Spreadsheet Data Manipulation using Examples

Invited to CACM Research Highlights


Millions of computer end users need to perform tasks over large spreadsheet data, yet lack the programming knowledge to do such tasks automatically. We present a programming by example methodology that allows end users to automate such repetitive tasks. Our methodology involves designing a domain-specific language and developing a synthesis algorithm that can learn programs in that language from user-provided examples. We present instantiations of this methodology for particular domains of tasks: (a) syntactic transformations of strings using restricted forms of regular expressions, conditionals, and loops, (b) semantic transformations of strings involving lookup in relational tables, and (c) layout transformations on spreadsheet tables. We have implemented this technology as an add-in for the Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet system and have evaluated it successfully over several benchmarks picked from various Excel help forums.