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DR-NTU (Data) User Guides and Policies

Supported File Formats

Tabular Data ingest supports the following file formats: (see the sections below for more information on each of the supported formats)

File format Versions supported
SPSS (POR and SAV formats) 7 to 22 
STATA 4 to 13
R up to 3
Excel XLSX only (XLS is NOT supported) 
CSV (comma-separated values) (limited support) 

Tabular Data, Representation, Storage and Ingest

This section explains the basics of how tabular data is handled in the application and what happens during the ingest process, as the files uploaded by the user are processed and converted into the archival format in the Dataverse application.

 

What Happens During this “Ingest”?
The goal of our ingest process is to extract the data content from the user’s files and archive it in an application-neutral, easily-readable format. What does this mean? - Commercial applications such as SPSS and Stata use their own, proprietary formats to encode their files. Some companies publish the specifications of their formats (Thank you Stata - much appreciated!), some don’t (SPSS - yes, we are still frowning at you here at the Dataverse Project). Either way, reading these specially-formatted files requires some extra knowledge or special software. For these reasons they are not considered ideal for the purposes of archival preservation. Dataverse stores the raw data content extracted from such files in plain text, TAB-delimited files. The metadata information that describes this content is stored separately, in a relational database, so that it can be accessed efficiently by the application. For the purposes of archival preservation it can be exported, in plain text XML files, using a standardized, open DDI Codebook format. (more info below) 

 

Tabular Data and Metadata
Data vs. Metadata

A simple example is a numeric data column in a user’s Stata file that contains 0s and 1s. These numeric values will be extracted and stored in a TAB-delimited file. By themselves, if you don’t know what these values represent, these 1s and 0s are not meaningful data. So the Stata file has some additional information that describes this data vector: it represents the observation values of a variable with the name “party”, with a descriptive label “Party Affiliation”; and the 2 numeric values have categorical labels of “Democrat” for 0 and “Republican” for 1. This extra information that adds value to the data is metadata.
 

Tabular Metadata in Dataverse
​The structure of the metadata defining tabular data variables used in Dataverse was originally based on the DDI Codebook format. 

SPSS

SPSS data files (POR and SAV formats).
 

Supported Versions
Dataverse supports reading of all SPSS versions 7 to 22. But please see the “Limitations” section.

 

Limitations
SPSS does not openly publish the specifications of their proprietary file formats. Our ability to read and parse their files is based on some documentation online from unofficial sources, and some reverse engineering. Because of that we cannot, unfortunately, guarantee to be able to process any SPSS file uploaded.

However, we’ve been improving this process for a few years by now, and it should be quite robust in the current version of Dataverse. Thus your chances of success - uploading an SPSS files and having it turned into a fully functional tabular data table in the Dataverse - should be reasonably good.

If you are having a problem with a particular SPSS file, please contact our support and we’ll see if it’s something we could further improve in our SPSS ingest driver.

 

SPSS Control Cards - not supported
In the past, there have been attempts to support SPSS “control cards”, in addition to the .SAV and .POR files; both in the early VDC software, and in some versions of DVN. A “control card” is a plain text file with a set of SPSS commands that describe the raw data, provided in a separate, fixed-width-columns or comma-separated-values file. For various reasons, it has never been very successful. We weren’t seeing too much demand for this ingest feature, so it was dropped from Dataverse 4.0.

Please contact us if you have any questions and/or strong feelings on this issue, or if you have serious amounts of data exclusively available in this format that you would like to ingest under Dataverse.

 

Support for Language Encodings in SPSS
Historically, there was no support for specifying a particular language/code page encoding for the data stored in an SPSS file. Meaning, text values in none-ASCII encodings, or non-Latin characters could be entered and stored, but there was no setting to unambiguously specify what language, or what character set it was. By default, Dataverse will try to interpret binary characters as UTF8. If that’s not working - for example, if the descriptive labels and/or categorical values ingest as garbage - and if you know happen to know what encoding was used in the original file, you can now specify it in the Ingest Options.

For example, if you know that the text in your SAV file is in Mandarin, and is encoded using the GB2312, specify it as follows:

Upload your file, in the “Edit Files” tab of the Dataset page. Once the file is recognized as SPSS/save, and before you click Save, go into the “Advanced Ingest Options”, and select “Simplified Chinese, GB2312” in the nested menu under “Language Encoding” -> “East Asian”. 

Stata

Of all the third party statistical software providers, Stata does the best job at documenting the internal format of their files, by far. And at making that documentation freely and easily available to developers (yes, we are looking at you, SPSS). Because of that, Stata is the best supported format for tabular data ingest.

New in Dataverse 4.0: support for Stata v.13 has been added.

R Data Format

Support for R (.RData) files has been introduced in DVN 3.5.

 

Overview.
R has been increasingly popular in the research/academic community, owing to the fact that it is free and open-source (unlike SPSS and STATA). Consequently, there is an increasing amount of data available exclusively in R format.

 

Data Formatting Requirements.
The data must be formatted as an R dataframe (data.frame()). If an .RData file contains multiple dataframes, only the 1st one will be ingested (this may change in the future).

