The New Halloween Document
The New Halloween Document

How to use the HSSF prototype API

Recent revision history

  • 12.30.2001 - revised for poi 1.0-final - minor revisions
  • 01.03.2001 - revised for poi 1.1-devel


This release of the how-to outlines functionality included in a development build of HSSF. Those looking for information on the release edition should look in the poi-src for the release or at a previous edition in CVS tagged for that release.

This release allows numeric and string cell values to be written to or read from an XLS file. Also in this release is row and column sizing, cell styling (bold, italics, borders,etc), and support for built-in data formats. New to this release is an event-based API for reading XLS files. It differs greatly from the read/write API and is intended for intermediate developers who need a smaller memory footprint. It will also serve as the basis for the HSSF Generator.

Target Audience

This release is intended for developers, java-fanatics and the just generally all around impatient. HSSF has not yet been extensively tested in a high load multi-threaded situation. This release is not considered to be "golden" as it has new features that have not been extensively tested, and is an early 2.0 build that could be restructured significantly in the future (not that there are necessarily plans to do so, just that you're better off basing your code on 1.0 and sticking with it if you don't need 2.0 stuff bad enough to deal with us pulling the rug out from under you regularly).

General Use

User API

Writing a new one

The high level API (package: org.apache.poi.hssf.usermodel) is what most people should use. Usage is very simple.

Workbooks are created by creating an instance of org.apache.poi.hssf.usermodel.HSSFWorkbook.

Sheets are created by calling createSheet() from an existing instance of HSSFWorkbook, the created sheet is automatically added in sequence to the workbook. In this release there will always be at least three sheets generated regardless of whether you have three sheets. More than three sheets is probably not supported. Sheets do not in themselves have a sheet name (the tab at the bottom); you set the name associated with a sheet by calling HSSFWorkbook.setSheetName(sheetindex,"SheetName").

Rows are created by calling createRow(rowNumber) from an existing instance of HSSFSheet. Only rows that have cell values should be added to the sheet. To set the row's height, you just call setRowHeight(height) on the row object. The height must be given in twips, or 1/20th of a point. If you prefer, there is also a setRowHeightInPoints method.

Cells are created by calling createCell(column, type) from an existing HSSFRow. Only cells that have values should be added to the row. Cells should have their cell type set to either HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_NUMERIC or HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_STRING depending on whether they contain a numeric or textual value. Cells must also have a value set. Set the value by calling setCellValue with either a String or double as a parameter. Individual cells do not have a width; you must call setColumnWidth(colindex, width) (use units of 1/256th of a character) on the HSSFSheet object. (You can't do it on an individual basis in the GUI either).

Cells are styled with HSSFCellStyle objects which in turn contain a reference to an HSSFFont object. These are created via the HSSFWorkbook object by calling createCellStyle() and createFont(). Once you create the object you must set its parameters (colors, borders, etc). To set a font for an HSSFCellStyle call setFont(fontobj).

Once you have generated your workbook, you can write it out by calling write(outputStream) from your instance of Workbook, passing it an OutputStream (for instance, a FileOutputStream or ServletOutputStream). You must close the OutputStream yourself. HSSF does not close it for you.

Here is some example code (excerpted and adapted from test class):

        // create a new file
        FileOutputStream out    = new FileOutputStream("/home/me/myfile.xls");
        // create a new workbook
        HSSFWorkbook     wb     = new HSSFWorkbook();
        // create a new sheet
        HSSFSheet        s      = wb.createSheet();
        // declare a row object reference
        HSSFRow          r      = null;
        // declare a cell object reference
        HSSFCell         c      = null;
        // create 3 cell styles
        HSSFCellStyle    cs     = wb.createCellStyle();
        HSSFCellStyle    cs2    = wb.createCellStyle();
        HSSFCellStyle    cs3    = wb.createCellStyle();
        // create 2 fonts objects
        HSSFFont         f      = wb.createFont();
        HSSFFont         f2     = wb.createFont();

        //set font 1 to 12 point type
        //make it red
        // make it bold
        //arial is the default font

