I have a number of large CSV files and would like them in TSV (tab separated format). The complication is that there are commas in the fields of the CSV file, eg:


Expected output:

 A      C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z

(where whitespace in between are 'hard' tabs)

I have Perl, Python, and coreutils installed on this server.

  • I would do this with node.js or with perl. – peterh - Reinstate Monica Apr 19 '17 at 2:31
  • 1
    Replace non quoted commas with tabs... – OneCricketeer Apr 19 '17 at 2:32
  • Yes, if I had more than 5 minutes to this question. But I will happily support the answerers with my votes. What I tried to say, that the common sed/awk things are probably ineligible for that (at least in their commonly used usage). – peterh - Reinstate Monica Apr 19 '17 at 2:36
  • 8
    I'm not sure if your example is representative of the actual data, but if those are going to be actual text strings then don't forget that you may need to handle the case where the string includes a tab... – A C Apr 19 '17 at 4:47
  • 4
    The other tricky part is that CSV is a very loosely defined format, there is no real standard (there is a RFC but it was written years after the fact). I have written code that used a language-supplied CSV parser and then had to rewrite it with a custom parser because I found the input data was in a broken variant of the csv format. – plugwash Apr 19 '17 at 16:55

16 Answers 16



Add to file named csv2tab, and make it executable

touch csv2tab && chmod u+x csv2tab

Add to it

#!/usr/bin/env python
import csv, sys
csv.writer(sys.stdout, dialect='excel-tab').writerows(csv.reader(sys.stdin))

Test runs

$ echo 'A,,C,"D,E,F","G",I,"K,L,M",Z' | ./csv2tab                     
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z

$ ./csv2tab < data.csv > data.tsv && head data.tsv                                                   
1A      C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
2A      C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
3A      C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
  • i get the following error when I try your solution: No protocol specified import-im6.q16: unable to open X server :0' @ error/import.c/ImportImageCommand/358. csv2tab.sh: line 3: syntax error near unexpected token sys.stdout,' csv2tab.sh: line 3: csv.writer(sys.stdout, dialect='excel-tab').writerows(csv.reader(sys.stdin))' – kev Feb 11 '20 at 17:42
  • 1
    @kev This code doesn't require an X Server, so seems you may have some other issue – OneCricketeer Feb 11 '20 at 18:04

Using csvkit (Python), for example:

$ csvformat -T in.csv > out.txt

Does streaming, with correct CSV and TSV quoting and escaping

It's in apt and other package managers

  • 2
    Command line I used to fix the quoting: csvformat -U 3 -Q "" -T in.csv > out.tsv – Ricardo Mayerhofer May 13 '20 at 15:30

For fun, sed.

sed -E 's/("([^"]*)")?,/\2\t/g' file

If your sed doesn't support -E, try with -r. If your sed doesn't support \t for a literal tab, try putting a literal tab (in many shells, ctrl-v tab) or in Bash, use a $'...' C-style string (in which case the backslash in \2 needs to be doubled). If you want to keep the quotes, use \1 instead of \2 (in which case the inner pair of parentheses is useless, and can be removed).

This makes no attempt to handle escaped double quotes inside double quotes; some CSV dialects support this by doubling the quoted double quote (sic).

  • 1
    I think that i tried about 100 different sed scripts to achieve this one but all my attempts failed. This is awesome. – George Vasiliou Apr 19 '17 at 22:46

One option might be perl's Text::CSV module e.g.

perl -MText::CSV -lne 'BEGIN { $csv = Text::CSV->new() }
  print join "\t", $csv->fields() if $csv->parse($_)
' somefile

to demonstrate

echo 'A,,C,"D,E,F","G",I,"K,L,M",Z' |
  perl -MText::CSV -lne 'BEGIN { $csv = Text::CSV->new() }
  print join "\t", $csv->fields() if $csv->parse($_)
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
  • 1
    Wouldn't be correct if a field contains a tab – Neil McGuigan Apr 19 '17 at 20:49


perl -lne '
   my $re = qr/,(?=(?:[^"]*"[^"]*")*(?![^"]*"))/;
   print join "\t", map { s/(?<!\\)"//gr =~ s/\\"/"/gr } split $re;


awk -v Q=\" -v FPAT="([^,]*)|(\"[^\"]+\")" -v OFS="\t" '{
   for (i=1; i<=NF; ++i)
      if ( substr($i, 1, 1) == Q )
         $i = substr($i, 2, length($i) - 2)
   print $1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8


