A table is a data layout that presents data as rows and columns. Well suited to human interpretation, tables have been in use for thousands of years to visually represent data. The earliest-known tables date back to the fourth millenium B.C., and are among the earliest known examples of writing.

See also

Displaying tables
a layout manager based on the table concept.
A "dictionary" or "matrix" is used when referring to a data structure that holds tabular data and look up by key value.
Multicolumn listbox
used when referring to layout multi-dimensional data in tabular way.
nested list
an implementation of Relational Algebra


Richard Suchenwirth 2002-12-06 - Tables are understood here as rectangular (matrix) arrangements of data in rows (one row per "item"/"record") and columns (one column per "field"/"element"). They are for instance the building blocks of relational databases and spreadsheets. In Tcl, a sensible implementation for compact data storage would be as a list of lists. This way, they are "pure values" and can be passed e.g. through functions that take a table and return a table. No con-/destructors are needed, in contrast to the heavierweight matrix in Tcllib. I know there are many table implementations in Tcl, but like so often I wanted to build one "with my bare hands" and as simple as possible. As you see below, many functionalities can be "implemented" by just using Tcl's list functions.

A nice table also has a header line, that specifies the field names. So to create such a table with a defined field structure, but no contents yet, one just assigns the header list:

 set tbl {{firstname lastname phone}}

Note the double bracing, which makes sure tbl is a 1-element list. Adding "records" to the table is as easy as

 lappend tbl {John Smith (123)456-7890}

Make sure the fields (cells) match those in the header. Here single bracing is correct. If a field content contains spaces, it must be quoted or braced too:

 lappend tbl {{George W} Bush 234-5678}

Sorting a table can be done with lsort -index, taking care that the header line stays on top:

 proc tsort args {
    set table [lindex $args end]
    set header [lindex $table 0]
    set res [eval lsort [lrange $args 0 end-1] [list [lrange $table 1 end]]]
    linsert $res 0 $header

Removing a row (or contiguous sequence of rows) by numeric index is a job for lreplace:

 set tbl [lreplace $tbl $from $to]

Simple printing of such a table, a row per line, is easy with

 puts [join $tbl \n]

Accessing fields in a table is more fun with the field names than the numeric indexes, which is made easy by the fact that the field names are in the first row:

 proc [email protected] {tbl field} {lsearch [lindex $tbl 0] $field}
 % [email protected] $tbl phone

You can then access cells:

 puts [lindex $tbl $rownumber [[email protected] $tbl lastname]]

and replace cell contents like this:

 lset tbl $rownumber [[email protected] $tbl phone] (222)333-4567

Here is how to filter a table by giving pairs of field name and glob-style expression - in addition to the header line, all rows that satisfy at least one of those come through (you can force AND behavior by just nesting such calls):

 proc trows {tbl args} {
    set conditions {}
    foreach {field condition} $args {
        lappend conditions [[email protected] $tbl $field] $condition
    set res [list [lindex $tbl 0]]
    foreach row [lrange $tbl 1 end] {
        foreach {index condition} $conditions {
            if [string match $condition [lindex $row $index]] {
               lappend res $row
               break; # one hit is sufficient
    set res
 % trows $tbl lastname Sm*
 {firstname lastname} phone {John Smith (123)456-7890}

This filters (and, if wanted, rearranges) columns, sort of what is called a "view":

 proc tcols {tbl args} {
    set indices {}
    foreach field $args {lappend indices [[email protected] $tbl $field]}
    set res {}
    foreach row $tbl {
        set newrow {}
        foreach index $indices {lappend newrow [lindex $row $index]}
        lappend res $newrow
    set res



2001-02-23: So, where is the code from RS that was used to pretty-printing a list of lists?

PYK 2014-01-01: It was moved to dictionary.