#csv #tsv #cli

bin+lib clipivot

A command-line tool for quickly generating pivot tables

8 releases

0.3.5 Mar 16, 2023
0.3.4 Nov 5, 2020
0.2.0 Apr 6, 2020
0.1.0 Sep 15, 2019

#391 in Command line utilities

24 downloads per month


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clipivot is a tool for creating pivot tables from the command line. It's designed to be fast and memory-efficient so it can be used to aggregate large datasets, and it's designed to be easy to use and easy to debug.

This guide below will provide you with detailed instructions for installing and using the tool. Want to see what it does without reading the documentation? Build your own pivot tables using this interactive tool, and either download the results or copy the commands you'd run in your terminal.

Table of Contents


You should be able to currently download binaries for Windows, Linux and MacOS on the Releases page of this repository.

Alternatively, you can compile the program using Rust's package manager, cargo, using:

$ cargo install clipivot

Or you can download directly from source.

Why Pivot Tables?

At a basic level, pivot tables exist as a way to aggregate data and extract meaning from datasets.

Say, for example, you have a list of salaries for employees. Each record has a unique identifier for the employee, the employee's salary, and the department the employee worked for. And let's say, because I'm a journalist who's often bored by employee database examples, there's also a field marking whether or not the employee was recently fired.

The dataset looks like this:


(You can see the file itself in test_csvs/layoffs.csv.)

With this data, you might want to know the number of employees who were fired from the company, as well as the number employees who remain. You can do that easily with pivot tables. Here's what that syntax looks like in clipivot:

$ clipivot count test_csvs/layoffs.csv --rows=was_fired --val=id

That will print this out in your terminal:


Which tells you that three employees were fired and that two remain.

If you're familiar with SQL, you'll notice that this is similar to running GROUP BY queries. In fact, you could run the same thing I just did in SQL:

SELECT was_fired, COUNT(id)
FROM my_table
GROUP BY was_fired;

Where pivot tables really provide an advantage over GROUP BY queries is in their ability to allow you to control the output columns and rows with ease.

If you want to find the total salary of the employees in the layoffs.csv dataset, aggregated both by the department and by whether or not they were fired. You could do this in SQL:

SELECT department, was_fired, SUM(salary)
FROM my_table
GROUP BY department, was_fired;

Which will create a table like this:


But you might want to set the values from the was_fired field as columns in the output, instead of as rows. That's trickier to do in SQL. (I frankly don't know how to do it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's possible.)

With pivot tables, however, it's easy. Here's what that syntax looks like in clipivot:

$ clipivot sum test_csvs/layoffs.csv --rows=department --cols=was_fired --val=salary

Which will give you this output:


In other words, pivot tables provide convenient and easy-to-use ways to aggregate datasets.

Why should you use clipivot?

In a lot of cases, clipivot isn't necessarily going to be any better than existing tools for creating pivot tables. In the vast majority of cases, you can easily do what clipivot does using pandas in Python or using R. And in a number of cases, you can use SQL or existing CSV toolkits like csvtk or xsv. You can often use Excel, too, although Excel doesn't offer good ways to help you document your work or sort your pivot tables.

There are a couple of benefits to using clipivot over these tools, though.

clipivot is easier to use than any CSV toolkit I'm aware of when it comes to creating pivot tables, because it's narrowly and specifically designed to create pivot tables. And it accepts input from standard input and file paths and prints to standard output, allowing you to pipe it into and out of other command-line programs.

clipivot also makes it easy to perform analyses on large datasets, including datasets that exceed the RAM on your computer. I used the tool to analyze the 80 GB ARCOS dataset the Washington Post acquired on my laptop, which has 16 GB of RAM. In all, it took me about 10 minutes (with the data stored in an HDD external drive) to create a CSV of the total number of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills flowing into each ZIP code in the United States between 2006 and 2012. And I didn't have to change any settings to get it to work, like I would've had to in pandas.

Beyond that, if you're already working at the command line, it can simply be convenient to stay there.

Why shouldn't you use clipivot?

clipivot isn't always going to be the best tool to use.

