“Before Header” Branch

It’s well known that after processing a page one often needs to add a Branch so the user is taken to another page, e.g. to start the next step in a process. It’s less common to need a Branch that is evaluated before the page is shown. This is a “Before Header” Branch and I use it when the user might open a page but need to be redirected to a different one.

A good example is a page that is designed to direct the user to two or more different pages depending on what data they requested.

Another way that a branch like this can be useful is where a user might navigate to a page that should show a record, but if the record ID is not set, I might want the page to automatically redirect the user back to a report page instead.

Of course, you have to take some care with these sorts of branches; if the target page also has its own “Before Header” branch, that will also be evaluated; if the user ends up in a loop of branches the page will fail to load (with a “ERR_TOO_MANY_REDIRECTS” error).

This is the order in which various steps are done before APEX shows a page:

  1. Authentication check
  2. Verify session
  3. “Before Header” Branches
  4. Authorization check
  5. Computations
  6. “Before Header” Processes
  7. Regions, etc.

One of the implications of the above order is that any computations or processes that set or change application state (e.g. an application item) are not run before it evaluates conditions or attributes for any “Before Header” Branches. This applies regardless of whether the computations or processes are defined on the page, or defined globally in Shared Components. This little detail tripped me up today, because I had a branch that I needed to run based on a condition that relied on state that should have been set by a “Before Header” process defined globally.

If you need to redirect a user to a different page on the basis of any application state that is set by a computation or process, you can use a PL/SQL Process instead that does the redirect. The PL/SQL code to use is something like:

apex_util.redirect_url(p_url => apex_page.get_url(p_page => 1));

Warning: redirect_url raises the exception ORA-20876: Stop APEX Engine, so it’s probably preferable to avoid combining this with other PL/SQL code that might need to be committed first.

Showing image thumbnails in Icon View

I had an interactive report an an old APEX application that I’ve kept maintained for quite a few years, which is able to show an Icon View that shows a thumbnail of the image for each item.

The problem was that the layout sometimes went wonky depending on the size of the image or the size of the label text. How the items were laid out depended on the width of the viewing window as well. I have set Columns Per Row to 5, and I’m using a Custom Icon View with the following Custom Link:

<a href="#WORK_URL#">
<img src="#IMAGE_URL#" width="140px">

Each item shows an image, scaled down to width 140 pixels (my images come in all sorts of sizes), plus the title; either the title or the image may be clicked to open the details for it.

This is how it looked:

Depending on a number of variables (length of the label text, and the width of the viewing window) some rows would show their first item in the 5th column instead of over on the left; this would have a run-on effect to following rows. In addition, I wasn’t quite happy with the left-justified layout for each item.

To fix this I added some DIVs and some CSS. My Custom Link is now:

<div class="workcontainer">
  <div class="workicon">
    <a href="#WORK_URL#">
      <img src="#IMAGE_URL#" class="workimg">
  <div class="worktitle">
    <a href="#WORK_URL#">#FULL_TITLE_SORT#</a>

Each record gets a container div, within which are nested a div for the image and a div for the label.

The width attribute is no longer needed directly on the img; instead, I added the following CSS to the region Header Text:

.workcontainer {
.workicon { display:block; }
.workimg {
.worktitle {

Some of the key bits here are that the container div has width and height attributes, and the image is constrained using max-width, max-height, width:auto and height:auto. Also, the work title is constrained to a 40 pixel high block, with overflow:hidden.

My report now looks like this:

The images are scaled down automatically to fit within a consistent size, and both the images and the labels are horizontally centered leading to a more pleasing layout. If an image is already small enough, it won’t be scaled up but will be shown full-size within the available area. Also, the label height is constrained (if an item label is too high the overflow will be hidden) which solves the layout problem I had before. If the image is not very tall, the label appears directly beneath it which is what I wanted.

The only remaining issue is that the icon view feature of the interactive report generates a table with rows of a fixed number of columns (5, in my case), which doesn’t wrap so nicely on a small screen when it can’t fit 5 in a row. I’ve set Columns Per Row to 1 now, and it seems to wrap perfectly; it shows up to a maximum of 6 items per row depending on the viewing window width.


