This problem is so convoluted that maybe I should call it a puzzle...

On the Unix shell command line, I can convert TSV (tab-separated-values) input to org-mode table format with this perl one-liner:

perl -lpe 's/(?:^|$|\t)/|/g'

So, for example, I can write something like

<<<pipeline producing TSV rows>>> | perl -lpe 's/(?:^|$|\t)/|/g' > mytable.org

The contents of mytable.org would be a valid org-mode table, but it would not be nicely formatted.

For example, if <<<pipeline producing TSV rows>>> produced the following

234567  HIJKLMNO
890123  P

...the contents of mytable.org would be


To format it nicely, I could

  1. open mytable.org with Emacs;
  2. set the major mode to org-mode (if it doesn't happen by default);
  3. hit C-c C-c, aka org-ctrl-c-ctrl-c-hook, which has the effect of reformatting the table so that the delimiters line up; and
  4. save the file;

...after which the contents of mytable.org would look like this

|      1 | ABCDEFG  |
| 234567 | HIJKLMNO |
| 890123 | P        |

My question is, how can I perform this reformating operation from the command line, without having to start an interactive Emacs session?

More specifically, is there a way to implement a pipeline component, that uses Emacs, and that I can insert right before the output redirection > mytable.org, like this

<<<pipeline producing TSV rows>>> | perl -lpe 's/(?:^|$|\t)/|/g' \
    | format-org-table > mytable.org

...that it would achieve the same final form of mytable.org as shown earlier? The goal here is to avoid the need to "manually" open mytable.org with Emacs, then hit C-c C-c, etc.

  • Take a look at using Emacs in noninteractive batch mode.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


You can try the following:

;;; csv-to-org-table.el --- Convert CSV to Org table  -*- lexical-binding: t; -*-

;;; Commentary:

;; Example:
;; ~ $ echo "a\tb\n1\t2" | emacs --batch -l csv-to-org-table.el
;; | a | b |
;; | 1 | 2 |

;;; Code:

(insert-file-contents "/dev/stdin")

(if (zerop (buffer-size))
  (require 'org)
  (org-table-convert-region (point-min) (point-max))
  (princ (buffer-string)))

;;; csv-to-org-table.el ends here

If you prefer format-org-table to emacs --batch -l csv-to-org-table.el, you can create an Emacs Lisp script or shell alias/function.

However, it is better to use a proper programming language and implement org-table-convert-region from scratch, I don't think it will be difficult.

  • Thank you! Out of curiosity, is there a problem with replacing the (if (zerop (buffer-size)) ... with (unless (zerop (buffer-size)) ..., getting rid of the (kill-emacs), and putting the remaining expressions in a (progn ...)?
    – kjo
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 22:46
  • 1
    @kjo No problem. It is actually better. The above code is ported from github.com/xuchunyang/emacs.d/blob/master/bin/csv-to-org-table, somehow (kill-emacs) is used.
    – xuchunyang
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 2:56

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