

Row 1 11
Row 2 22
Total 33

for numeric formatting[edit]

The formatting of 2 decimal digits is applied to Column 2 using

F;P2;C2


where P0 is for General, P1 is for no decimal, P2 is for 2 digits, P3 has leading $ sign with 2 decimal points as defined below.

ID;P
P;PGeneral
P;P_(* #,##0_);;_(* \-#,##0_);;_(* "-"_);;_(@_)
P;P_(* #,##0.00_);;_(* \(#,##0.00\);;_(* "-"??_);;_(@_)
P;P_("$"* #,##0.00_);;_("$"* \(#,##0.00\);;_("$"* "-"??_);;_(@_)
C;Y1;X1;K"Row 1"
C;Y2;X1;K"Row 2"
C;Y3;X1;K"Total"
C;Y1;X2;K11
C;Y2;X2;K22
C;Y3;X2;K0;ER1C2+R2C2
F;P2;C2
E

would be displayed like this when read by an appropriate spreadsheet:

Row 1 11.00
Row 2 22.00
Total 33.00

for column width[edit]

F;W< n1 > [S] < n2 > [S] < n3 > defines the widths of a group of columns:

[S] 
one space
< n1 > 
the first column
< n2 > 
the last column
< n3 > 
the width of columns in number of characters

For example, : Adding these SYLK codes will adjust the column width of column 1 and 2 to 20 and 30 respectively.

F;W1 1 20
F;W2 2 30

cell formatting properties[edit]

 F; < cl > < n > < c2 >
< cl > 
one of the following 1-character formatting codes:
default
continuous cross-cell display
scientific exponentiation
fixed decimal point
general format
leading$and2decimal points
bar graph, one asterisk per unit (5 would be *****)
< n > 
the number of digits.
< c2 > 
one of the following 1-character alignment codes:
default
center
general(textleft, numbersright)
left justify
right justify

For Example : The following SYLK code demonstrates the cell formatting properties

 ID;P
 P;PGeneral
 C;Y1;X1;K"Row 1 Left Justify"
 F;P0;FG0L
 C;Y2;X1;K"Row 2 Right Justify"
 F;P0;FG0R
 C;Y3;X1;K"Total at Center"
 F;P0;FG0C
 C;Y1;X2;K11
 C;Y2;X2;K22
 C;Y3;X2;K0;ER1C2+R2C2
 F;Y1;X2;FF2L
 F;Y2;X2;FF2R
 F;Y3;X2;F$2C
 F;W1 2 25
 E

SYLK Syntax[edit]