Thanks to Matt (see comment below) who pointed out that a report like this would benefit greatly from a Lazy Load feature to reduce the amount of data pulled to the client – for example, if the user requests 5,000 records per page and starts paging through the results, each page view could potentially download a large volume of data, especially if the images are quite large.
I’ve implemented this now and it was quite straightforward:

  1. Download the latest release of the jQuery plugin “Lazyload Anyhttps://github.com/emn178/jquery-lazyload-any
  2. Upload the file jquery.lazyload-any.js to Static Application Files
  3. Add the following to the page attribute File URLs:
  4. Add a Dynamic Action to the report region:
    Event = After Refresh
    Action = Execute JavaScript Code
    Code = $(".workicon").lazyload()
    Fire on Initialization = Yes
  5. Modify the Icon View Custom Link code to put the bits to lazy load within a script tag of type “text/lazyload” (in my case, all the html contents within the “workicon” div), e.g.:
<div class="workcontainer">
  <div class="workicon">
    <script type="text/lazyload">
      <a href="#WORK_URL#">
        <img src="#IMAGE_URL#" class="workimg">
  <div class="worktitle">
    <a href="#WORK_URL#">#FULL_TITLE_SORT#</a>

This was an important addition in my cases as some of the images were quite large; I don’t have to worry about load on my server because they are hosted on Amazon S3, but I do have to pay a little bit for the transfer of data.

Autoformat Numbers in an Interactive Grid

A lot of the applications I build allow users to enter large numbers of monetary amounts, and the way these numbers are presented can have an impact on how easy it is for them to read and check those numbers.

All such amounts are formatted for display using a system-wide standard format (in our case, the Australian standard fm999g999g999g990d00), with any amounts less than $0.01 rounded to the nearest cent. After an amount is entered or modified, the user expects to see the value formatted correctly straight away; so I use javascript to take their entered value, convert it to a number, format it and set its value back in the field. Also, if the user has copied in any non-numeric characters (e.g. a $ symbol), these are simply removed silently.

An interactive grid (this one was a work in progress) with some editable monetary amounts.

In the past I had a global javascript file which I’d load with each application with the following basic functions to auto-format any monetary amount fields as the user tabs out of them, whether they appear in an ordinary form or a tabular form:

Number.prototype.formatMoney = function(decPlaces, thouSep, decSep) {
/* this function taken from http://stackoverflow.com/questions/9318674/javascript-number-currency-formatting */
  var n = this,
  decPlaces = isNaN(decPlaces = Math.abs(decPlaces)) ? 2 : decPlaces,
  decSep = decSep == undefined ? "." : decSep,
  thouSep = thouSep == undefined ? "," : thouSep,
  sign = n < 0 ? "-" : "",
  i = parseInt(n = Math.abs(+n || 0).toFixed(decPlaces)) + "",
  j = (j = i.length) > 3 ? j % 3 : 0;
  return sign + (j ? i.substr(0, j) + thouSep : "") + i.substr(j).replace(/(\d{3})(?=\d)/g, "$1" + thouSep) + (decPlaces ? decSep + Math.abs(n - i).toFixed(decPlaces).slice(2) : "");

function parseNumeric(v) {
  //strip any non-numeric characters and return a non-null numeric value
  return parseFloat(v.replace(/[^\d.-]/g,''))||0;

$(document).ready(function() {
  //automatically format any item with the "edit_money" class
  $( document ).on('change', '.edit_money', function(){
    var i = "#"+$(this).attr("id"), v = $(i).val();
    if(v){ $(i).val( parseNumeric(v).formatMoney() ); }

I would then simply add the class edit_money to any item in the application and it would automatically apply the formatting; for example, if the user types in 12345.6, it changes the value to 12,345.60.

If you want to skip to the punchline, scroll down past the next few paragraphs where I take you down a merry rabbit-hole that, as it turns out, was completely unnecessary (but still somewhat educational).

Now we’re on APEX 19.1 and starting to use Interactive Grids (IG) for a lot of new screens, but applying the edit_money class to the columns in the grid doesn’t work, because the edit item that is generated on-the-fly by the grid doesn’t [edit: I was wrong here] conform to the structure expected by my document-on-change function callback.

Instead, to solve this I decided to add a single dynamic action to the IG that sets the value to a JavaScript Expression which calls my parseNumeric and formatMoney functions.

Aside: when Google failed me
It took me a little bit of searching and experimentation to work out what the JavaScript Expression should be; I didn’t expect it to be complex, and knew it should refer to the item without specifying any particular column name or ID, because this DA could be triggered from multiple columns in the same grid. But I just didn’t know how to refer to the “current item”, and the attribute help was not as helpful as I’d have liked. My google-fu was failing me as well (although I picked up a few neat tricks that I’d like to try in future); I tried searching “oracle apex interactive grid javascript expression” but most of the results were for complicated scenarios that didn’t apply to what I thought was this simple case. I even tried reading the Oracle documentation but just couldn’t find what I was looking for.

