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SAS Tutorials: Importing Excel Files into SAS

This tutorial shows how to import Excel files into SAS, depending on your version of SAS. If you are using 32-bit SAS, you can use the Import Wizard/PROC IMPORT; if you are using 64-bit SAS, you will need to use LIBNAME PCFILES.

Importing Data

Most of the time when you start a new project, your data will not be saved in a SAS dataset file format (*.sas7bdat). Your data might be in the form of a spreadsheet in Excel, an SPSS dataset, or a text file. The most common and new-user friendly method for reading a non-SAS dataset into SAS is by using the Import Wizard.

Update 2017 June: The first version of this tutorial was written for the 32-bit version of SAS 9.3. The steps used for that version of SAS do not work in 64-bit SAS. We have updated the tutorial to include directions for both versions of SAS.

If you are using SAS 9.3, 32-bit:

If you are using SAS 9.3 or 9.4 64-bit:

You can check what version of SAS you have by examining the Log window when you first launch SAS.

Importing Excel Files into SAS 9.3 (32-bit) Using the Import Wizard

To start the Import Wizard, click File > Import Data. Let’s import our sample data, which is located in an Excel spreadsheet, as an illustration of how the Import Wizard works.

To open the Import Wizard, click File > Import Data.

A new window will pop up, called "Import Wizard – Select import type".

This first screen will ask you to choose the type of data you wish to import. Click Standard data source and then choose the program that is the source of your data from the drop down menu. (The second option, specifying a file format, is not covered in this tutorial.)

In our case, the dataset we want to import is an Excel file, so select Microsoft Excel Workbook. As you can see, SAS provides you with a large variety of data types to import. Once you’ve chosen the data source, click Next.

Now you need to tell SAS where to find the file you want to import. You can either type the file directory into the text box, or click Browse and choose the file to import.

Once you’ve added the file path to the text box, click OK. SAS then asks you what sheet from the file you want to import. In this example we will choose Sheet 1 since our data appears on Sheet 1 in the Excel file. Then click Options. Be sure and select the options that are correct for your dataset. The default is for all options to be checked, and that works for our purposes. Click Next.

This next step tells SAS where you want to store the newly imported dataset. The first drop-down menu is a list of available libraries that you can choose to store your newly imported SAS dataset in. If you want it to be temporarily stored for now, choose WORK. If you’ve already created a library with a LIBNAME statement, you can choose one of those instead.

The next dropdown menu, under Member, requires you to name the dataset. You can type in a dataset name here, or choose a dataset from the list. NOTE: Choosing an existing dataset from the list will over-write that data; the existing file in the library will be replaced with the file you are importing. Then, click Next.

The last step allows you to save the statements that SAS generates while executing the Import Wizard into an Editor file. This is recommended. This way you have the import steps saved, and you can go back and re-run it or modify it later if you need to. You can type the file directory directly into the text box, or click on Browse to locate a folder to save the program in. Don’t forget to name it. The last step is to click Finish.

How do I know if it worked?

Clicking on the finish button was probably anticlimactic, because nothing seems to happen. No data appears for you to see and enjoy; no Editor file appears for you to manipulate and play with. But let’s look a little closer. Remember the earlier tip to look at your Log window after you execute any statements in SAS. Running the Import Wizard executes statements in SAS – it’s just behind the scenes a bit because the Wizard writes the statements for you – so then the Log window is the first place you should look. If you look in the Log window you’ll see there was some action:

The Log window provides this Note statement that tells you your dataset was successfully created. If there had been a problem with the import, a Warning or Error would have appeared instead.

You will also probably want to look at your data to make sure everything looks right. You can view any of your SAS datasets by finding them in the Explorer window. In the Explorer window, double-click on Libraries to display the Libraries that are available in this session. In this case, the imported dataset is in the temporary Work library, so double-click on Work. Locate the dataset icon and double-click on it. This will open your data to view in SAS.