        //set font 2 to 10 point type
        //make it the color at palette index 0xf (white)
        //make it bold

        //set cell stlye
        //set the cell format see HSSFDataFromat for a full list

        //set a thin border
        //fill w fg fill color
        // set foreground fill to red

        // set the font

        // set the sheet name to HSSF Test
        wb.setSheetName(0,"HSSF Test");
        // create a sheet with 300 rows (0-299)
        for (rownum = (short)0; rownum < 300; rownum++)
            // create a row
            r = s.createRow(rownum);
            // on every other row
            if ( (rownum % 2) == 0) {
                // make the row height bigger  (in twips - 1/20 of a point)

            //r.setRowNum(( short ) rownum);
            // create 50 cells (0-49) (the += 2 becomes apparent later
            for (short cellnum = (short)0; cellnum < 50; cellnum += 2)
                // create a numeric cell
                c = r.createCell(cellnum,HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_NUMERIC);
                // do some goofy math to demonstrate decimals
                c.setCellValue(rownum * 10000 + cellnum
                               + ((( double ) rownum / 1000)
                                  + (( double ) cellnum / 10000)));

                // on every other row
                if ( (rownum % 2) == 0) {
                    // set this cell to the first cell style we defined

                // create a string cell (see why += 2 in the
                c = r.createCell((short)(cellnum+1),HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_STRING);

                // set the cell's string value to "TEST"
                // make this column a bit wider
                s.setColumnWidth((short)(cellnum+1), (short)((50*8) / ((double)1/20)) );

                // on every other row
                if ( (rownum % 2) == 0) {
                    // set this to the white on red cell style
                    // we defined above


        //draw a thick black border on the row at the bottom using BLANKS
        // advance 2 rows

        r = s.createRow(rownum);

        // define the third style to be the default
        // except with a thick black border at the bottom

        //create 50 cells
        for (short cellnum = (short)0; cellnum < 50; cellnum++) {
            //create a blank type cell (no value)
            c = r.createCell(cellnum,HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_BLANK);
            // set it to the thick black border style

        //end draw thick black border

        // demonstrate adding/naming and deleting a sheet
        // create a sheet, set its title then delete it
        s = wb.createSheet();
        //end deleted sheet

        // write the workbook to the output stream
        // close our file (don't blow out our file handles

Reading or modifying an existing file

Reading in a file is equally simple. To read in a file, create a new instance of org.apache.poi.poifs.Filesystem, passing in an open InputStream, such as a FileInputStream for your XLS, to the constructor. Construct a new instance of org.apache.poi.hssf.usermodel.HSSFWorkbook passing the Filesystem instance to the constructor. From there you have access to all of the high level model objects through their assessor methods (workbook.getSheet(sheetNum), sheet.getRow(rownum), etc).

Modifying the file you have read in is simple. You retrieve the object via an assessor method, remove it via a parent object's remove method (sheet.removeRow(hssfrow)) and create objects just as you would if creating a new xls. When you are done modifying cells just call workbook.write(outputstream) just as you did above.

An example of this can be seen in

Event API

The event API is brand new. It is intended for intermediate developers who are willing to learn a little bit of the low level API structures. Its relatively simple to use, but requires a basic understanding of the parts of an Excel file (or willingness to learn). The advantage provided is that you can read an XLS with a relatively small memory footprint.

To use this API you construct an instance of org.apache.poi.hssf.eventmodel.HSSFRequest. Register a class you create that supports the org.apache.poi.hssf.eventmodel.HSSFListener interface using the HSSFRequest.addListener(yourlistener, recordsid). The recordsid should be a static reference number (such as BOFRecord.sid) contained in the classes in org.apache.poi.hssf.record. The trick is you have to know what these records are. Alternatively you can call HSSFRequest.addListenerForAllRecords(mylistener). In order to learn about these records you can either read all of the javadoc in the org.apache.poi.hssf.record package or you can just hack up a copy of and adapt it to your needs. TODO: better documentation on records.