I guessed the JavaScript Expression would have access to a this object that should give me access to the item’s value. I used a little trick to copy this into a global variable and used the Chrome debug console to examine this to see how to get the value of the cell being edited. Firstly, in the page Function and Global Variable Declaration I added var x;. Secondly, in the JavaScript Expression on the dynamic action I entered x=this. Running the page, I entered a value into the cell in the grid, opened the Chrome console, then typed “x”. Chrome immediately showed the structure of “x”:

That “triggeringElement” looks like it might be what I’m after, so I continued typing:

After finishing typing “.val()” it gave an error “val is not a function”. I’d seen other code around the place that converts triggeringElement to a jQuery object, so I tried that instead:

This spat out the number I’d entered. So initially I used $(this.triggeringElement).val(). Later I did some more digging and realised I didn’t need jQuery here, I can use the value attribute directly – this.triggeringElement.value. I suspect this is one of those basic things that they teach you on day one of an “Intro to APEX Interactive Grids 101” class but I must have been sick that day 🙂

My final DA has the following attributes:

  • Event = Change
  • Selection Type = Column(s)
  • Region = [the interactive grid region]
  • Column(s) = [list of all the editable monetary columns]
  • Action = Set Value
  • Set Type = JavaScript Expression
  • JavaScript Expression =
  • Suppress Change Event = Yes
  • Selection Type = Triggering Element
  • Fire on Initialization = No
Dynamic action attributes
DA True Action attributes

It’s not quite as simple as adding the class to all the items, but at least it’s just one dynamic action that I need to add to each interactive grid.

As pointed out by John, I went down this rabbit hole for one simple and annoying reason: I forgot that there are not one, but twoCSS Classes” attributes on each item, and I’d put my “edit_money” class in the wrong attribute.

This may have the appearance of being the right one (it’s the first one listed). This is not the CSS Classes you’re looking for.
This is the CSS Classes you’re looking for.

Hiding HTML when downloading an Interactive Report

A common requirement is to format data for display in an Interactive Report, for example showing an icon, making part of the data a clickable link or a button, or showing it in different colours.

The problem with embedding formatting in the data for the report is that it is not only used for display in the web page; it is also used for the Download option, causing user confusion when HTML code is exposed in the generated CSV file.

If the logic for the formatting is not data-driven, the solution is to enter the HTML in the HTML Expression attribute on the report column definition. The HTML Expression is used only when displaying the data in the interactive report; the underlying column data is used for the Download. The underlying column data is also used to generate the filter list for the column (if Column Filter Type is “Default Based on Column Type”).

If the logic for the formatting is data-driven, a simple solution is to generate the HTML in an underlying column in the query. However, you don’t want this HTML appearing in the Download CSV, so what you can do is generate the HTML in an additional, hidden column in the report; then use the hidden column in the HTML Expression attribute. This works because the HTML Expression attribute is allowed to refer to any column in the query, even hidden ones.

For example, here is a query with a generated column that determines an icon to be displayed within the “job” column:

select ename,
       || ' <span class="fa '
       || case when mgr is null then 'fa-gear' else 'fa-user' end
       || '"></span>' as job_html
from emp

The following column attributes are set:

  • JOB: HTML Expression = #JOB_HTML#
  • JOB_HTML: Type = Hidden Column

When the report is run, we see the icons displayed:

When the report is downloaded as CSV, the Job column is plaintext as desired:

Form Regions – Superclass/Subclass

The new Form Region feature introduced in Oracle APEX 19.1 is a big improvement to the way that single-record forms are defined declaratively.

In prior versions of APEX, you were effectively limited to a single DML load process and a single DML submit process, and all the items on the page that were linked to a table column were required to be from only a single table. If you wanted to do anything more complicated than that, you had to either split your form into multiple pages or get rid of the DML processes and hand-code the PL/SQL yourself.

The new components/attributes for Form Regions are:

  • Region type “Form” which defines the Source Table (or view, or SQL Query, or PL/SQL returning a SQL query, or Web Source) and associated semantics.
  • Item Source attribute that associates each item with a particular Form Region. The item can optionally be marked as “Query Only” and/or as a “Primary Key”.
  • Pre-render process type “Form – Initialization” that is associated with a Form Region.
  • Page process type “Form – Automatic Row Processing (DML)” that is associated with a Form Region. This can be used to change the Target for the form region (default is the Source Table) to a different table or view, or to replace the DML processing with your custom PL/SQL. You can also modify other semantics such as Prevent Lost Updates and row locking.