SYLK_file ::=
        Record +

Record ::=
        RecordType Field* newline
  • ID record
    • Use:
      A header to identify spreadsheet type and creator.
      Must be first record in the file.
    • Record type:
      ID
    • Mandatory fields:
      P program
      file creator
      • possible creators include:
        • MP (Multiplan)
        • XL (Excel)
    • Possible fields:
      N
      If present, file uses ;N style cell protection
      If absent, file uses ;P style cell protection
      E
      If present, NE records are redundant
      If absent, NE records are not redundant
  • B record
    • Use:
      Tells number of rows and columns in the spreadsheet.
      Recommended that it come before C and F records
    • Record type:
      B
    • Mandatory fields:
      X columns
      tells maximum number of columns
      Y rows
      tells maximum number of rows
  • C record
    • Use:
      Cell contents
    • Record type:
      C
    • Mandatory fields:
      X column
      column position (one based)
      Y row
      row position (one based)
    • Possible fields:
      E expression
      expression for the cell
      K value
      value of the cell
      C column
      column reference
      R row
      row reference
      G
      defines shared value
      D
      defines shared expression
      S
      references shared value or shared expression
      N
      If present, the cell is not protected.
      If absent and ;N is present in the ID record, cell is protected.
      P
      If present, cell is protected.
      If absent and ;N is absent in the ID record, cell is not protected.
      H
      If present, cell is hidden.
      If absent, cell is not hidden.
      M expression
      matrix expression from (X,Y) to (C,R)
      I
      inside a matrix
    • Compatible fields:
      If ;G is present, ;E must be absent.
      If ;G is present, ;K must be present.
      If ;D is present, ;E must be present.
      If ;S is present, ;E, ;K, ;G, ;D, and ;M must be absent.
      If ;S is present, ;R and ;C must be present. (They define the row and column that the shared value/expression is copied from.)
      If ;N is present in the ID record, ;P must be absent.
      If ;N is absent from the ID record, ;N must be absent.
      If ;M is present, ;E must be absent.
      If ;I is present, ;K and ;E must be absent
  • P record
    • Use:
      Cell format
      If F records are present, precedes them.
    • Mandatory fields:
      P formatting
      Excel style cell format specification
  • F record
    • Use:
      Format
      If P record(s) are present, follows them.
    • Possible fields:
      X column
      column (one based)
      Y row
      row (one based)
      C column
      column (one based)
      R row
      row (one based)
      F format
      Cell/row/column format
      The format of format is
      ch1 digits ch2
      ch1 is
      D
      default
      C
      currency
      E
      exponent
      F
      fixed
      G
      general
      $
      dollar
      *
      graph
      %
      percent
      digits is number of digits after decimal point
      ch2 is alignment
      D
      default
      C
      center
      G
      standard
      L
      left
      R
      right
      -
      ignored
      X
      fill
      D format
      Default format.
      The format of format is
      ch1 digits ch2
      ch1 is
      C
      currency
      E
      exponent
      F
      fixed
      G
      general
      $
      dollar
      *
      graph
      %
      percent
      digits is number of digits after decimal point
      ch2 is alignment
      C
      center
      G
      standard
      L
      left
      R
      right
      -
      ignored
      X
      fill
      E
      show formulas
      K
      show commas
      W col1 col2 width
      set column widths
      N fontid size
      font to use
      P index
      Excel cell format, number of the P record (e.g. P0 means the first P record, which is usually declared as P;PGeneral
      S style
      style
      The following characters can be part of style
      I
      italic
      D
      bold
      T
      gridline top
      L
      gridline left
      B
      gridline bottom
      R
      gridline right
      S
      shaded background
      H
      If present, don't show row/column headers
      If absent in the entire file, show row/column headers
      G
      If present, don't show default gridlines
      If absent in the entire file, show default gridlines
    • Compatible fields:
      At least one of ;X, ;Y, ;C, ;R, ;D, ;E, ;K, ;W, ;P, ;H, or ;G must be present.
      If ;X or ;Y is present, both ;X and ;Y must be present. (This sets cell format.)
      If ;X is present, ;R, ;C, ;E, ;K, ;W, ;N, ;H, ;G must be absent.
      If ;R is present, ;X, ;Y, ;C, ;E, ;K, ;W, ;N, ;H, ;G must be absent. (This sets default row format.)
      If ;C is present, ;X, ;Y, ;R, ;E, ;K, ;W, ;N, ;H, ;G must be absent. (This sets default column format.)
      If ;D is present, ;X, ;Y, ;R, ;C must be absent. (This sets default spreadsheet format.)
      If ;X, ;Y, ;R, ;C are present, ;P and/or ;F and/or ;S must be present.
  • O record
    • Use:
      Options
    • Possible fields:
      A iter delta
      If present, allow value iteration
      If absent, circular references are not allowed.
      iter (maximum number of iterations)
      delta (step test. If smaller, then finished.)
      C
      completion test at nearest preceding C record
      P
      sheet is protected
      L
      use A1 mode references
      Even if ;L is given R1C1 references are used in SYLK file expressions.
      M
      If present, use manual recalculation.
      If absent, use automatic recalculation.
      E
      Macro sheet.
      This should appear before the first appearance of a ;G or ;F field in a NN record.
      This should appear before the first C record which uses a macro-only function.
      V value
      value indicates the base date used for calculating serial date values
      0:01 January 1900
      4:01 January 1904
  • NU record
    • Use:
      file name substitution
      If NE record(s) are present, must precede them.
    • Mandatory fields:
      L filename
      old filename
      F filename
      new filename
  • NE record
    • Use:
      external link
    • Mandatory fields:
      E expression
      Target area on spreadsheet
      F filename
      Source file
      S expression
      Source area on external sheet
  • NN record
    • Use:
      Defines names
      More efficient if NN appears before name use.
    • Mandatory fields:
      N name
      name
      E expression
      expression describing value of name
    • Possible fields:
      G ch1 ch2
      runable name (macro) with command key alias
      K ch1 ch2
      ordinary name with unused comman aliases
      F
      usable as a function
    • Compatible fields:
      If ;G is present, ;K must be absent.
  • W record
    • Use:
      Window definitions
  • NL record
    • Use:
      Chart external link
  • E record
    • Use:
      End of file.
      Must be last record.

Date and time are stored as a floating point value. The whole number part is a number of days from the Jan 1 1900 (if the O record contains the ;V0 directive, specifying 1900 as the starting point for calculations), the fraction is the number of seconds divided by 86400 (60*60*24, number of seconds in a day). Conversion to unix time can be done by subtracting the difference between Jan 1 1970 and Jan 1 1900 (25,569 days) and then multiplying by 86400; converting from unix time to SYLK datetime is done by dividing the value by 86400 and then adding 25569. The cell style has to be set to some date formatting value, e.g. P;Pdd/mm/yyyy\ hh:mm:ss to be displayed properly.

.slk file exports opened with Excel have a limit of 255 characters in a cell. This limit is not present in LibreOffice.

External links[edit]

  • Detailed examples can also be found at here

Syntax for SYLK can be found at:

and at:

Limits related to reading and saving with Excel:

References[edit]