Command-line programs are necessarily harder to configure than libraries in programming languages, so if you need an aggregation function that isn't supported by clipivot, it's going to be easier to use a data science library like pandas than it will be to configure clipivot for your use case. (As in, configuring clipivot will require you to make significant changes to the source code of clipivot.)

And clipivot isn't designed for cleaning data. It has a limited number of functions that will parse your data, but the parsing is mostly useful for already well-formed data.

Usage Guide

Basic Usage

For basic syntax, I recommend that you use the help message provided with the binary:

$ clipivot --help
clipivot 0.2.0
Max Lee <maxbmhlee@gmail.com>
A tool for creating pivot tables from the command line.
For more information, visit https://www.github.com/maxblee/clipivot

    clipivot [FLAGS] [OPTIONS] <aggfunc> --val <value> [--] [filename]

    -A, --asc-rows      Displays the rows in sorted, ascending order (default is index order).
    -R, --desc-cols     Display column names in sorted, descending order (default is ascending)
    -D, --desc-rows     Displays the rows in sorted, descending order (default is index order).
    -e                  Ignores empty/null values ('', NULL, NaN, NONE, NA, N/A)
    -h, --help          Prints help information
    -I, --index-cols    Display column names in index order. Defaults to sorted, ascending order.
        --no-header     Skip the header row of the CSV file.
    -N                  Parse values as numeric data. This is only necessary for min, max, and minmax, which can parse
    -t                  Set the delimiter of the file to a tab.
    -V, --version       Prints version information

    -c, --cols <columns>...    The name of the column(s) to aggregate on. Accepts string fieldnames or 0-indexed fields.
    -d, --delim <delim>        The delimiter used to separate fields. Defaults to ','.
    -F <format>                The format of a date field (e.g. %Y-%m-%d for dates like 2010-09-21)
    -r, --rows <rows>...       The name of the index(es) to aggregate on. Accepts string fieldnames or 0-indexed fields.
    -v, --val <value>          

    <aggfunc>     The function you use to run across the pivot table.
                              - count counts the number of matching records.
                              - countunique counts the number of unique matching records.
                              - max returns the maximum value of the records given a specified data type.
                              - mean returns the mean.
                              - median returns the median value. Requires numeric data.
                              - min returns the minimum value of the records given a specified data type.
                              - minmax returns both the minimum and maximum values of the records, split by a
                              - mode returns the most commonly appearing value.
                              - range returns the difference between the minimum and maximum values. Returns the
                  number of days in the case of dates.
                              - stddev returns the sample standard deviation.
                              - sum returns the sum of the values. [values: count, countunique, max, mean, median,
                  min, minmax, mode, range, stddev, sum]
    <filename>    The path to the file you want to create a pivot table from

That should provide you with a decent overview of the usage of clipivot. But let me provide a little bit more information.

The basic syntax of clipivot is simple. Every command needs to have a function and a values column connected to it. That values column tells clipivot which column it needs to apply an aggregation function to.

In addition, clipivot needs a data source. This can either be explicitly typed after the name of the function, or it can be in the form of standard input. So the following commands are all equivalent:

$ clipivot count mydata.csv --val id
$ cat mydata.csv | clipivot count --val id
$ clipivot count --val id < mydata.csv

Finally, you can apply the --cols or --rows options to aggregate by column. If you don't pass anything to those options, you will have one row and/or one column named "total" that aggregates over every single value in your dataset.

Row names

There are a variety of names you can give to the --rows, --cols, and --val options.

Say we have a header row that looks like this:


In order to access the first column, we can type the following things:

  • col1: This will grab the first column named col1
  • 0: This will grab the first column, regardless of the name. (The numbers throughout clipivot are 0-indexed to conform with standards in most programming languages.)
  • col1[0]: This will grab the first column named col1

In order to access the third column, we can type the following things:

  • 2: Like 0 in the above example, this will grab the third column, regardless of the name.
  • col1[1]: This will grab the second column named col1.

Finally, for the --rows and --cols options, we can grab multiple values. There are several equivalent ways of doing this:

  • --cols=col1,col2
  • -c=col1,col2
  • -c col1 -c col2
  • -c col1 col2
  • --cols col1 col2


Once we know what columns we want to aggregate on, we need to choose a function. Different functions accept different types of data, so it's important to understand the distinction between them.