If you generate a single-record form page APEX will generate all the above for you and you can then customise them as you need.

Now, I want to create a slightly more complex form – one based on two tables that are related – “Transaction Lines” and “Reserve Lines” have the same Primary Key, and a referential integrity constraint linking them. They act like a “super class / subclass”, where one table (“Reserve Lines”) is optional. This data model eliminates the need to have lots of nullable columns in a base table.

Data model

Here’s the form for editing a single “Transaction Line”:

Form with “Reserve” unticked

The form shows the associated “Reserve Line” if it exists:

Form with “Reserve” ticked

If the “Reserve” checkbox is ticked, the Reserve details region is shown and the user can enter the Reserve Line attributes.

I need the page to perform the following actions:

  1. For a new record, if the user leaves “Reserve” unticked, only a Transaction Line should be inserted.
  2. For a new record, if the user ticks “Reserve”, both a Transaction Line and a Reserve Line should be inserted.
  3. For an existing record, if the user ticks or unticks “Reserve”, the Reserve Line should be inserted or deleted accordingly.

If you want to see this example in action, feel free to try it out here:
https://apex.oracle.com/pls/apex/f?p=JK201904&c=JK64 (login using your email address if you want). The starting page is a blank transaction; click “Create”, then click “Add Line” to open the transaction line page.

The page is composed of two Form Regions. Note that in this example I’ve laid out all the items for each form within its Form Region, but this is not strictly necessary.

To do this, I built the form in the following manner:

  1. Created a Form Region for the Transaction Line with standard Initialize form and Automatic Row Processing (DML) processes.
  2. Created a second Form Region for the Reserve Line with the standard processes (but customised later).
  3. Added the “P2_RESERVE_Y” checkbox item, not linked to any source column. Added a dynamic action to show/hide the Reserve details region if it is ticked/unticked.
  4. Added a “set up reserve line” PL/SQL Code process immediately after the Initialize form Transaction Line and just before the Initialize form Reserve Line process:
  • Server-side Condition Type = Rows returned
  • SQL Query =
    select null from reserve_lines where line_id=:P2_LINE_ID
  • PL/SQL Code:
:P2_RESERVE_Y := 'Y';

5. Change the Automatic Row Processing (DML) for the Reserve Line region:

  • Target Type = PL/SQL Code
  • PL/SQL Code to Insert/Update/Delete:
case when :P2_RESERVE_Y is null then

  delete reserve_lines where line_id=:P2_RESERVE_LINE_ID;

when :P2_RESERVE_Y is not null
and :P2_RESERVE_LINE_ID is null then

  insert into reserve_lines
  returning line_id into :P2_RESERVE_LINE_ID;

when :P2_RESERVE_Y is not null
and :P2_RESERVE_LINE_ID is not null then

  update reserve_lines
    set asset=:P2_ASSET
  where line_id=:P2_RESERVE_LINE_ID;

end case;

6. Add a special handler to delete the reserve line if the user clicks the Delete button (this needs to be executed prior to the Process form Transaction Line to avoid a FK violation).

This solution is not quite as “low-code” as I’d like; it would be simpler to call a TAPI here instead of hardcoding the DML statements. The reason we need custom PL/SQL here is that when the user clicks the “Create” or “Save” buttons (which are associated with the SQL Insert and Update actions, respectively), we often need to translate this into a different DML action (insert, update, or delete) for the Reserve Lines table.

Load spreadsheet data into APEX

Face it: your users are in love with Microsoft Excel, and you can’t do anything about it.

You can show them the excellent Interactive Report and Interactive Grid features of APEX, and train some of your users to use some of their capabilities, but at the end of the day, your users will still download the data into their spreadsheet software to do their own stuff with it.

Once they’ve finished with the data, odds are they’ll come back to you and ask “how do I upload this data back into APEX?” and expect that the answer is merely a flip of a switch to enable a built-in APEX feature. Of course, you know and I know that this is not necessarily a simple thing; it is certainly not just an option to be enabled. Depending on what exactly they mean by “upload this data” it may be reasonably easy to build or it could get quite complex.

