Generate OpenDocument spreadsheets from DB2 (or any other) database

DB2 pureXML is IBM software for management of XML data that eliminates much of the work typically involved in the management of XML data.The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is an open international standard for office texts, presentations and spreadsheets that is very simple to process or generate automatically. This page is a short synthesis of an article published in September 2010 by N. Subrahmanyam, Using DB2 pureXML and ODF Spreadsheets, to give an idea (see my comments at the end) of how flexible ODF scripting is. Please read the original full article to know how to actually generate ODF
documents from DB2 pureXML files

Selected quotes from “Using DB2 pureXML and ODF Spreadsheets”

  • We will… demonstrate how to use DB2 pureXML with ODF documents. In the remainder of this article we will consider an ODF spreadsheet of a simple shopping list containing item names, units of measurement (UOM) and the number of units required.
  • We are considering only spreadsheets because it is easier to co-relate the rows and columns of the spreadsheet document and that of a DB2 table… (but) other ODF documents such as word documents, presentations, formulas, etc. could also be handled by DB2 because the ODF specification refers mainly to an archive of XML documents.
  • We will demonstrate how to:
    1. Import the content.xml document of this ODF spreadsheet into an XML column within a DB2 table
    2. Extract information from the content.xml document into relational format.
    3. Merge data from a relational table with the content.xml document in the XML column to produce a new spreadsheet.
  • One way of building the content is to start from scratch and building the whole (ODF file). This approach would be quite tedious. A better way would be to generate the relevant part in the content.xml part and then insert into an otherwise empty content.xml document. This approach will also allow us to make use of the XQuery Update facility in DB2 pureXML.
  • While generating the spreadsheet, one can write queries to generate the meta.xml document with correct values for creator, creation time-stamp, etc
  • This article can even be further extended into an on-line document editing software with .ods as file format and DB2 pureXML as the database.

What does all this mean?

Me, I have never used DB2. In spite of this (or maybe just because of this?), there are at least three things of general interest in Subrahmanyam’s piece that I want to point out. The first is that the second bullet above applies to any kind of database, even if XML-oriented ones like DB2 may make the job easier. The second is that all the real work to generate the ODF spreadsheet, as you can check yourself if you read the article is done directly inside the database, that is through DB2 database queries. The only exception is simple housekeeping stuff, like saving everything into a file and properly insert that file inside the (ODF) ZIP archive that constitutes the spreadsheet. If you already know DB2, there is no need to learn some other obscure language or super-complicated format (the whole article is 16 pages including abstract, bio, resources, full source code and 6/7 pictures). In other words,
this is another proof of how flexible and useful the basic ODF scripting approach is.

Last but not least, please look again at the last bullet above: there’s no reason why this kind of easy ODF hacks should remain inside your own organization. If you want to generate dynamically from a database, for all the visitors of your website, spreadsheets and other office documents in an editable format that is immediately usable by many office suites (including Microsoft Office), ODF is the way to go. Thanks to N. Subrahmanyam for this article!

How to generate and update ODF spreadsheets without OpenOffice

Sooner or later, many of us need to process some numeric data in plain text format, be they system logs or sales totals, and to generate reports and charts out of those data. Scripts and utilities like gnuplot could be very useful in such cases, except when the results needs to be a normal spreadsheets with charts and formulas, which is both editable and compatible with people who only know how to deal with spreadsheets in office suites.

The standard solution in such cases is to import all the raw data in programs like Calc or Gnumeric, enter by hand all the related formulas, generate charts, format everything to taste and email the result to whoever needs it. This is perfectly acceptable if it’s a one-time task, but what if your boss demands a new version of that spreadsheet, with fresh data, every day?

Luckily, the flexibility and openness of ODF make tasks like this very easy. There is no reason to suffer and waste time with such chores only because somebody wants a “real”, editable spreadsheet with plenty of nice charts. If your raw data and the layout of the required spreadsheet have a constant structure, it only takes a bit of shell and Perl scripting to generate automatically a new ODF spreadsheet with the same layout whenever the raw data change.

The general procedure, shown in the diagram, is explained in Why and how the OpenDocument format can save you a lot of time! and works even with data that aren’t stored in some database, or when you must change text, not just numbers

What’s inside an OpenDocument spreadsheet

An ODF spreadsheet is just a compressed zip archive. The actual data are in a file called content.xml. Each sheet is a two dimensional table (whose cells contain numbers, strings or formulas) inside that file.
Each row in those tables is an element called "<table:table-row>". Single cells are marked as "<table:table-cell>". The actual value of a number is stored in two cell attributes called "office:value-type" and "office:value"; formulas, instead, are inside “table:formula” attributes. Cell ranges are defined with square brackets, like "[.B17:.D19]".

Objects live in a folder called… Objects, which contains sub-folders called “Object 1″, “Object 2″ and so on. Each chart of an ODF spreadsheet is stored as a "<draw:object>" element written into the content.xml file of its own “Object n” sub-folder. More exactly, inside this second file a chart has some attributes specifying its appearance plus one XML element called "<table:table>" which contains a copy, in a slightly different format, of all the cells related to the chart. It is this copy which is used by ODF applications to do the actual drawing.

Practical example: average bandwidth consumption

(note: all the scripts and .ods files mentioned below are here).

Let’s assume that your raw data are the bandwidth consumption of two servers, calculated every hour over the last 24 hours. They may come to you from a script, a database or via email. This doesn’t matter, as long as the format is constant. In this example we have ASCII files made of 24 lines text divided in three columns separated by tabs: a time-of-day label plus server 1 and server 2 bandwidths in MBit/sec:

Time-of-day     BW 1   BW2
  Midnight        4.5    6.4
                  6.3    6.3
                  3.1    6.1
                  1.85   5.87

What the boss, instead, wants first thing every morning, is a nice spreadsheet like this, which also calculates the average bandwidth consumption in each hour and plots it.

The first thing to do is to unzip the .ods file. Inside it, we’ll find all those numbers in two distinct places, as explained above. Using the data of Listing 1, the XML code (inside the content.xml file) for row 17 of the spreadsheet shown in the picture would look like this (note the formula at the end):

  Listing 2:
  <table:table-row table:style-name="ro1"><table:table-cell office:value-type="string"><text:p>Midnight</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="4.5"><text:p>4.5</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="6.4"><text:p>6.4</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell table:formula="oooc:=SUM(B17:C17)/2"/></table:table-row>

This, instead, would be the XML source for the first three points of the three lines in the chart and their label, inside “Object 1/content.xml”:

  Listing 3:
  <table:table-row><table:table-cell office:value-type="string"><text:p>Midnight</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="4.5"><text:p>4.5</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="6.4"><text:p>6.4</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="5.45"><text:p>5.45</text:p></table:table-cell></table:table-row>

Yes, it’s terribly verbose but it’s plain text, isn’t it? Therefore, obtaining a spreadsheet with the same layout but updated charts and formula results from different raw data is just a matter of replacing all the strings of the XML rows above with other strings which contain the new raw numbers. In order to do this, we need to transform those XML files into a spredsheet template. To prepare it, execute these commands to unpack the spreadsheet:

  Listing 4:
  #> mkdir temp
  #> cp sample_spreadsheet.ods temp/
  #> cd temp
  #> unzip
  #> ls -l
  Object 1/content.xml
  ObjectReplacements/Object 1
  ...other files omitted for brevity
  #> rm "ObjectReplacements/Object 1"

The file “ObjectReplacements/Object 1″ is a binary version of the chart, created when the file was last saved. It is also what OpenOffice would display by default if you reopened the file, until you forced the application to redraw the chart by changing the value of some cell. It’s necessary to remove it from the template, otherwise, no matter what data are in the new spreadsheet, you’d see the original drawing until you updated some cell.

In general, the trasformation of the two content.xml files in templates is simple, no matter how complex the table or the chart are. Open them in any text editor, locate all the table rows (those of Listing 2 and 3) and replace them with one placeholder string. After that, the main file should look like Listing 5 and “Object 1/content.xml” should become similar to Listing 6:

  Listing 5:
  ...lots of XML elements...
  ...lots of other XML elements...

  Listing 6
  ...lots of XML elements...
  ...lots of other XML elements...

Just be very careful to cancel only the row elements and nothing else, otherwise you’ll corrupt the template. Once you’re finished, save everything in a tar file called ods_bw_template.tar. Remember, this isn’t a valid ODF file anymore, just a template, that’s why you shouldn’t use the .ods extension.