 

Data Types, compared to other supported formats (Stat, SPSS)
Integers, Doubles, Character strings

The handling of these types is intuitive and straightforward. The resulting tab file columns, summary statistics and UNF signatures should be identical to those produced by ingesting the same vectors from SPSS and Stata.

Things that are unique to R:
R explicitly supports Missing Values for all of the types above; Missing Values encoded in R vectors will be recognized and preserved in TAB files, counted in the generated summary statistics and data analysis. Please note however that the Dataverse notation for a missing value, as stored in a TAB file, is an empty string, an not “NA” as in R.

In addition to Missing Values, R recognizes “Not a Value” (NaN) and positive and negative infinity for floating point variables. These are now properly supported by the DVN.

Also note, that unlike Stata, that does recognize “float” and “double” as distinct data types, all floating point values in R are in fact doubles. 

 

R Factors
These are ingested as “Categorical Values” in the DVN.

One thing to keep in mind: in both Stata and SPSS, the actual value of a categorical variable can be both character and numeric. In R, all factor values are strings, even if they are string representations of numbers. So the values of the resulting categoricals in the DVN will always be of string type too.

Another thing to note is that R factors have no builtin support for SPSS or STATA-like descriptive labels. This is in fact potentially confusing, as they also use the word “label”, in R parlance. However, in the context of a factor in R, it still refers to the “payload”, or the data content of its value. For example, if you create a factor with the “labels” of democrat, republican and undecided, these strings become the actual values of the resulting vector. Once ingested in the Dataverse, these values will be stored in the tab-delimited file. The Dataverse DataVariable object representing the vector will be of type “Character” and have 3 VariableCategory objects with the democrat, etc. for both the CategoryValue and CategoryLabel. (In one of the future releases, we are planning to make it possible for the user to edit the CategoryLabel, using it for its intended purpose - as a descriptive, human-readable text text note).

To properly handle R vectors that are ordered factors Dataverse (starting with DVN 3.6) supports the concept of an “Ordered Categorical” - a categorical value where an explicit order is assigned to the list of value labels.

 

Boolean values
R Boolean (logical) values are supported.

 

Limitations of R, as compared to SPSS and STATA
Most noticeably, R lacks a standard mechanism for defining descriptive labels for the data frame variables. In the DVN, similarly to both Stata and SPSS, variables have distinct names and labels; with the latter reserved for longer, descriptive text. With variables ingested from R data frames the variable name will be used for both the “name” and the “label”.

Optional R packages exist for providing descriptive variable labels; in one of the future versions support may be added for such a mechanism. It would of course work only for R files that were created with such optional packages.

Similarly, R categorical values (factors) lack descriptive labels too. Note: This is potentially confusing, since R factors do actually have “labels”. This is a matter of terminology - an R factor’s label is in fact the same thing as the “value” of a categorical variable in SPSS or Stata and DVN; it contains the actual meaningful data for the given observation. It is NOT a field reserved for explanatory, human-readable text, such as the case with the SPSS/Stata “label”.

Ingesting an R factor with the level labels “MALE” and “FEMALE” will produce a categorical variable with “MALE” and “FEMALE” in the values and labels both. 

 

Time values in R
This warrants a dedicated section of its own, because of some unique ways in which time values are handled in R.

R makes an effort to treat a time value as a real time instance. This is in contrast with either SPSS or Stata, where time value representations such as “Sep-23-2013 14:57:21” are allowed; note that in the absence of an explicitly defined time zone, this value cannot be mapped to an exact point in real time. R handles times in the “Unix-style” way: the value is converted to the “seconds-since-the-Epoch” Greenwich time (GMT or UTC) and the resulting numeric value is stored in the data file; time zone adjustments are made in real time as needed.

Things still get ambiguous and confusing when R displays this time value: unless the time zone was explicitly defined, R will adjust the value to the current time zone. The resulting behavior is often counter-intuitive: if you create a time value, for example:

timevalue<-as.POSIXct("03/19/2013 12:57:00", format = "%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%OS");

on a computer configured for the San Francisco time zone, the value will be differently displayed on computers in different time zones; for example, as “12:57 PST” while still on the West Coast, but as “15:57 EST” in Boston.

If it is important that the values are always displayed the same way, regardless of the current time zones, it is recommended that the time zone is explicitly defined. For example:

attr(timevalue,"tzone")<-"PST"

or

timevalue<-as.POSIXct("03/19/2013 12:57:00", format = "%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%OS", tz="PST");

Now the value will always be displayed as “15:57 PST”, regardless of the time zone that is current for the OS ... BUT ONLY if the OS where R is installed actually understands the time zone “PST”, which is not by any means guaranteed! Otherwise, it will quietly adjust the stored GMT value to the current time zone, yet it will still display it with the “PST” tag attached!** One way to rephrase this is that R does a fairly decent job storing time values in a non-ambiguous, platform-independent manner - but gives you no guarantee that the values will be displayed in any way that is predictable or intuitive.