File Formats

Typically the data will be provided in some kind of text format (CSV, tab delimited, fixed width) or binary file (XLS or XLSX). If they have copied the data from a table in Excel, it will be in tab-delimited format in the clipboard. Perhaps in some odd instances the user will have received the data from some system in fixed width, XML or JSON format – but this is rare as this is typically part of the build of a system integration solution and users expect these to be “harder”.

Actual Requirements

When your user wants you to provide a facility for uploading data, there are some basic questions you’ll need to ask. Knowing these will help you choose the right approach and solution.

  1. Where are the files – i.e. are they stored on the database server, or is the user going to upload them via an online APEX application
  2. How much automation is required, how often – i.e. is this a ad-hoc, rare situation; something they need to do a few times per month; or something that is frequent and needs to be painless and automatic?
  3. What are the files named – i.e. if they are stored on the database server, do we know what the files will be called?
  4. How consistent is the data structure?

Data Structure

That last one is important. Will the columns in the file remain the same, or might they change all the time? If the structure is not amenable to automated data matching, can the file structure be changed to accommodate our program? Is the structure even in tabular form (e.g. is it a simple “header line, data line, data line” structure or are there bits and pieces dotted around the spreadsheet)? If it’s an Excel file, is all the data in one sheet, or is it spread across multiple sheets? Should all the sheets be processed, or should some of them be ignored? Can the columns vary depending on requirement – might there be some columns in one file that don’t exist in other files, and vice versa?

Finally, is all the data to be loaded actually encoded in text form? This is an issue where a spreadsheet is provided where the user has, trying to be helpful, highlighted rows with different colours to indicate different statuses or other categorising information. I’ve received spreadsheets where some data rows were not “real” data rows, but merely explanatory text or notes entered by the users – since they coloured the background on those rows in grey, they expected my program to automatically filter those rows out.

Solution Components

Any solution for processing uploaded files must incorporate each of the following components:

  • Load – read the raw file data
  • Parse – extract the text data from the file
  • Map – identify how the text data relates to your schema
  • Validate – check that the data satisfies all schema and business rule constraints
  • Process – make the relevant changes in the database based on the data

Each of these components have multiple solution options, some are listed here:

  • Load – External tables / SQL*Loader; APEX file select
  • Parse – External tables / SQL*Loader; APEX; 3rd-party code
  • Map – Fixed (we already know which columns appear where) (e.g. SQL*Loader Express Mode); Manual (allow the user to choose which column maps to which target); or A.I. (use some sort of heuristic algorithm to guess which column maps to what, e.g. based on the header labels)
  • Validate – Database constraints; and/or PL/SQL API
  • Process – INSERT; MERGE; or call a PL/SQL API

The rest of this post is focussed primarily on Parsing and Mapping Text and Excel files.

Solutions for Text files

These are some solutions for parsing text files (CSV, tab-delimited, fixed-width, etc.) that I’ve used or heard of. I’m not including the more standardised data interchange text formats in this list (e.g. XML, JSON) as these are rarely used by end users to supply spreadsheet data. “Your Mileage May Vary” – so test and evaluate them to determine if they will suit your needs.

  • External Table / SQL*Loader / SQL*Loader Express Mode (CSV, delimited, and fixed width files)
  • APEX Data Workshop (CSV & delimited files)
  • APEX Data Loader Wizard (CSV and delimited files only)
  • Alexandria PL/SQL Library CSV_UTIL_PKG – Morten Braten, 2010
  • LOB2Table PL/SQL (CSV, delimited and fixed width files) – Michael Schmid, 2015
  • Excel2Collection APEX process plugin (CSV, delimited, XLS and XLSX files) – Anton Scheffer, 2013
  • csv2db – load CSV files from the command line (Linux). Gerald Venzl, 2019
  • KiBeHa’s CSV parser – a simple CSV parser in PL/SQL written by Kim Berg Hansen, 2014 (this is a simplistic parser that will not handle all CSV files, e.g. ones that have embedded delimiters with double-quoted text)

It could be noted here that the Interactive Grid in APEX 5.1 and later does support Paste; if the user selects some data from Excel, then selects the corresponding columns and rows in the grid, they can Paste the tab-delimited data right in. Of course, this requires that the columns be in exactly the right order.

