Tag Archives: filepro

Create Excel files with filePro and Libreoffice

It’s well known that filePro can create CSV files that will open with Excel or other Spreadsheet programs.  And as useful as CSV files are, there are occasions when a true XLS or XLSX file is preferable.  You can create true Excel files from filePro data with some help from additional free/opensource software.

There are a number of methods which can be used to create true Excel files from filePro data.  This article explores using Libreoffice to translate filePro created HTML output into an XLS or XLSX file.   I think Libreoffice’s file conversion utilities offers the most flexibility regarding input format accepted and output formats generated.

The same methods used here can be used to translate filePro into other formats supported by Libreoffice — such as DOC/DOCX with minor modifications.

Depending on which platform you are working on the installation requirements for Libreoffice differ. Please consult the Libreoffice web page for general installation instructions.  If installing on Linux/Unix be aware that you may have to install a separate package for ‘libreoffice headless’ to allow libreoffice to function in a batch script without a graphical display environment.

The first step naturally is to generate your data.  I’m going to assume that you know some basic html and are conversant enough with filePro’s various methods of generating text output.

Taking a look at our resulting html file with a web browser.

filePro sample data in HTML format

filePro data in HTML format

With a border turned on so better display the tables so you can better evaluate libreoffices conversion of the file to XLS format.

filePro html data with border

filePro HTML data with border drawn

Use Libreoffice to perform the conversion from html to xls

libreoffice --headless --calc --convert-to xls sample.html 

Use –outdir command to specify folder … otherwise it’s written to the current directory.

User libreoffice –headless –help for more options.

One quirk — your source file (here, sample.html) must  give the user read, write, and EXECUTE permissions or your conversion will fail.

It looks great …


filepro html data converted to simple spreadsheet in Excel file format with Libreoffice

…. but it doesn’t work great.

The problem — date formats are required!

The most obvious issue is that the Date fields are not formatted as dates — they are text!


Simple HTML doesn’t permitted cell formatting

Attempting to perform date related operations on our date fields will fail as our fields are treated as text.

This will not make our users happy.  Below is our simple spreadsheet modified to add 3 days to our enrollment date of 2008-03-01.  The user would expect the formula to produce a date of 2008-03-04.

Note that we do not get the expected date result below!  Why? Because you can’t perform date operations on a text field.


Date math involving a text field won’t function as expected!

Using Libreoffice markup tags for date formatting

Fortunately Libreoffice has markup tags which can be included in your source html file which will produce XLS files with date formatting.

The SD tag!

Let’s add Libreoffice’s SD attribute to our data lines.   Change the following lines.

 <td>Fawcett City</td>


 <td>Fawcett City</td>
 <td sdval="39508" sdnum="4105;4105;YYYY-MM-DD">2008-03-01</td>

Continuing insertering the sdval and sdnum attribute and use libreoffice to convert the html to XLS again — we now produce a file with dates formatted!


Inserting Libreoffice special tags in filePro produced html produces spreadsheet with cells formatted for dates!

What have we done above?

  • “sdval” is the libreoffice tag indicating a formatted value is being passed
  • “sdnum” defines the format string
  • The date within the <td></td> tags is actually irrelevant — it need not be supplied — the date is the assigned “sdval”

 How is “sdval” calculated?

sdval is the number of days between your date and January 1 1900 inclusive.

The filePro code to calculated it would look something like this:

1 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: end
 2 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
@keya If: 
 3 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: declare local E_DATE(8,yymd) 'enrol date
 4 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: declare local LO_DAYS(8,.0) 'days for Libreoffice date
 5 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: input E_DATE "Registration date:"
 6 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: LO_DAYS=E_DATE - doedit("19000101","yymd","8") + "2"
 7 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: msgbox "Libreoffice Days:" < LO_DAYS
 8 ------- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 Then: end

The best way to discover these tags is to create a spreadsheet in Libreoffice and save it as html.  Examining the html code will give you most of the information you’ll need to implement them in your own code.   I have yet to find a comprehensive document on libreoffice tag codes with the Libreoffice special tags document only delivering some hints. [If you find good documentation on these tags please let me know].

After making the SDVAL / SDNUM changes to our data it looks like this

Producing a file that we can modify and use formulas requiring proper date formts in fields.


filepro html with libreoffice attributes-> libreoffice converted -> spreadsheet XLS/XLSX now handles date math!

Conversion trouble shooting

The source files have to be wide open permissions (777 ie. rwxrwxrwx) for the user.  This seems very odd indeed and caused me no end of grief.

To determine what was failing I ran a strace on the command and  reviewed the log file.

strace -o -f /tmp/logfile.log [scalc command]

Review the log file for errors … strings to search are “Permission Denied”, “Fail”, “[”

In my case the error the Permission Denied error pointed to the execute permission.  With the change made my file converted flawlessly from html to xls.

Libreoffice and file conversions

Creating files for Excel need not be restricted to simple CSV’s.

Experiment with html tags and libreoffices’ convert option.  Save some Libreoffice spreadsheets in html format and examine the source code generated.

Libreoffice provides a simple utility for converting your html data into XLS/XLSX and other formats.   Libreoffice is also useful for converting reports into DOC/DOCX and PDF formats.  Libreoffice is a wonderful tool to enhance your filePro output.

filepro’s special keys

On Linux, filepro is a “terminal based” application.   In most cases this means that you connect to a Linux server running filePro from a ‘client’ program or terminal.

If you’re using Linux to connect — this may be an xterm , gnome-terminal, on an actual console window connecting via ssh.

If you use Windows to connect you’re likely using a terminal emulation program such as Anzio or  putty.

In each case you will be starting your filePro application with terminal capabilities applicable to your client.  One of the ways this is manifested is in the “special keys” available to the filePro application user.   As the actual physical keyboard keys will be different depending on the terminal used,  knowing the special keys available can be difficult — particularly if you change terminal emulations.

Fortunately, there is a relatively simple method to get filePro to inform you which keyboard keys to use to access it’s special key functions.

To access a display of filePro’s special keys we have to access a standard dclerk/rclerk session — which looks like the below screenshot if you aren’t familiar with filepro’s program names:

billmc@A100L: ~_014

filepro’s ‘clerk’ screen

At the selection prompt enter the following key strokes:

  • ESC (escape key)
  • ? (question mark)

This will bring up a screen displaying all of the special keystrokes available for your terminal.

filepro special keys and keystrokes

filepro special keys and keystrokes

In this case, the terminal type is ‘xterm’.   The functions are more or less self explanatory and the keystroke(s) are applicable to the current terminal type (xterm) in this case.

You’ll also find license info including user limit.     Older versions of filePro, predating the current license scheme, will display only user limits.

Special key display on older versions of filePro

Special key display on older versions of filePro

If you aren’t familiar with all the functions, and most users are not, give them a try!