At a basic level, functions fit into three categories.

Text Functions

One category interprets every item as text. It will validate that your text is valid UTF-8 but won't do any parsing on top of that. Because of that, most data you encounter should be able to be parsed without error if you are using one of these methods.

In case your data cannot be properly parsed by clipivot using one of these functions, you can change the encoding of your file on most Unix-based systems by using iconv. (The actual process of doing so may be a bit tricky, since figuring out your file encoding is tricky and inexact, but uchardet and chardetect both work pretty well in most cases.) (Note: You will likely have to install uchardet and chardetect. chardetect requires Python and can be installed using pip, Python's package manager. uchardet can be installed using Homebrew in Mac or apt for Linux.)

The functions that parse things as text are count and countunique. You can also technically use min, max, and minmax to parse text, but that's primarily aimed at reading through dates, so we'll talk more about that later.

Numeric Functions

Some functions only parse numeric data. The following formats all work for numeric data, regardless of the aggregation function:

  • 100
  • 1.2
  • 1e-6
  • 1E-6
  • -1.5

However, currency markers like dollar signs and thousands separators cannot be parsed using clipivot. (If you want to parse those from the command line, I recommend csvtk replace.)

These functions are: mean, median, stddev (or the sample standard deviation), and sum.

With all of these functions, I have paid special attention to numerical accuracy. sum and mean both use Decimal addition in order to avoid truncation errors, while stddev uses a numerically stable algorithm. Furthermore, the mean and standard deviation algorithms are both tested against the Statistical Reference Datasets from the Nation Institute of Standards and Technology.

Numerical or date functions

There are four algorithms designed to work with either numerical data or with dates. They are the minimum, the maximum, minmax (which outputs the minimum and maximum separated by a hyphen) and the range.

In the case of numerical data, the definitions for these terms should be obvious. The minimum refers to the smallest number in the aggregation, the maximum refers to the largest number, the range refers to the difference between the minimum and the maximum, and the minmax outputs the smallest number followed by a hyphen followed by the largest number.

Note: In order to parse min,max, or minmax as numeric data, you must type the -N flag.

With dates, the minimum refers to the earliest date, so an aggregation containing the dates April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2019 would have a minimum of March 31, 2019. The maximum date is then the most recent date, while the range is the difference between the earliest date and the most recent date, in days.

In order to parse dates as date objects, you must pass the -F flag, along with a specification for how your datetimes are formatted. This uses the string formatting options from Rust's chrono crate, which can be found here.


With clipivot, you can choose how to sort the columns and rows of your pivot table -- by the order in which they appear, in ascending, alphabetic order, or in descending, alphabetic order. By default, the columns will appear in sorted ascending error, while the rows will appear in index order. However, you can override those defaults.

By using -A or --asc-rows, the rows will appear in ascending order; by using -D or --desc-rows, they will appear in descending order. By using -R or --desc-cols, the columns will appear in descending order; by using -I or --index-cols, they will appear in the order in which they appear.


You can also tell clipivot to use something other than commas as a field delimiter. By default, clipivot will assume that files ending with the .tsv or .tab extensions are tab-delimited, while other files are assumed to be comma-separated. However, both of those can be overridden. You can select any other single-byte UTF-8 character as a delimiter using the -d option, or you can use the -t flag to choose to read tabs as the file dilimiter.

Note: The file extension tool only works when clipivot is directly reading a file. If it is receiving tab-delimited data from standard input, you need to use the -t flag or the -d option.


If you don't have a header row, you can use the --no-header flag to have clipivot read the first row as a record, rather than as a header line.

Alternatively, if you have a header row, but it is not on the first line of your file, you can use tail -n + to have clipivot read everything but the nth row. For instance, if the header row of your CSV file bad_csv.csv is on the fifth line, you can type

tail bad_csv.csv -n +5 | clipivot countunique -v 0

To count the number of unique values in the first column of your bad CSV file.