External Table

This uses the SQL*Loader access driver and you can look up the syntax in the Oracle docs by searching for “ORACLE_LOADER”. Since Oracle 12.1 you can use the simple “FIELDS CSV” syntax to parse CSV files, e.g.:

create table emp_staging
  ( emp_no number(4)
  , name   varchar2(10)
  , ...
organization external
  ( default directory ext_dir
    access parameters
      ( records delimited by newline
        FIELDS CSV
        reject rows with all null fields
    location ( 'emp.dat' )
reject limit unlimited

Note that the filename (location) is hard-coded in the external table definition. Since Oracle 12.2 you can modify some of the attributes of an external table such as file name directly in the SELECT statement, without requiring any ALTER TABLE – Override External Table Parameters From a Query in Oracle Database 12c Release 2 (12.2).

SQL*Loader Express Mode

Since Oracle 12.1 the sqlldr command-line utility supports “Express Mode” which by default reads a CSV file, and loads the data into a given table. Read this quick intro here. This can come in handy for scripting the load of a number of CSV files on an ad-hoc basis into tables that already have exactly the same structure as those CSV files.

> sqlldr userid=scott/tiger table=emp 

This expects to find a file named “emp.dat” which contains CSV data to be loaded into the nominated table. Internally, it creates a temporary external table to load the data. Additional parameters can be added to change the filename, delimiters, field names, and other options.

APEX Data Workshop

The APEX Data Workshop is found under SQL Workshop > Utilities > Data Workshop and allows the developer to quickly load data from a CSV, tab-delimited, XML, or copy-and-paste from Excel into an existing or new table. This can be very handy when your client sends you some spreadsheets and you need to quickly load the data as one or more tables.

A related utility is the Create Application from Spreadsheet which does the same thing, plus creates a basic application to report and maintain the data in the new table.

APEX Data Loader Wizard

If your users need to load data on an ad-hoc, on-demand basis, and you don’t know necessarily what the structure of the files will be (e.g. the headings might change, or the order of the columns might change), you can use the APEX Data Loader Wizard to build an APEX application that guides your users in loading, mapping, and validating the data for themselves. If required you can customise the generated pages to add your own processing.

To create the wizard, click Create Page, choose Data Loading, and follow the steps to define the Data Load Definition and its associated pages. The definition determines the target table, the unique column(s) for data matching, transformation rules, and lookups (e.g. to get foreign keys for reference tables). Once this is done, the following four pages will be created for you:

You can customise these pages to modify the look and feel (e.g. moving some of the more complicated options in a collapsible region), or to add your own custom processing for the data.

For example, I will often add an additional process on either the 3rd page (to be run after the “Prepare Uploaded Data” process) that will do further processing of the loaded data. The process would be set up to only run When Button Pressed = “NEXT” and would have a Condition “Item is NULL or Zero” = “P111_ERROR_COUNT”. The result is that on the Data Validation (3rd) page, after reviewing the validation summary, the user clicks “Next” and the data is loaded and processed.

Alternatively, I sometimes want the user to view additional validation or summary information on the 4th page before doing further processing. In this case, I would add the process to the Data Load Results (4th) page, When Button Pressed = “FINISH”. For this to work, you need to modify the FINISH button to Submit the page (instead of redirecting). I also would add a CANCEL button to the page so the user can choose to not run the final processing if they wish.

Updating a Data Load Definition

The Data Load Definitions (one for each target table) may be found under Shared Components > Data Load Definitions. Here, you can modify the transformations and lookup tables for the definition. However, if the table structure has changed (e.g. a new column has been added), it will not automatically pick up the change. To reflect the change in the definition, you need to follow the following steps:

  1. Edit the Data Load Definition
  2. Click Re-create Data Load Pages
  3. Delete the new generated pages

This refreshes the Data Load Definition and creates 4 new pages for the wizard. Since you already had the pages you need (possibly with some customisations you’ve made) you don’t need the new pages so you can just delete them.


The Alexandria PL/SQL Library includes CSV_UTIL_PKG which I’ve used in a number of projects. It’s simple to use and effective – it requires no APEX session, nothing but PL/SQL, and can be called from SQL for any CLOB data. It’s handy when you know ahead of time what the columns will be. You could read and interpret the headings in the first line from the file if you want to write some code to automatically determine which column is which – but personally in this case I’d lean towards using the APEX Data Loader Wizard instead and make the user do the mapping.

If you don’t already have the full Alexandria library installed, to use this package you must first create the schema types t_str_array and t_csv_tab. You will find the definition for these types in setup/types.sql. After that, simply install ora/csv_util_pkg.pks and ora/csv_util_pkg.pkb and you’re good to go.