The actual scripts

The generation of other spreadsheets with new data happens by means of the scripts in Listing 8, Instead of running it directly though, we use it inside the shell wrapper called shown in Listing 7, which I’ll explain first. takes two parameters:

# raw_data_1.txt ods_bw_template.tar

which are a raw data file with the format of Listing 1 and, respectively, the template. After copying them in the temporary folder tmp_ods_gen and expanding the tar archive (lines 6 to 11), calls two times. The first (line 13) creates a new main content.xml file (hence the “main” argument”). Then the same script, called with the “chart” option in line 16, updates the other content.xml file, the one used to draw the chart. The final part, from line 19 to the end, is just housekeeping: remove all temporary files, zip everything else and save it as $ODS_NAME.ods

  Listing 7:
       1  #! /bin/bash
       3  ODS_NAME=`date '+%Y%m%d%H%M'`
       4  ODS_SCRIPT='/home/marco/bin/'
       6  echo Loading $1 into $ODS_NAME.ods with template $2
       7  mkdir tmp_ods_gen
       8  cp $1 tmp_ods_gen/data.txt
       9  cp $2 tmp_ods_gen/template.tar
      10  cd tmp_ods_gen
      11  tar xf template.tar
      13  $ODS_SCRIPT data.txt content.xml main > tmp_content_main.xml
      14  mv tmp_content_main.xml content.xml
      16  $ODS_SCRIPT data.txt 'Object 1/content.xml' chart > tmp_content_chart.xml
      17  mv tmp_content_chart.xml 'Object 1/content.xml'
      19  rm template.tar data.txt
      21  find . -type f -print0 | xargs -0 zip ../$ODS_NAME > /dev/null
      23  cd ..
      25  rm -rf tmp_ods_gen
      27  mv $ $ODS_NAME.ods

As I anticipated, the real work happens inside the script of Listing 8:

  Listing 8:

       1  #! /usr/bin/perl
       3  use strict;
       4  my $TABLE_DATA = '';
       5  my $CURRENT_ROW = '';
       6  my $CURRENT_FORMULA = '';
       8  ########################################################################
       9  #
      10 # Spreadsheet-dependant variables
      13 <table:table-row table:style-name="ro1"><table:table-cell office:value-type="string"><text:p>MY_LABEL_STRING</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="MY_FIRST_NUMBER"><text:p>MY_FIRST_NUMBER</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="MY_SECOND_NUMBER"><text:p>MY_SECOND_NUMBER</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell table:formula="oooc:=MY_ODS_FORMULA"/></table:table-row>
      17  <table:table-row><table:table-cell office:value-type="string"><text:p>MY_LABEL_STRING</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="MY_FIRST_NUMBER"><text:p>MY_FIRST_NUMBER</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="MY_SECOND_NUMBER"><text:p>MY_SECOND_NUMBER</text:p></table:table-cell><table:table-cell office:value-type="float" office:value="MY_ODS_FORMULA"><text:p>MY_ODS_FORMULA</text:p></table:table-cell></table:table-row>
      20  my $ODS_FORMULA    = 'SUM([.RANGE_START:.RANGE_END])/2';
      21  my $START_COLUMN   = 'B';
      22  my $END_COLUMN     = 'C';
      23  my $CURRENT_ROW_ID = 17;
      25  ######################################################################
      27  die "No correct operation specified!n" if (($ARGV[2] ne 'main') &&
      28    ($ARGV[2] ne 'chart'));
      30  open(DATA, "< $ARGV[0]") || die "could not open data file $ARGV[0]n";
      32  while (<DATA>) {
      33    chomp;
      34    my ($STRING, $NUM_1, $NUM_2) = split /t/;
      36    if ($ARGV[2] eq 'main') {
      37       $CURRENT_ROW     = $ODS_MAIN_ROW_TEMPLATE;
      41       $CURRENT_ROW_ID++;
      42    }
      43    if ($ARGV[2] eq 'chart') {
      45       # Change next line to match your own $ODS_FORMULA!!
      46       $CURRENT_FORMULA = sprintf("%10.2f", ($NUM_1 + $NUM_2)/2);
      47       $CURRENT_FORMULA =~ s/s*//g;
      48    }
      49    chomp $CURRENT_ROW;
      51    $CURRENT_ROW =~ s/MY_FIRST_NUMBER/$NUM_1/g;
      52    $CURRENT_ROW =~ s/MY_SECOND_NUMBER/$NUM_2/g;
      54    $TABLE_DATA .= $CURRENT_ROW;
      55  }
      56  close DATA;
      58  undef $/;
      59  open(XML_TEMPLATE_FILE, "< $ARGV[1]") || die "could not open content XML template $ARGV[1]n";
      61  close XML_TEMPLATE_FILE;
      63  $XML_TEMPLATE =~ s/MY_DATA_GO_HERE/$TABLE_DATA/ if ($ARGV[2] eq 'main');
      64  $XML_TEMPLATE =~ s/MY_CHART_GOES_HERE/$TABLE_DATA/ if ($ARGV[2] eq 'chart');
      65  print $XML_TEMPLATE;
      66  exit;