Once you've registered your listeners in the HSSFRequest object you can construct an instance of org.apache.poi.poifs.filesystem.FileSystem (see POIFS howto) and pass it your XLS file inputstream. You can either pass this, along with the request you constructed, to an instance of HSSFEventFactory via the HSSFEventFactory.processWorkbookEvents(request, Filesystem) method, or you can get an instance of DocumentInputStream from Filesystem.createDocumentInputStream("Workbook") and pass it to HSSFEventFactory.processEvents(request, inputStream). Once you make this call, the listeners that you constructed receive calls to their processRecord(Record) methods with each Record they are registered to listen for until the file has been completely read.

A code excerpt from (which is in CVS or the source distribution) is reprinted below with excessive comments:

//this non-public class implements the required interface
// we construct it with a copy of its container class...this is cheap but effective
class EFHSSFListener implements HSSFListener {
    EFHSSF efhssf;
    public EFHSSFListener(EFHSSF efhssf) {
        this.efhssf = efhssf;

    // we just use this as an adapter so we pass the record to the method in the container class
    public void processRecord(Record record) {

     //here is an excerpt of the main line execution code from EFHSSF
    public void run() throws IOException {
        // create a new file input stream with the input file specified
        // at the command line
        FileInputStream fin = new FileInputStream(infile);
        // create a new org.apache.poi.poifs.filesystem.Filesystem
        Filesystem poifs = new Filesystem(fin);
        // get the Workbook (excel part) stream in a InputStream
        InputStream din  = poifs.createDocumentInputStream("Workbook");
        // construct out HSSFRequest object
        HSSFRequest req = new HSSFRequest();
        // lazy listen for ALL records with the listener shown above
        req.addListenerForAllRecords(new EFHSSFListener(this));
        // create our event factory
        HSSFEventFactory factory = new HSSFEventFactory();
        // process our events based on the document input stream
        // once all the events are processed close our file input stream
        // and our document input stream (don't want to leak these!)
        // create a new output stream from filename specified at the command line
        FileOutputStream fout = new FileOutputStream(outfile);
        // write the HSSFWorkbook (class member) we created out to the file.
        // close our file output stream
        // print done.  Go enjoy your copy of the file.

    //here is an excerpt of the recordHander called from our listener.
    // the record handler in the container class is intent on just rewriting the file
    public void recordHandler(Record record) {
        HSSFRow row = null;
        HSSFCell cell = null;
        int sheetnum = -1;
        switch (record.getSid()) {
            // the BOFRecord can represent either the beginning of a sheet or the workbook
            case BOFRecord.sid:
                BOFRecord bof = (BOFRecord) record;
                if (bof.getType() == bof.TYPE_WORKBOOK) {
                    //if its the workbook then create a new HSSFWorkbook
                    workbook = new HSSFWorkbook();
                // assigned to the class level member
                } else if (bof.getType() == bof.TYPE_WORKSHEET) {
                    // otherwise if its a sheet increment the sheetnum index
                    cursheet = workbook.getSheetAt(sheetnum);
            // get the sheet at that index and assign it to method variable
            // cursheet (the sheet was created when the BoundSheetRecord record occurred
            case BoundSheetRecord.sid:
                // when we find a boundsheet record create a new sheet in the workbook and
                BoundSheetRecord bsr = (BoundSheetRecord) record;
                // assign it the name specified in this record.
            // if this is a row record add the row to the current sheet
            case RowRecord.sid:
                RowRecord rowrec = (RowRecord) record;
                // assign our row the rownumber specified in the Row Record
            // if this is a NumberRecord (RKRecord, MulRKRecord get converted to Number
            // records) then get the row specified in the number record from the current
            // sheet.  With this instance of HSSFRow create a new HSSFCell with the column
            // number specified in the record and assign it type NUMERIC
            case NumberRecord.sid:
                NumberRecord numrec = (NumberRecord) record;
                row = cursheet.getRow(numrec.getRow());
                cell = row.createCell(numrec.getColumn(),HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_NUMERIC);
                // set the HSSFCell's value to the value stored in the NumberRecord
            // if this is the SSTRecord (occurs once in the workbook) then add all of its
            // strings to our workbook.  We'll look them up later when we add LABELSST records.
            case SSTRecord.sid:
                SSTRecord sstrec = (SSTRecord) record;
                for (int k = 0; k < sstrec.getNumUniqueStrings(); k++) {
            // if this is a LabelSSTRecord then get the row specified in the LabelSSTRecord from
            // the current sheet.  With this instance of HSSFRow create a new HSSFCell with the
            // column nubmer specified in the record and set the type to type STRING.
            case LabelSSTRecord.sid:
                LabelSSTRecord lrec = (LabelSSTRecord) record;
                row = cursheet.getRow(lrec.getRow());
                cell = row.createCell(lrec.getColumn(),HSSFCell.CELL_TYPE_STRING);
                //set the cells value to the string in our workbook object (added in the case
                //above) at the index specified by the LabelSSTRecord.