In the example below I get a CSV file that a user has uploaded via my APEX application, convert it to a CLOB, then parse it using CSV_UTIL_PKG.clob_to_csv:

procedure parse_csv (filename in varchar2) is
    bl blob; cl clob;

    select x.blob_content into bl
    from apex_application_temp_files x
    where x.name = parse_csv.filename;

    cl := blob_to_clob(bl);

    insert into csv_staging_lines
          (session_id, line_no, school_code, school_name
          ,line_type, amount, line_description)
    select sys_context('APEX$SESSION','APP_SESSION')
          ,line_number - 1
          ,c001 as school_code
          ,c002 as school_name
          ,c003 as line_type
          ,replace(replace(c004,'$',''),',','') as amount
          ,c005 as line_description
    from   table(csv_util_pkg.clob_to_csv(cl, p_skip_rows => 1))
    where  trim(line_raw) is not null;

end parse_csv;

Read more details on CSV_UTIL_PKG here.


This PL/SQL package written and maintained by Michael Schmid parses CSV, delimited or Fixed-width data embedded in any LOB or VARCHAR2, including in a table with many records. The data can be read from any CLOB, BLOB, BFILE, or VARCHAR2. This makes it quite versatile, it reportedly provides excellent performance, and it includes a pipelined option. It will read up to 200 columns, with a maximum of 32K per record.

It requires execute privileges on SYS.DBMS_LOB and SYS.UTL_I18N and creates some object types and a database package. You can download the source from sourceforge. It appears to be well supported and was most recently updated in June 2018. I recommend checking it out.

select d.deptno, d.dname,
       t.column1, t.column2,
       t.column3, t.column4from dept d
cross join table( 
    d.myclob, /* the data LOB */
    chr(10),  /* row separator */
    ',',      /* column separator */
    '"'       /* delimiter (optional) */
) ) t;


This is a process type APEX plugin written by Anton Scheffer (AMIS) in 2013, and has been actively maintained since then. You can download it from here or find it on apex.world.

The plugin detects and parses CSV, XLS, XML 2003 and XLSX files which makes it very versatile. It will load 50 columns from the spreadsheet into an APEX collection (max 10K rows). If you need to load larger spreadsheets you can send Anton a donation and your email address and he’ll send you a database package that can handle larger files.

Solutions for Excel files

The first thing to know about XLSX files is that they are basically a ZIP file containing a folder structure filled with a number of XML documents. Parsing an XLSX file, therefore, involves first unzipping the file, reading the relevant XML documents and parsing their contents. As usual with any Microsoft file format, the internal structure of these XML documents can be quite complex so I’d much rather leave the work to someone who has already worked out the details. Thankfully, this has largely been done.

These are some solutions for loading data from Microsoft Excel files (XLS, XLSX) that I’ve come across. Again, “YMMV” – so test and evaluate them to determine if they will suit your needs.


The Alexandria PL/SQL Library includes OOXML_UTIL_PKG which provides a number of utilities for parsing (and creating) XLSX, DOCX and PPTX files. It provides functions to get file attributes (including title, creator, last modified) and a list of worksheets in an XLSX. It provides functions to get the text data from any cell in any sheet, although for reasonable performance if you need more than one cell you should use the functions that returns a range of cells in one go.

Installation requires zip_util_pkg, sql_util_pkg, string_util_pkg, xml_util_pkg, xml_stylesheet_pkg, and ooxml_util_pkg, all of which are in the Alexandria library. Given this list of dependencies (and probably others I didn’t notice) I recommend installing the whole library – after all, there’s a lot of useful stuff in there so it’s worth it.

  l_blob   blob;
  l_names  t_str_array := t_str_array('B3','C3','B4','C4','B5','C5');
  l_values t_str_array;
  l_blob := file_util_pkg.get_blob_from_file('EXT_DIR','sample.xlsx');
  l_values := ooxml_util_pkg.get_xlsx_cell_values(l_blob, 'Sheet1', l_names);
  for i in 1..l_values.count loop
    dbms_output.put_line(l_names(i) || ' = ' || l_values(i));
  end loop;

More details on OOXML_UTIL_PKG here.


As noted above, the Excel2Collection APEX plugin can detect and parse XLS, XML 2003 and XLSX files (as well as CSV files). The fact that it detects the file type automatically is a big plus for usability.

Apache POI

This solution involves installing Apache POI (“Poor Obfuscation Implementation”), a Java API for Microsoft products, into the database. The solution described by Christian Neumueller here parses XLS and XLSX files although it is admittedly not very efficient.