The important part starts at line 12, after the initialization of some auxiliary variables: set them according to your needs. $ODS_MAIN_ROW_TEMPLATE and $ODS_CHART_ROW_TEMPLATE are the parts from content.xml and, respectively, “Object 1/content.xml” already shown in Listings 2 and 3. The only change to do is to replace numbers and formulas with the strings MY_LABEL_STRING, MY_FIRST_NUMBER, MY_SECOND_NUMBER and MY_ODS_FORMULA in the proper places. If you want to modify this script to generate spreadsheets with a different layout, this is where you must start: create your template, open it as explained above and copy a complete table row from each file in these two variables.

Lines 20 and 46 are equally important: make sure they are consistant with each other because that’s where you define your formula, first in ODF and then in Perl format. The value in line 20 contains two placeholders, RANGE_START and RANGE_END, because the actual cell addresses are substituted later on, in lines 39 and 40, using the starting values defined in lines 21 to 23.

In lines 30 to 34 the script reads the raw data file one row at a time, loading the values from the three columns in $STRING, $NUM_1 and $NUM_2.

When creates the new XML code, numbers can just go in as they are, but formulas need a little extra processing. If we are generating the main content.xml file, then we have to rebuild the original formulas with their absolute cell addresses, which is just what happens in lines 38 to 40. If we are creating the chart XML file instead, we have to calculate the numeric result of the formula (lines 46 and 47).

In both cases the variable $CURRENT_ROW is pre-loaded in lines 37 or 44 with the template variable corresponding to the kind of file we need to generate (‘main’ or ‘chart’). Finally, in lines 50 to 54 we perform all the substitution and add the row to $TABLE_DATA.

After closing the data file, we dump inside the $XML_TEMPLATE variable all the content of the XML file passed as second parameter, put the $TABLE_DATA in place of the MY_DATA_GO_HERE or MY_CHART_GOES_HERE variables and write everything to standard output.

That’s it, really. Once the scripts are ready, you can automatically generate as many versions of the initial reference spreadsheets as you like by just running the scripts with a different data set.

The results, as shown in the last two pictures, will be each time a different but 100% valid ODF spreadsheet with different data and charts (left picture) and the same editable formulas.

Pros and cons of this method

  • Pros
    • all the formatting and layout work happens just once, quickly, in a graphical interface and only if you do have to create the reference spreadsheet from scratch.
    • the final result is editable or embeddable in other spreadsheet without programming
    • The two scripts explained here are less than 100 lines of code together and only need bash and Perl: they will work practically everywhere, even if OpenOffice isn’t available and/or you can’t install XML libraries or other utilities.
  • Cons
    • less scalable, elegant and flexible that doing the same things with real ODF/XML tools (cfr the first article of this series) or LaTeX
    • (in extreme cases) accuracy.Lines 20 of Listing 3 calculates the numbers that OpenOffice displays in the cells of column D. Line 46 of the same listing substitutes MY_ODS_FORMULA inside “Object 1/content.xml” with the numbers that OpenOffice uses as Y-axis values when drawing the yellow line of the chart. Theoretically, when dealing with complex floating point math, some numbers in the first set may not be mathematically equal to their counterparts in the second set. The difference, if any, is surely negligible in the example here and most real world scenarios, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the issue.

(the content of this page is based on an article originally written for Linux Format)

How to quickly apply color schemes to a spreadsheet with OpenOffice or LibreOffice

How do you quickly create a spreadsheet where, for example, every other line has a background of a different color? Here are a couple of methods.

The first one is faster (and works even in controlled environments where you can’t install extensions) if you want white rows alternated with colored ones: define a cell style and apply it only to cells in even (or odd) rows. Here is the detailed procedure:

  1. Remove any already existing background formatting.
  2. Create an appropriate cell style with the color that you want as background:
    1. Select Format=>Style and Formatting, or press F11
    2. Click on the Cell Styles button
    3. Click the New Style from Selection button
    4. The Create Style pop-up window will appear. Type in it the name you want to give to your style and click OK
    5. Now the new style name will appear in the Styles list. Right-click on it name and select Modify
    6. Go to the Background tab and select the appropriate color
  3. Now close the Styles window and apply the new cell style where needed:
    1. Select the required region of the spreadsheet
    2. Select Format=>Conditional Formatting
    3. Select “Formula is” from the drop-down menu under the “Condition 1″ label.
    4. Type “MOD(ROW();2)”, without the quotes, into the formula box
    5. Select your new cell style from the Cell Style drop-down menu.

ooocalc_color_every_other_row1 Here is the result. The MOD operator, when used as in the formula in step 3.4 returns true only on odd row numbers: to select even rows you should use “MOD(ROW()+1;2)”. A formula like “MOD(ROW();3)”, instead, would select every third row.