Low Level APIs

The low level API is not much to look at. It consists of lots of "Records" in the org.apache.poi.hssf.record.* package, and set of helper classes in org.apache.poi.hssf.model.*. The record classes are consistent with the low level binary structures inside a BIFF8 file (which is embedded in a POIFS file system). You probably need the book: "Microsoft Excel 97 Developer's Kit" from Microsoft Press in order to understand how these fit together (out of print but easily obtainable from Amazon's used books). In order to gain a good understanding of how to use the low level APIs should view the source in org.apache.poi.hssf.usermodel.* and the classes in org.apache.poi.hssf.model.*. You should read the documentation for the POIFS libraries as well.

HSSF Class/Test Application

The HSSF application is nothing more than a test for the high level API (and indirectly the low level support). The main body of its code is repeated above. To run it:

  • download the poi-alpha build and untar it (tar xvzf tarball.tar.gz)
  • set up your classpath as follows: export HSSFDIR={wherever you put HSSF's jar files} export LOG4JDIR={wherever you put LOG4J's jar files} export CLASSPATH=$CLASSPATH:$HSSFDIR/hssf.jar:$HSSFDIR/poi-poifs.jar:$HSSFDIR/poi-util.jar:$LOG4JDIR/jog4j.jar
  • type: java ~/myxls.xls write

This should generate a test sheet in your home directory called "myxls.xls".

  • Type: java ~/input.xls output.xls This is the read/write/modify test. It reads in the spreadsheet, modifies a cell, and writes it back out. Failing this test is not necessarily a bad thing. If HSSF tries to modify a non-existant sheet then this will most likely fail. No big deal.

HSSF Logging facility

HSSF now has a logging facility (using log4j - thanks jakarta!) that will record massive amounts of debugging information. Its mostly useful to us hssf-developing geeks, but might be useful in tracking down problems. By default we turn this off because it results in unnecessary performance degradation when fully turned on! Using it is simple. You need an file (example listed below, those familiar with log4j can customize this as they wish). You can either put this in your home directory (or wherever the default directory is on windows which I suspect is c:\windows) or you can put it wherever you want and set the HSSF.log to the path ending in "/" (or "\\" on windows). If for any reason HSSF can't find it, you get no logging. If the log configuration dictates the logging be turned off, you get no logging.

Here is an example (actually its not an example its mine):

# Set root category priority to DEBUG and its only appender to A1.
log4j.rootCategory=DEBUG, A1
# A1 is set to be a ConsoleAppender. 
# A1 uses PatternLayout.
log4j.appender.A1.layout.ConversionPattern=%-4r [%t] %-5p %c %x - %m%n
#uncomment below to change the level to WARN to disable debugging information.  This effectively turns off logging.
#the default level is DEBUG (and changing it to DEBUG is the basically the same thing as leaving it commented out).

HSSF Developer's tools

HSSF has a number of tools useful for developers to debug/develop stuff using HSSF (and more generally XLS files). We've already discussed the app for testing HSSF read/write/modify capabilities; now we'll talk a bit about BiffViewer. Early on in the development of HSSF, it was decided that knowing what was in a record, what was wrong with it, etc. was virtually impossible with the available tools. So we developed BiffViewer. You can find it at It performs two basic functions and a derivative.