In 2018 Carsten Czarski posted a blog article “Easy XLSX Parser just with SQL and PL/SQL” listing a simple database package that parses XLSX files. This uses APEX_ZIP which comes with APEX, although using it does not require an APEX session or collections. It can load the file from a BLOB, or from APEX_APPLICATION_TEMP_FILES. It uses XMLTable to parse the XML content and return the text content of up to 50 columns for any worksheet in the file. It may be modified to support up to 1,000 columns.

To get a list of worksheets from a file:

select * from table( 
    p_xlsx_name => :P1_XLSX_FILE

To get the cells from a worksheet:

select * from table( 
    p_xlsx_name      => :P1_XLSX_FILE, 
    p_worksheet_name => :P1_WORKSHEET_NAME

I used this solution in a recent APEX application but the client was still on APEX 4.2 which did not include APEX_ZIP; so I adapted it to use ZIP_UTIL_PKG from the Alexandria PL/SQL Library. If you’re interested in this implementation you can download the source code from here.


ExcelTable is a powerful API for reading XLSX, XLSM, XLSB, XLS and ODF (.ods) spreadsheets. It is based on PL/SQL + Java and reportedly performs very well. It requires a grant on DBMS_CRYPTO which allows it to read encrypted files. It includes an API for extracting cell comments as well. It can return the results as a pipelined table or as a refcursor. It knows how to interpret special cell values and error codes such as booleans, #N/A, #DIV/0!, #VALUE!, #REF! etc.

It includes API calls that allow you to map the input from a spreadsheet to insert or merge into a table, defining how to map columns in the spreadsheet to your table columns, which may improve throughput and may mean it uses less memory to process large files.

The API was written by Marc Bleron in 2016 and has been in active maintenance since then (latest update 22/10/2018 as of the writing of this article). You can read more details and download it from here: https://github.com/mbleron/ExcelTable

EDIT 17/12/2018: thanks to Nicholas Ochoa who alerted me to this one.

APEX 19.1 Statement of Direction

DISCLAIMER: all comments and code samples regarding APEX 19.1 in this article are based primarily on the Statement of Direction and are subject to Oracle’s “Safe Harbour” provision and must therefore not be relied on when making business decisions.

The SOD for the next release of APEX includes the following note, which is exciting:

“New Data Loading: The data upload functionality in SQL Workshop will be modernized with a new drag & drop user interface and support for native Excel, CSV, XML and JSON documents. The same capabilities will be added to the Create App from Spreadsheet wizard and a new, public data loading PL/SQL API will be made available.”

Whether this release will include corresponding enhancements to the APEX Data Loader Wizard remains to be seen; I hope the wizard is enhanced to accept XLSX files because this is something a lot of my users would be happy about.

EDIT 6/2/2019: Early Adopter of APEX 19.1 reveals that the Data Workshop supports loading CSV, XLSX, XML and JSON data. If you load an XLSX file, it will allow you to choose which worksheet to load the data from (only one worksheet at a time, though). Also, the Data Loader Wizard has not been updated to use the new API, it still only supports loading from CSV files. This is on the radar for a future version of APEX, however.


The most promising part of the APEX 19.1 SOD is the PL/SQL API bit, which will mean no plugins or 3rd-party code will be needed to parse XLSX files. It appears the package will be called APEX_DATA_PARSER, providing routines to automatically detect and parse file formats including XLSX, XML, JSON and CSV/tab-delimited files, e.g.:

select * from table(
    p_content => blob,
    p_file_name => 'test.xlsx',
    p_xlsx_sheet_name => 'sheet1.xml'));
select * from table(
    p_content => blob,
    p_file_name => 'test.xml'));
select * from table(
    p_content => blob,
    p_file_name => 'test.js'));
select * from table(
    p_content => blob,
    p_file_name => 'test.csv'));

Capability Matrix

CSV Fixed width XLS XLSX
External Table Yes Yes
APEX Data Workshop Yes 19.1
APEX Data Loader Wizard Yes
LOB2Table Yes Yes
Excel2Collection Yes Yes Yes
Apache POI Yes Yes
ExcelTable Yes Yes
csv2db Yes

Have I missed a tool or 3rd-party code that you have found useful for parsing files to load into your APEX application? If so, please comment below.

This blog post is partially based on the following presentation delivered at the AUSOUG Connect 2018 Perth conference, November 2018.