Null values

You can have clipivot ignore empty values. If you use the -e flag, clipivot will skip past any cells that match (case- or whitespace-insensitively) to any of these strings:

  • "": an empty string
  • "na"
  • "nan"
  • "n/a"
  • "none"
  • "null"

As this article eloquently explains, this can be overly aggressive, so you should make sure this is a reasonable approach for parsing your data. In particular, I'd recommend spot-checking your data to see which points clipivot interprets as null before using the -e flag.

Which brings me to:

Error handling

I've tried to make error handling clear and helpful in clipivot.

In all, there are four errors you might wind up seeing.

  • The first is a simple IO error. It looks like this:
No such file or directory (os error 2)

If you see this error, it probably means you had a typo when you tried to spell the name of your file.

  • The second type of error you might see is a configuration error. Configuration errors can take a number of forms, each of which should have a detailed error message providing you with specific information debugging information. One example looks like this:
Could not properly configure the aggregator: Column selection must be between 0 <= selection < 42

If you see that error, there's a decent chance you simply forgot that fields in clipivot are zero-indexed.

  • The third type of error you might see is a CSV error, from the CSV parsing library clipivot uses. Those errors look like this:
CSV error: record 1 (line: 2, byte: 597): found record with 4 fields, but the previous record has 1 fields

These errors can either come because of malformed CSVs or because you forgot to specify the correct delimiter (for instance, forgetting to use the -t flag when piping in a TSV file from standard input).

  • Finally, you might get a parsing error that looks like this:
Could not parse record `NA` with index 167: Failed to parse as numeric

This can be a sign that your file has some null or empty values in it, or that it is not as well-formatted as you might have hoped.

It can also be a sign that clipivot is trying to parse your data in a different format than you expected (for instance, that it is trying to parse a bunch of strings as dates for the range function, when you want it to parse everything as a number.)

These errors will all provide you with the string value of the record clipivot couldn't parse, the index of the record (where the first non-header record has an index of 0), and the type of data that it tried to parse your data into — all of which should make it easier for you to debug.

(As a side note, I recommend pairing this utility with xsv slice -i, which prints out a row from a CSV file at a given line.)

Additional Information

  • clipivot technically allows you to parse the min, max, and minmax functions as strings, or text. (In fact, this is the default.) This is almost completely intended to speed up the processing of dates in formats like YYYY-MM-DD that sort alphabetically.
  • In cases where there is more than 1 true mode, the mode algorithm here simply returns the value that first reached the maximum number of occurrences (so, if you have a set of values "a, b, b, a", it would return "b", because the second occurrence of "b" happened earlier than the second occurrence of "a.")
  • The standard deviation returns the sample standard deviation.


The design for the sorting comes from this issue.

The error handling I've used here comes directly from this fantastic guide to error handling in Rust. I've additionally used design components and code snippets from xsv and the csv crate in Rust.

A number of other guides were useful toward getting me to write code in Rust. I've tried to document all of the guides and source code that helped me develop clipivot in inline comments and docstrings within the source code.

Other CSV toolkits also helped me design this program. The most direct connection between these toolkits is probably the approach I've taken to parsing null values, which is directly inspired by the approach taken by the agate library in Python, which serves as the backbone of csvkit.

And I'm sure there are other, subtler ways in which existing CSV toolkits have inspired the design of this project. The main toolkits I use are the previously mentioned xsv and the excellent csvtk. If you're interested in doing more things with CSV files from the commmand line, I strongly recommend them both.

And finally, the CSV files I've used to validate the numerical accuracy of the mean and standard deviation functions (in tests/test_numerical_accuracy.rs) are from the Statistical Reference Datasets from the Nation Institute of Standards and Technology.

Outside of the core Rust code, I used code from this guide for uploading release assets and this template for dealing with Rust binaries.

Developer Guide

If you want to make changes to clipivot, I recommend you look at the developer guide, which provides an overview of the design of the code along with some suggestions of things I'd like to see improved. The guide is designed to allow people with no coding experience, people who have written code but haven't written any Rust, and people who have written code in Rust to help. So don't by any means feel like you're not qualified to improve this project.

Contact Me

If you have any questions about clipivot or if you have identified any bugs in the program or you want to contribute to it, please send me an email at maxbmhlee@gmail.com or contact me through Twitter. I'm @maxblee. And if you wind up using clipivot in any of your projects, I'd love to know.


~67K SLoC