The first is "biffview". To do this you run it (assumes you have everything setup in your classpath and that you know what you're doing enough to be thinking about this) with an xls file as a parameter. It will give you a listing of all understood records with their data and a list of not-yet-understood records with no data (because it doesn't know how to interpret them). This listing is useful for several things. First, you can look at the values and SEE what is wrong in quasi-English. Second, you can send the output to a file and compare it.

The second function is "big freakin dump", just pass a file and a second argument matching "bfd" exactly. This will just make a big hexdump of the file.

Lastly, there is "mixed" mode which does the same as regular biffview, only it includes hex dumps of certain records intertwined. To use that just pass a file with a second argument matching "on" exactly.

In the next release cycle we'll also have something called a FormulaViewer. The class is already there, but its not very useful yet. When it does something, I'll document it.

What's Next?

This release contains code that supports "internationalization" or more accurately non-US/UK languages; however, it has not been tested with the new API changes (please help us with this). We've shifted focus a bit for this release in recognition of the international support we've gotten. We're going to focus on western European languages for our first beta. We're more than happy to accept help in supporting non-Western European languages if someone who knows what they're doing in this area is willing to pitch in! (There is next to no documentation on what is necessary to support such a move and its really hard to support a language when you don't even know the alphabet).

This release of HSSF does not yet support Formulas. I've been focusing on the requests I've gotten in. That being said, if we get more user feedback on what is most useful first we'll aim for that. As a general principal, HSSF's goal is to support HSSF-Serializer (meaning an emphasis on write). We would like to hear from you! How are you using HSSF/POIFS? How would you like to use it? What features are most important first?

This release is near feature freeze for the 1.0-beta. All priorities refer to things we'll be adding in the next release (probably 2.0). The 1.0-beta is scheduled for release in the mid to late December timeframe. While it's way to early to say when the 2.0-beta will be released, my "gut" feeling is to aim for around March and have at least the first three items.

Current list of priorities:

  1. Helper class for fonts, etc.
  2. Add Formulas.
  3. Implement more record types (for other things ... not sure what this will mean yet).
  4. Add more dummy checks (for when API user's do things they "can't" do)
  5. Add support for embedded graphics and stuff like that.
  6. Create new adapter object for handling MulBlank, MulRk, Rk records.



  1. Created new event model
  2. Optimizations made to HSSF including aggregate records for values, rows, etc.
  3. predictive sizing, offset based writing (instead of lots of array copies)
  4. minor re-factoring and bug fixes.


  1. Minor documentation updates.


    1. Added DataFormat helper class and exposed set and get format on HSSFCellStyle
    2. Fixed column width apis (unit wise) and various javadoc on the subject
    3. Fix for Dimensions record (again)... (one of these days I'll write a unit test for this ;-p).
    4. Some optimization on sheet creation.




  1. Added MulBlank, Blank, ColInfo
  2. Added log4j facility and removed all sys.out type logging
  3. Added support for adding font's, styles and corresponding high level api for styling cells
  4. added support for changing row height, cell width and default row height/cell width.
  5. Added fixes for internationalization (UTF-16 should work now from HSSFCell.setStringValue, etc when the encoding is set)
  6. added support for adding/removing and naming sheets.


  1. Bugfix release. We were throwing an exception when reading RKRecord objects.


  1. Got continuation records to work (read/write)
  2. Added various pre-support for formulas
  3. Massive API reorganization, repackaging.
  4. BiffViewer class added for validating HSSF & POI and/or HSSF Output.
  5. Better API support for modification.

0.7 (and interim releases)

  1. Added encoding flag to high and low level api to use utf-16 when needed (HSSFCell.setEncoding())
  2. added read only support for Label records (which are reinterpreted as LabelSST when written)
  3. Broken continuation record implementation (oops)
  4. BiffViewer class added for validating HSSF & POI and/or HSSF Output.

0.6 (release)

  1. Support for read/write and modify.
  2. Read only support for MulRK records (converted to Number when writing)

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