Looking up Data


Data can be sourced from:

  • CSV Files
  • Surveys

In the remainder of this document the source of the data will be written as SOURCE. Replace this with the name of the CSV file or the identifier of the survey that contains your data.

Using CSV Files

Creating the file

The first row of the CSV file contains the header. Use the same rules for specifying column headers as are used for question names, that is english characters and underscores with no spaces.

Subsequent rows contain the data. These can contain any characters supported by your phones using Unicode.


The name of the CSV file should not have any spaces.

Loading a CSV file onto the Server

If your CSV file might be used by more than one survey then you should load it on to the server as a shared resource.

  • Select the Admin module
  • Select Shared Resources
  • Click on the Add File button and select all the CSV files that you want to load
  • Click on the Upload button

Your CSV file is now available to any survey that refers to it.

If you want your CSV file to be only used by a single survey then:

  • Select the Admin module
  • Select Forms
  • Click on the form name to edit it
  • Select the menu File then Media
  • Click on the Add File button and select all the CSV files that you want to load
  • Click on the Upload button

Referring to the file

Replace SOURCE with the name of the file without the CSV extension. In the following examples the full file name is “locations.csv”:

search('locations', 'matches', 'region_v', ${region})

Using another Survey as the Source

Replace SOURCE with “linked_” followed by the ident of the survey. In the following examples the survey ident is s3_23:

search('linked_s3_23', 'matches', 'region_v', ${region})


The online eidtor will guide you through accessing another survey’s data. For example to look up choices in another survey select appearance, click on the edit button and then select the search tab. You can then look up available surveys without having to know their “ident”. However if you are entering the survey ident into an XLSForm then you can get it from the online editor. Select the menu File and then Info.


The survey that is referenced will need to be in the same organisation as the survey doing the referencing.


A select question can get it’s choices from a CSV file or another survey. The approach is similar to using choices from the choices sheet but with the difference that the choices list contains the names of the columns that have the choices rather than the choices themselves. You will also need to add a “search()” function to the question’s appearance telling it the source of the data.

Column Names

  • In the name column of the choices list specify the column name that contains the value of the choice.
  • In the label column of the choices list specify the column name that contains the label for the choice.
Setting the choice list values

Setting the choice list values


  • In the label you can specify multiple column names separated by commas. The data from each of these columns will then be combined and shown to the user
  • The value column and the label column can be the same

Adding fixed choices

You can add fixed choices to the choices that are sourced from the csv file or survey. For example you may have a select question to look up geographic locations from a survey. These locations may be where your team is working and be maintained in a separate survey. That survey is presumably not going to have a value for a location of “none of these”. Hence you can add that directly as a fixed choice. The value must be numeric to distinguish this choice from the choice that identifies in the CSV file.

Adding fixed choices

Adding fixed choices

The Search Function

The search function is placed in the appearance of the select question and tells the system where the source of data can be found. This function has between 1 and 5 parameters depending on how complex your filtering requirements are:



Looks in SOURCE for the data.

Only this simple form of the search function can be used with WebForms.


Duplicates will be removed.

Filter the data


The filter function can be one of:

  1. contains (fieldTask only)
  2. startswith (fieldTask only)
  3. endswith (fieldTask only)
  4. matches
  5. in
  6. not in

The filter values for “in” and “not in” should be lists separated by spaces. Use it with filter values that come from select multiple questions.

Example 1:

search('locations', 'matches', 'region_v', ${region})
search('product', 'in', 'product_category', ${product_category})

Searches locations file for all rows where the region_v column is the same is the answer to the “region” question

Example 2:

search('product', 'in', 'product_category', ${product_category})

Returns all products whose category is in the list of product categories that are selected in the “product_category” select multiple question.

Double filter the data

Like the normal filter but with an extra “matches”.



search('children', 'matches', 'class_v', 'class1', 'enrolled_v', 'yes')

Returns all records in the children csv file where the “class_v” column has the value “class1” and the “enrolled_v” column has the value “yes”.

Getting Reference Data with the Pulldata Function

The second type of data that you can get from a CSV file or another survey is reference data. For example you may want to look up the maximum age for a program in a particular region.

type name label relevant calculation
select_one sectors sector Which sector?    
integer age What is your age?    
calculate max_age     pulldata(‘ref_data’, ‘max_age’, ‘sector’, ${sector})
select_one yes_no enroll Do you want to enroll? ${age} <= ${max_age}  

In the above example we ask what training sector the interviewee is interested in. Then we ask their age. We then do a lookup in the csv file “ref_data.csv” for the maximum allowed age for that sector. Then if the person qualifies we ask them if they want to enroll.

General Syntax:


Selecting Multiple Values


This feature is available in fieldTask 6.200 and above. It is not available in Webforms.

To select multiple values you can use two additional parameters:

  1. An index into the record you want. the index of a record starts from 1, however there are two special values:
  • -1 - Get the count of the number of matching records
  • 0 - Get all the matching values separated by a space
  1. A filter function to select the data you want to include
  • contains
  • startswith
  • endswith
  • matches
  • in
  • not in

General Syntax:



The index is a number and so it does not have quotation marks.

By using these parameters you no longer need to specify a unique key as the ‘COLUMN IN SOURCE TO FILTER ON’. Instead you can get data from multiple columns that match the filter function.

The following examples are for the scenario where a child can be enrolled in multiple classes using a select multiple. So the class codes are space separated. ${class} is the answer from a question that asks identifies a class, the pulldata functions then get the children enrolled in that class:

pulldata('linked_s30_268', 'first_name', 'enrolled_in', ${class}, -1, 'contains')
pulldata('linked_s30_268', 'first_name', 'enrolled_in', ${class}, 0, 'contains')
pulldata('linked_s30_268', 'first_name', 'enrolled_in', ${class}, 4, 'contains')

The first example gets the number of children in the class. This could be used as the repeat_count for a “begin repeat” that shows data on each enrolled child. The second example gets all of the children’s first names as a space separated list. The third example gets the fourth child in the list. You can use this last example inside a “begin repeat” where you replace “4” with “position(..).

Using pulldata from within a repeating group

You can also look up repeating data in subforms for reference. In this case in your new form you can have a repeating group that looks up the corresponding data in the reference repeating group. Details here (Pulldata from Subforms)