In practical terms, it is recommended to use the long/descriptive forms of time zones, as they are more likely to be properly recognized on most computers. For example, “Japan” instead of “JST”. Another possible solution is to explicitly use GMT or UTC (since it is very likely to be properly recognized on any system), or the “UTC+<OFFSET>” notation. Still, none of the above guarantees proper, non-ambiguous handling of time values in R data sets. The fact that R quietly modifies time values when it doesn’t recognize the supplied timezone attribute, yet still appends it to the changed time value does make it quite difficult. (These issues are discussed in depth on R-related forums, and no attempt is made to summarize it all in any depth here; this is just to made you aware of this being a potentially complex issue!)

An important thing to keep in mind, in connection with the DVN ingest of R files, is that it will reject an R data file with any time values that have time zones that we can’t recognize. This is done in order to avoid (some) of the potential issues outlined above.

It is also recommended that any vectors containing time values ingested into the DVN are reviewed, and the resulting entries in the TAB files are compared against the original values in the R data frame, to make sure they have been ingested as expected.

Another potential issue here is the UNF. The way the UNF algorithm works, the same date/time values with and without the timezone (e.g. “12:45” vs. “12:45 EST”) produce different UNFs. Considering that time values in Stata/SPSS do not have time zones, but ALL time values in R do (yes, they all do - if the timezone wasn’t defined explicitly, it implicitly becomes a time value in the “UTC” zone!), this means that it is impossible to have 2 time value vectors, in Stata/SPSS and R, that produce the same UNF.

A pro tip: if it is important to produce SPSS/Stata and R versions of the same data set that result in the same UNF when ingested, you may define the time variables as strings in the R data frame, and use the “YYYY-MM-DD HH:mm:ss” formatting notation. This is the formatting used by the UNF algorithm to normalize time values, so doing the above will result in the same UNF as the vector of the same time values in Stata.

Note: date values (dates only, without time) should be handled the exact same way as those in SPSS and Stata, and should produce the same UNFs.

Excel

Excel files (New in Dataverse 4.0!)

Note: only the “new”, XLSX Excel files are supported. We are not planning to add support for the old-style, binary XLS files.

CSV/TSV

Ingest of Comma-Separated Values and Tab-Separated Values files as tabular data
​Dataverse will make an attempt to turn CSV and TSV files uploaded by the user into tabular data, using the Apache CSV parser.

 

Main formatting requirements
The first row in the document will be treated as the CSV’s header, containing variable names for each column.

Each following row must contain the same number of comma-separated values (“cells”) as that header.

As of the Dataverse 4.8 release, we allow ingest of CSV files with commas and line breaks within cells. A string with any number of commas and line breaks enclosed within double quotes is recognized as a single cell. Double quotes can be encoded as two double quotes in a row ("").

For example, the following lines:

a,b,"c,d
efgh""ijk""l",m,n

are recognized as a single row with 5 comma-separated values (cells):

a
b
c,d\nefgh"ijk"l
m
n

(where \n is a new line character)
 

Limitations
Compared to other formats, relatively little information about the data (“variable-level metadata”) can be extracted from a CSV file. Aside from the variable names supplied in the top line, the ingest will make an educated guess about the data type of each comma-separated column. One of the supported rich file formats (Stata, SPSS and R) should be used if you need to provide more descriptive variable-level metadata (variable labels, categorical values and labels, explicitly defined data types, etc.).

 

Recognized data types and formatting

The application will attempt to recognize numeric, string, and date/time values in the individual columns.

For dates, the yyyy-MM-dd format is recognized.

For date-time values, the following 2 formats are recognized:

yyyy-MM-dd HH:mm:ss

yyyy-MM-dd HH:mm:ss z (same format as the above, with the time zone specified)

For numeric variables, the following special values are recognized:

inf, +inf - as a special IEEE 754 “positive infinity” value;

NaN - as a special IEEE 754 “not a number” value;

An empty value (i.e., a comma followed immediately by another comma, or the line end), or NA - as a missing value.

null - as a numeric zero.

(any combinations of lower and upper cases are allowed in the notations above).

In character strings, an empty value (a comma followed by another comma, or the line end) is treated as an empty string (NOT as a missing value).

Any non-Latin characters are allowed in character string values, as long as the encoding is UTF8.

Note: When the ingest recognizes a CSV or TSV column as a numeric vector, or as a date/time value, this information is reflected and saved in the database as the data variable metadata. To inspect that metadata, click on the Download button next to a tabular data file, and select Variable Metadata. This will export the variable records in the DDI XML format. (Alternatively, this metadata fragment can be downloaded via the Data Access API; for example: http://localhost:8080/api/access/datafile/<FILEID>/metadata/ddi).

The most immediate implication is in the calculation of the UNF signatures for the data vectors, as different normalization rules are applied to numeric, character, and date/time values. (see the Universal Numerical Fingerprint (UNF) section for more information). If it is important to you that the UNF checksums of your data are accurately calculated, check that the numeric and date/time columns in your file were recognized as such (as type=numeric and type=character, category=date(time), respectively). If, for example, a column that was supposed to be numeric is recognized as a vector of character values (strings), double-check that the formatting of the values is consistent. Remember, a single improperly-formatted value in the column will turn it into a vector of character strings, and result in a different UNF. Fix any formatting errors you find, delete the file from the dataset, and try to ingest it again.