FasterCSV, Ruby 1.8, and Character Encodings

December 7, 2010 Evan Farrar

We had a bit of a head scratcher this week at the New York City office while working on Red Rover, a social directory for engaging students with their colleges and employees with their employer. We were trying to allow a CSV to be uploaded to the application, when it mysteriously failed to parse the CSV. We narrowed it down to being caused by a certain row with strangely encoded international characters (but not every row with them was a problem):

Fuentes,Jesús,”Cribbage, Chess, and Bridge Club”,Treasurer

But another row with the same character with the same encoding would import fine:

Johnson,Lúisa,Dodgeball Club,President

It turned out that this was due a problem with how Ruby finds character boundaries in 1.8. If that miscalculated character boundary happens to be where a quote mark begins in your CSV file, FasterCSV will hurl:

1.8.7> 'Jesús,"'.split(//)
=> ["J","e","s","349s,""]
1.9   > 'Jesús,"'.split(//)
=> ["J","e","s","ú","s",",","""]

This is not a problem in Ruby 1.9 with FasterCSV or in the old fashioned CSV class included with Ruby’s standard library in 1.8.6. Hopefully I can help others who have got this error staring them in the face despite having a perfectly valid CSV in every regard:

FasterCSV::MalformedCSVError: FasterCSV::MalformedCSVError
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1623:in `shift'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1614:in `each'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1614:in `shift'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1581:in `loop'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1581:in `shift'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1526:in `each'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1537:in `to_a'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1537:in `read'
    from /opt/ruby-enterprise-1.8.7-2010.01/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/fastercsv-1.5.3/lib/faster_csv.rb:1229:in `parse'

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