An extension to quickly color spreadsheet table rows with OpenOffice Calc

If you can install extensions on the OpenOffice copy that you use, you can also use the Color2Rows extension. Go to its home page, download it (it’s a file called Color2Rows-{Version-Number}.oxt and then open it with OpenOffice. This action will start the OpenOffice Extension Manager. openoffice_extension_manager

color2rows_button After you accept to install the extension, it will appear as a button in the toolbar:

When you need to color a section of the spreadsheet, select it with the mouse then click on the Color2Rows button. Choose the colors for the lines inside the listing fields and click on the “Performing” button. Color2Rows will do the rest:

table_colored_Color2rows Unfortunately, unlike the first method, the coloring scheme will be messed up when you add or delete rows, but it may be faster to get more sophisticated coloring schemes than the first method.

(source: suggestion from B. Barker on the OOo users list)

Why and how the OpenDocument format can save you a lot of time!

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is an internationally recognized open standard for digital office documents whose importance has also been acknowledged by Microsoft. ODF is good for a lot of reasons I have already explained in Everybody’s Guide to OpenDocument. However, there is also one more reason why ODF is great for everybody who must produce a lot of office documents, one that will be the subjects of many posts on this website: ODF is really simple to generate or edit automatically. Even if you aren’t a professional programmer, it takes very little effort to put together a script that generates or processes in any way texts, presentations or spreadshets in ODF format.

How the openness of ODF makes automatic generation of documents much simpler

Very often, we use computers to produce many different versions, every time with new data, of some reference text, presentation or spreadsheet. Changing those kind of files manually makes sense only if it happens once in a while. When it’s a regular activity, instead, it can become a huge waste of time. ODF, however, makes it very quick and easy to insert raw data into texts, spreadsheets or presentations with the slightest possible amount of manual work and without even running OpenOffice. This is possible because an ODF file is just a ZIP archive, with pictures and macros in their own folders and the actual text written, in XML format, inside a file called content.xml. Therefore, in order to create a new, 100% compliant ODF file with different data, tables or images, you only have to open the archive, process the text inside content.xml or put new pictures in their folder if necessary and zip everything again. You must only use OpenOffice once, to create a template by hand if you if you don’t find a suitable one online.

The power of script-based ODF processing

You could perform repetitive generation and editing of ODF office files even manually, with a text editor like Notepad, Emacs or VI. The real power of ODF, of course, is in the fact that you can (and should) do all that processing automatically, with very simple shell or Perl scripts, that is with tools that are included in any Gnu/Linux distribution but can also work on Windows and Mac. The main advantages of this approach to office document processing are:

  • it works even without Openoffice, so it could even run on a server
  • there is no need of any relational database but you can use one if necessary
  • learning to do these things with shell scripts instead of OpenOffice macros:
    • gives you skills that you can reuse in a lot of other contexts.
    • allows very easy integration with other command line tools, from cron jobs to mass mailing, chart generation with Gnuplot or scaling, watermarking, framing of all images in a document with ImageMagick
  • above all, it’s much simpler (and faster) than you’d think!

The last point is the most important. Using the method explained here everybody with just a basic grasp of shell scripting can generate, modify or analyze hundreds of ODF text documents with just a few minutes of easy coding.

Of course, this approach is not really flexible, scalable or really robust, unless you add lots of code for error management, but the idea here is not to develop industrial strength solutions. If that’s what you need, you’ll have to either use real XML based tools like Odfpy or go straight to the source, the book OpenDocument Essentials by J. David Eisenberg, that you can also purchase at

This said, there are tons of cases where heavyweight tools like those aren’t worth studying, installing and deploying, but people still end up wasting many hours on repetitive edits. Learning how to write quick and dirty shell scripts that can open and update an ODF file is an easy but huge time saver in such situations.

What’s next?

Here are some of the ODF scripting recipes that you’ll find on this website in the next days (but if there are other recipes that you would like to see published, just ask and if possible I’ll write them!):

(note: some of these posts are updated excerpts of articles originally written for Linux Format, and are republished here with their permission)