Finally, we might want to take a look at the statements generated from the Import Wizard. The Import Wizard saved an Editor file, but it did not open it or append it to an already open Editor file. Make sure the Editor window is active, and then click File > Open Program or click the Open icon in the toolbar. Locate the directory that you told the Import Wizard to save your Editor file to, highlight the file and click Open. It should look like something similar to below.

		DATAFILE="C:/mydata/Sample Data.xlsx"

It starts with a PROC IMPORT statement, which triggers the data import action. Note the first semicolon is not until the third line. This is because the syntax includes quite a few options associated with the PROC IMPORT statement:

  • The OUT option tells SAS where to put the new SAS dataset it is creating – in this case we told it to put the new SAS dataset “sample” in the Work library.
  • The DATAFILE option points to the file directory of the dataset you are importing.
  • The DBMS option tells SAS the type of data it is importing. Specifically, it tells SAS what engine to use to read the data (in this case, the EXCEL engine).
    • The optional REPLACE statement says that if there is an existing dataset in SAS's memory with this name, it should be overwritten.

The rest of the lines are statements with further information for SAS – you might recognize these from the list produced after clicking on the Options button in the Import Wizard.

  • RANGE="Sheet1$" statement tells SAS what sheet to read; in this case, a sheet named "Sheet1". The dollar sign after the sheet name tells SAS to read the entire sheet. This statement is optional; if omitted, SAS will simply read the entirety of the first sheet in the workbook.
  • GETNAMES=YES instructs SAS to use the first row of the file as variable names.
  • MIXED controls how SAS "guesses" the appropriate informat for a variable. By default, SAS looks at the first 8 rows of a column, and makes an "educated guess" about what informat is appropriate for the data it encounters. This works well if the values are homogenous, but can fail if the values have been recorded inconsistently. MIXED=YES tells SAS that if multiple formats are detected in a column, that column should instead be read in as a string variable. (This ensures that the original information is not lost during the import process.) (Source: Usage Note 13526: Clarification of MIXED=YES in SAS 9.x SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files)
  • SCANTEXT applies to columns containing text. If SCANTEXT=YES, then SAS will scan the column for the longest string, and uses its length as the column width.
  • USEDATE=YES tells SAS to honor any date format settings in the Excel file. That is, if you've added a date format to a column or variable in Excel, SAS will read in that variable using a date format. (If using USEDATE=NO, SAS will read it in as a string variable.)
  • SCANTIME=YES tells SAS to scan the variables for time-specific formats.

It's important to note that these options are all specific to the DBMS=EXCEL engine that is being used. PROC IMPORT can read in other file types, and the options may be different for those file types.

If you are using a 32-bit version of SAS, use DBMS=EXCEL in the PROC IMPORT statement. If you are using a 64-bit version of SAS, use DBMS=xls or DBMS=xlsx (whichever is appropriate for the file you're importing). You can determine if you have the 32-bit or 64-bit version of SAS by examining the contents of the Log window when you first open SAS. However, be sure to run PROC CONTENTS to verify that your variables were properly imported - especially long string variables, date variables, and time variables. If any of your variables were misread, you may need to use an alternative method to read the data.

Importing Excel Files into SAS 9.3 or 9.4 (64-bit) using LIBNAME PCFILES

If you've tried to use the Import Wizard to import an Excel file into SAS and have seen the following error message in the Log window:

ERROR: Connect: Class not registered
ERROR: Error in the LIBNAME statement.
Connection Failed.  See log for details.

This error can be especially confusing if you have previously executed PROC IMPORT without issue! The most likely reason you may see this error is because you have a 64-bit version of SAS 9.3 or SAS 9.4 installed. The 64-bit version of SAS uses a different engine to read Excel files than 32-bit SAS.

