Posts tagged ‘Flat Files’

Handling Varying Columns, Part 2

In Handling Flat Files with Varying Numbers of Columns, I showed an example of parsing a flat file with an inconsistent number of columns. I used a script component, but Jamie commented that the same thing could be accomplished through a Conditional Split and Derived Column transform. So, here’s part 2.

I added a new data flow to the same package. The data flow is a bit more complicated for this.

The Conditional Split determines what type of row I’m dealing with, and passes it to the appropriate output. It does this by checking how many delimiters appear in the row. The FindString function will return a 0 if the string specified is not found, or if the string specified occurs less than the number of occurrences specified.

Now that I know how many columns I need to parse, I’m use a Derived Column transform to split the columns from the main string.

The expression for the first column looks for the first occurrence of the delimiter.

SUBSTRING(Line,1,FINDSTRING(Line,”,”,1) – 1)

For the second column, the expression is a bit more complicated. It has start from the first delimiter, and stop at the second. Since the SubString function needs the length, the expression is calculating the difference between the first and second delimiter. In addition, it is casting the result to an integer.

(DT_I4)(SUBSTRING(Line,FINDSTRING(Line,”,”,1) + 1,FINDSTRING(Line,”,”,2) – FINDSTRING(Line,”,”,1) – 1))

Finally, the third expression finds the second delimiter, and gets the rest of the string. I’m taking a shortcut by using the full value for the length, since if the length argument is exceeds the length of the string, the rest of the string is returned.


Finally, a Union All is used to combine the data back into a single flow.

Technically, this could be accomplished without the Conditional Split. However, the logic required for the Derived Column transform would be much more complex, as each column parsing expression would have to be wrapped in a conditional expression to see if that column actually existed for the row.

In SSIS, there are usually at least two ways to accomplish anything, which is one of the things I like about it. However, there are differing advantages to the two approaches covered here and in the previous post. In general, I favor using the script component for the following reasons:

  • Easier (at least in my opinion) to introduce complex logic for parsing the columns

  • Simpler data flow

However, the Derived Column is easier if you aren’t comfortable with .NET coding, and makes it easier to interpret what is happening in the data flow.

I’ve attached the updated sample package at the end of this post.

Handling Flat Files with Varying Numbers of Columns

5/15 Update – I added Part 2 to show how to do the same thing with a Conditional Split and a Derived Column transform, per Jamie’s feedback (see the comments on this post).
A common question on the forums has been how to handle flat files that have a varying number of columns. For example, one row contains 3 columns, and another row may contain on two columns. The example below shows a sample file that uses a comma to delimit the columns, and a cursor return / line feed to delimit the row.

SSIS does not handle this scenario easily, due to the way it parses flat files. It parses by looking for the next column delimiter. The row delimiter is just the column delimiter for the last defined column. So, on our second line in the sample file, SSIS is looking for a comma instead of a CR/LF. The result of this is that the third row ends up combined with the second row, and we get something that looks like this:

I’m not going to go into a discussion about whether this is good or bad. This article is about how to work around it. If you’d like to see it changed in future versions of SSIS, please go to Connect ( and vote for it to be changed.
Now, onto the workaround. First, I’ve defined a flat file connection manager that treats each row as one column. I’m using the row delimiter (CR/LF) as the column delimiter.

If you are following along, your flat file should preview like this:
Next, in a data flow, I’ve added a flat file source that uses the connection manager. It is connected to a script component that is set as a Transform. The Line column is checked as an input.

In the Inputs and Outputs area, I’ve added three columns, for the three real columns in my flat file, and set the data types appropriately.

Finally, I added the following script to the task:
Public Class ScriptMain
    Inherits UserComponent
    Private columnDelimiter() As Char = CType(“,”, Char())

    Public Overrides Sub Input0_ProcessInputRow(ByVal Row As
        Dim rowValues As String()

        rowValues = Row.Line.Split(columnDelimiter)
        If rowValues.GetUpperBound(0) < 2 Then
            ‘Row is not complete – Handle error
            Row.Name_IsNull = True
            Row.Number_IsNull = True
            Row.Date_IsNull = True
            Row.Name = rowValues.GetValue(0).ToString()
            Row.Number = Convert.ToInt32(rowValues.GetValue(1))
            Row.Date = Convert.ToDateTime(rowValues.GetValue(2))
        End If
    End Sub

End Class
The columnDelimiter variable holds the value for the column delimiter – a comma in my case. The Split function parses the value contained in Line (the single column defined in the connection manager) and returns an array containing one element for each column in it. Since I’m expecting 3 columns, I’m performing a check to see if the array contains all three columns (.NET uses 0-based array indexes). If columns are missing, I have an error that needs to be handled. In this example, I am simply setting all my column values to NULL. The error handling could be enhanced by redirecting the rows to an error output, but I wanted to keep things simple. With this method, I could use a conditional split to filter out the rows with NULL.
Finally, if the correct number of columns are present, I’m setting the output columns created earlier with the values from the array. Notice that the Convert is necessary to make sure the value is the correct type.
That’s pretty much it. Depending on your needs, you may need to customize the script a bit to better handle error conditions, or reparsing the columns. I’ve attached the sample package and text file below. The sample is using the Trash Destination from Konesans, which you can download from

Sample files here

As always, feedback is appreciated.