A               C       D,E,F   G       I       K,L,M   Z
  • +1 Perl version works like a charm – ATorras Jan 9 '19 at 18:33

I authored an open-source CSV to TSV converter that handles the transformations described. It's quite fast, may be worth a look if there's an on-going need to convert large CSV files. Tool is part of eBay's TSV utilities toolkit (csv2tsv documentation here). Default options suffice for the input described:

$ csv2tsv file.csv > file.tsv

A consideration when converting CSV to TSV is handling of field and record delimiters (comma and newline) in the data. CSV uses an escape syntax. If the goal is to use the output with Unix tools like cut, awk, etc., the output needs to be free of escapes. Most solutions listed here produce CSV style escapes when delimiters are in the data. csv2tsv is differentiated from other solutions in that it produces TSV without escapes. See the documentation for details.

To see what a particular solution does, convert a CSV containing commas, tabs, quotes, and newlines in the data. For example:

$ echo $'Line,Field1,Field2\n1,"Comma: |,|","Quote: |""|"\n"2","TAB: |\t|","Newline: |\n|"' | <conversion-script-or-command>

Solutions generating escapes will put double quotes around the fields containing quotes, newlines, or tabs.


The thermonuclear flyswatter solution must be using libreoffice. While https://ask.libreoffice.org/en/question/19042/is-is-possible-to-convert-comma-separated-value-csv-to-tab-separated-value-tsv-via-headless-mode/ suggests this is not possible but it is wrong (or just outdated?) and the following command works on my 5.3.:

loffice "-env:UserInstallation=file:///tmp/LibO_Conversion" --convert-to csv:"Text - txt - csv (StarCalc)":9,34,UTF8 --headless --outdir some/path --infilter='csv:44,34,UTF8' *.csv

the env argument could be skipped but this way the documents won't appear in your recent document.

  • 2
    I think the true thermonuclear flyswatter would be writing a Java utility to do it via LibreOffice's UNO API :). – Pont Apr 20 '17 at 12:12

If you have, or can install, the csvtool utility:

csvtool -t COMMA -u TAB cat in.csv > out.ctv

Note that for some reason csvtool doesn't have a man page, but csvtool --help will print a couple hundred lines of documentation.


Using mlr is almost succinct, but disabling headers requires long options:

mlr --c2t --implicit-csv-header --headerless-csv-output cat file.csv 


A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
  • I didn't see anything in the original question about disabling headers. When I decided to use mlr to convert a CSV file (with headers) to an equivalent TSV file (keeping headers, naturally), I just used: mlr --c2t cat input.csv > output.tsv The results were perfect. – Mr. Lance E Sloan Oct 22 '20 at 16:07


Just for fun, regex substitutions can be performed in Vim. Here's a potential four line solution, adapted from: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/33332871/remove-all-commas-between-quotes-with-a-vim-regex

  1. Commas between quotes are first changed to underscores (or other absent character),
  2. All other commas are replaced with tabs,
  3. Underscores inside quotes are restored to commas,
  4. Quotation marks are removed.

    :%s/".\{-}"/\=substitute(submatch(0), ',', '_' , 'g')/g

To script the solution somewhat, the four lines above (sans leading colon) can be saved to a file, e.g. to_tsv.vim. Open each CSV for editing with Vim and source the to_tsv.vim script on the Vim command line (adapted from https://stackoverflow.com/questions/3374179/run-vim-script-from-vim-commandline/8806874#8806874):

    :source /path/to/vim/filename/to_tsv.vim

Here is the example of converting CSV into TSV using jq utility:

$ jq -rn '@tsv "\(["A","","C","D,E,F","G","I","K,L,M","Z"])"'
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z


$ echo '["A","","C","D,E,F","G","I","K,L,M","Z"]' | jq -r @tsv
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z

However the CSV format needs to be well formatted, so each string needs to be quoted.

Source: Simple TSV output format.


With perl, assuming the csv fields have no embedded " or newlines or tabs:

perl -pe 's{"(.*?)"|,}{$1//"\t"}ge'
  • obfuscated but very cool! – JJoao Jul 11 '20 at 9:19

sed solution (with requirements): One really should also handle literal double-quotes, which are represented by a pair of double-quotes within a CSV field.

First change all such double-quote literals to a stand-in flag; then delete all field delimiters (solitary double-quotes), and convert field separators (commas) to tabs; then change the stand-in flags to double-quotes.

Here I'm using \v (vertical tab) as the stand-in flag for embedded double-quotes:

sed -r 's/""/\v/g; s/("([^"]+)")?,/\2\t/g; s/\v/"/g\'

This solution relies on your CSV data not containing vertical-tab characters, and on empty CSV fields not being quoted.

  • This version also works if a line ends with a double-quoted field: echo '1337,"test input"'|sed -r 's/""/\v/g;s/("([^"]+)")?,/\2\t/g;s/"([^"]+)"$/\1/;s/\v/"/g' (the dollar sign is not required, but it's used to clarify the intent of the command). Both your and my version fail when a field consists of 4 double quotes (i.e. a single double quote in escaped form): "next field is a single escaped double quote","""". – nisetama Jul 21 '20 at 7:39

After gem install csv:

$ time </tmp/a ruby -rcsv -e'puts CSV.parse($<).map{|x|x*"\t"}'>/dev/null
$ time ruby -rcsv -e'CSV.foreach("/tmp/a"){|x|puts x*"\t"}'>/dev/null
$ time </tmp/a ruby -rcsv -ne'puts CSV.parse($_)*"\t"'>/dev/null

The following is simply a correction to the answer from @tripleee so that it strips any quotes from the final field just as it does to all the other fields.

To show what's being corrected, below is a tripleee's answer, plus a slight modification to the OP's example data with added quotes around the final 'Z' field.

echo 'A,,C,"D,E,F","G",I,"K,L,M","Z"' |  sed -r -e 's/("([^"]*)")?,/\2\t/g'
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   "Z"

You can see that 'Z' is left with quotes around it. This is different to how the inner fields are handled. For example, the 'G' does not have quotes on it.

The following command uses a second substitution to clean the final column:

echo 'A,,C,"D,E,F","G",I,"K,L,M","Z"' |  sed -r -e 's/("([^"]*)")?,/\2\t/g' \
                                                -e 's/\t"([^"]*)"$/\t\1/'
A       C   D,E,F   G   I   K,L,M   Z
  • 1
    When the input data 'A,,C,"D,E,F","G",I,"K,L,M","Z,A"' is input to this answer, then the "Z,A" is incorrectly replaced with Z A, rather than the correct Z,A. – agc Apr 13 '18 at 12:13

Parsing context sensitive formats is indeed a constant annoyance esp. when csv quoting is inconsistent and even irregular. Here is some straightforward awk that anyone ought to be able to use/revise. It's not as clever as terse awk, but perhaps a good building block that is easily tweaked. Yes, I know it could be shortened, but I like reusable awk to have a bit of slack.

  mark[++nmark] = 0
  thislength = length($0)
  for (i=1; i<=thislength; i++) {
    thisc = substr($0,i,1)
    if (thisc == "\\") { i++; continue } # skip \x for any x
    if (thisc == "\"") qflag = 1-qflag
    if (thisc == "," && !qflag) mark[++nmark] = i
  mark[++nmark] = thislength+1
  for (i=1; i<nmark; i++) {
    thiso = outfield[++noutfield] = substr($0, mark[i]+1, mark[i+1]-mark[i]-1)
    if (thiso ~ /^".*"$/) {
  for (i=1; i<noutfield; i++) printf "%s", outfield[i]"\t"
  print outfield[noutfield]

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