If this is happening, then you most likely will not be able to use the Import Wizard to import Excel files into SAS; you'll have to use an alternative method. One option is to modify the PROC IMPORT code above to use DBMS=XLSX. However, for many datasets (including the sample dataset), DBMS=XLSX will read the data, but will potentially make several irreversible errors when reading the string and datetime variables:

  • At least one variable representing a duration in a time-specific format (hh:mm:ss) will be misread using the MONTH2. informat
  • Some string variables may be truncated, since their width exceeds the default length for string variables
  • The sheet name contains a space

Instead, the most reliable way to read Excel files into 64-bit SAS is to use LIBNAME PCFILES. The approach is slightly different than using PROC IMPORT, but is no more difficult to use. The general syntax for LIBNAME PCFILES is:

/*Step 1: Read in the Excel workbook.*/
LIBNAME myexcel PCFILES PATH="C:/Statistics/Sample Dataset 2014.xlsx" SCANTIME=YES STRINGDATES=NO DBMAX_TEXT=2000;

/*Step 2: Copy the data from the desired spreadsheet into a data set in the WORK library.*/
DATA work.sample;
   SET myexcel.'Sample Dataset 2014$'n;

In the first line, the LIBNAME statement reads the Excel file into a SAS library called myexcel, and uses several options to ensure that date, time, and string columns are read properly:

  • DBMAX_TEXT=2000 says that the maximum length for string variables is 2000 characters. (By default, this argument is set to 1024, but it can accept any value between 1 and 32767 inclusive.)
  • SCANTIME=YES tells SAS to check for time-specific formats in the Excel file, and if they are found, to use a time informat to read the variable.
  • STRINGDATES=NO tells SAS to not read in date-format variables as strings. That is, if you have set a variable to have a date format in the Excel file, it will be imported into SAS using a date informat.

If you have Chinese, Korean, or Japanese characters in your datafile, you'll want to add UNICODE=YES to your LIBNAME PCFILES statement. If you notice that some characters in your string variables are being corrupted, try adding UNICODE=YES to your LIBNAME PCFILES statement.

At this point, the entire workbook is in a SAS library, but we need to get the data out of a specific sheet before we can use it. In the subsequent data step block, we create a dataset called "sample" in the work library, which is cloned from the sheet named "Sample Dataset 2014" in our Excel file. Note that in the SET statement, the n before the semicolon is not a typo. The n is included because the sheet name contains a space. If your sheet's name does not contain any spaces -- e.g., a name like "Sheet1" -- you can omit the n before the semicolon.

SET syntax when Excel sheet name does not contain a space

SET myexcel.'Sheet1$';

SET syntax when Excel sheet name contains a space

SET myexcel.'Sheet 1$'n;

Why use the PCFILES engine? Isn't there an XLSX engine? There is a LIBNAME XLSX engine, but it has an extremely limited number of options for reading data. In particular, it does not give the user any control over what informats to use for each variable. This is especially problematic for variables containing dates, times, or strings. Conversely, the PCFILES LIBNAME engine is much more flexible: it can read *.xlsx, *.xls, *.xlsb, or *.xlsm files, and it fully supports LIBNAME options for PC files (such as DBMAX_TEXT and SCANTIME.)


Other Ways to Import Data

Using the Import Wizard is an easy and straightforward way to import existing data with well-behaved formatting into SAS. There are other methods for importing data into SAS, or even entering raw observations into SAS itself to create a new dataset. These methods of importing or creating data can give you greater control over how to read variables (the informats), how to write the variables (the formats), how to parse the data (delimited, aligned, repetition, etc.), and more.

Creating a dataset using the Viewtable Window

Data can be manually entered in the Viewtable Window, spreadsheet-style.

Creating a dataset within a data step using instream data

If you have a very small dataset, you can use the CARDS or DATALINES statements within a data step to read manually entered observations. Data entry in this format is text-based, so you will most likely use some kind of delimiter.

Importing data within a data step

The INFILE statement in a data step can be used as an alternative to the Import Wizard for importing existing data from file. It is especially useful if the formatting of the data in the file is non-standard: for example, if you have more than one subject's observations per line.

This tutorial does not cover these methods, but you can find more information about these techniques in these tutorials: