What is a spreadsheet file?

Spreadsheet files are digital files containing information organised in ‘tabular form’. This typically means that data is organised in cells within rows and columns. Different types of spreadsheet file are often used to store and analyse numerical data - but they can contain various data elements, including text and media.

But they can also be used to track data, create graphical representations and perform mathematical operations for highly informative reports. You can apply formulas to develop complex databases.

Developed as early as 1979 (with VisiCalc for the Apple 2), spreadsheet formats have become pivotal across many different industries and companies. Indeed, certain spreadsheet file extensions act as a widely used standard for data management across all kinds of businesses.

What are spreadsheet files used for?

Based on a database system that contains multiple spreadsheets (also known as worksheets), this file type has a huge variety of uses across different industries.

Common examples include:

  • Storing personnel data for HR purposes
  • Managing both personal and business financial information
  • Maintaining and balancing an organisation’s bills and receipts
  • Analysing inventory and product supply
  • Depicting stored data in rich text-to-visual graphs and reports
  • Developing and implementing formulae to process stored data for even more insights.

From simple food shops organising their supplies, to complex manifests and data pre-sets in major financial and business ventures, the potential uses of spreadsheet formats are huge. That’s why this class of file types remains one of the most fundamental within computing.

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Learn more about spreadsheet files.

There are various types of spreadsheet file available, each with their own features and functionalities:

  • .XLS. The original format for Microsoft Excel, this has been a staple in spreadsheets for many years. It has a variety of functions for processing stored data, such as pivot tables, formulae integration and visual graphs.
  • .XLSX. The evolution of the XLS file type, the XLSX format of spreadsheets was developed with the release of Microsoft Office 2007. It brought a variety of new upgrades and cloud compatibility to Excel.
  • .ODS. OpenDocument Spreadsheets were developed as an open-source spreadsheet format by the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). With a platform-independent design, they are often used to edit and open spreadsheet file types on a variety of hardware systems, without losing formatting.
  • .IMP. The Improv spreadsheet format divides data into three different views, in a bid to make interpreting, editing and transforming that data as straightforward as possible.

Other extensions include:

  • .CSV: A comma-separated value file is a spreadsheet file extension based on the text file format. It is popular for its simplicity and data reading compatibility.
  • .GSHEET: A younger entrant in the spreadsheet world, Google Sheets is the official spreadsheet file type for the Google office suite, which is a web-based software system.

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Advantages and disadvantages of spreadsheet files.

Spreadsheets have helped advance the popularity and importance of computing in both the personal and business world. But like any other kind of software, they have their pros and cons.


  • Available on a wide range of systems. With the development of OpenDocument formats, Google Sheets and Excel cross-platform support, spreadsheets can be accessed from a variety of devices and operating systems, such as Linux, Android and iOS.
  • Low barrier and high ceiling. Spreadsheets are an incredibly useful tool to learn, with a low technical barrier for entry if you just want to do data entry. But they also offer a very high skill ceiling, with complex functions and scripts for anyone who wants to take their data analysis to the next level.
  • Efficient. Spreadsheets are highly efficient and effective for storing a large amount of data and processing it quickly for detailed insights and high-quality reports.
  • Collaborative. Spreadsheets allow different teams to work and collaborate on data analysis and other projects. With the development of cloud computing and the ability to use multiple integrated sheets with varying categories of data within a single database, these tools have ideal for teamwork in business.


  • Speed and storage. As spreadsheets grow in size and organisations store a large volume of data, they can start to take up a big chunk of space, especially with more complex media-rich sheets. They can also start to lag and slow down when opening or processing data.
  • Inflexibility. Speaking relatively, spreadsheets are a bit inflexible when offering a variety of design options. With software such as Microsoft Word now able to insert independent spreadsheet tables and perform certain functions within itself, spreadsheets may become more of a niche tool.
  • Data errors. One of the most important issues with spreadsheets is potential errors in results. Due to formula complexity and the huge amount of data processed, it can be tough to pinpoint or understand errors in data analysis conducted within the software.

How to convert spreadsheet formats to PDF.

Many different types of file can be transformed into a secure, highly shareable PDF, using Adobe’s free online PDF converter tool.

It is also easy to convert an XLS or XLSX document using the convert Excel to PDF tool.


  1. Select a file from your device or drag-and-drop the file into place, where prompted
  2. Wait for the tool to convert your spreadsheet to a PDF in seconds
  3. Save or share your PDF as you like.

If your chosen spreadsheet format isn’t compatible with the tool in its current form, you can convert it to a compatible format first, before using the free online tool.

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Spreadsheet files: FAQs.

What is an example of a spreadsheet file extension?

File types such as .XLSX, .XLS and .ODS are very popular spreadsheet formats, commonly used for opening and storing spreadsheet data across a variety of devices. Each spreadsheet file extension comes with its own perks and trade-offs, so it’s a good idea to research what tool would suit your specific needs.

Can I convert PDFs to Excel?

Yes. As PDF documents are a popular, global document format, they allow simple conversion to spreadsheet formats such as Microsoft Excel. There’s no need to use third-party apps either, as Adobe has simple guides and tools to use. Find out how to convert PDF to Excel with Adobe Acrobat today.

Is .XLS the same as Excel?

The .XLS format was the original Excel format until the release of Microsoft Office 2007. Although it is still part of the Microsoft suite of tools, it is now a legacy extension. The Excel format is now identified with the .XLSX spreadsheet file extension.

Do I need to pay to access Microsoft spreadsheet files?

No, you don’t. Although the Microsoft suite of tools is a paid programme, the .XLSX format is accessible with the use of free compatible software such as Google sheets, OpenOffice or Excel Viewer.

What is the most basic spreadsheet file?

Developed using the text file format, the .CSV spreadsheet file type is widely considered to be the most basic spreadsheet type. Due to its simplicity, it can be easily read by machines and people alike. However, it is quite limited in its feature set - and can only handle one sheet per file.

What programmes can access spreadsheet formats?

There are a range of programmes out there that you can use to access spreadsheet formats. These include:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Google Sheets
  • Apple Numbers
  • LibreOffice
  • Quip

Each should be able to handle a range of spreadsheet files and offer different functions.