I frequently import data from CSV files. This data often has headers, is a mix of numbers and text, and is a simple 2D 'shape'. I need to clean the data (eg removing rows, trimming strings, standardizing units etc.) before I can work with it.

My strategy is to convert it to a List of Associations which makes cleaning and manipulation easier.

Table to Association

I built a function to convert tables with headers into an association.

ta[table_List] := AssociationThread[First[table], #] & /@ Rest[table];

For example:

smallTable = {{"a1", "a2"}, {1, 2}, {3, "Four"}};

{<|"a1" -> 1, "a2" -> 2|>, <|"a1" -> 3, "a2" -> "Four"|>}

Question: Can this code go any faster?

Let's see how it performs on a larger table

(*make table*)
rows = 100000;
cols = 100;

data = RandomReal[1, {rows, cols}];
data[[1]][[1]] = "TEXT";

header = WordList[][[1 ;; cols]];
table = Join[{header}, data];
assc = ta[table]; // RepeatedTiming

{1.78668, Null}

My attempts

Here is my attempt at making this faster using MapThread

ta2[table_List] :=
    ConstantArray[First[table], Length[Rest[table]]],

assc2 = ta2[table]; // RepeatedTiming
assc2 === assc

{1.78114, Null}


Almost no improvement

Now trying to see if localising the variable helps...

ta3[table_List] :=
    values = Rest[table],
    headers = First[table]
     keys = ConstantArray[headers, Length[values]]
    MapThread[AssociationThread, {keys, values}]

assc3 = ta3[table]; // RepeatedTiming
assc3 === assc

{1.72666, Null}


Virtually no improvement again

Is it faster making a list of Rules and then mapping Association on it...?

ta4[table_List] :=
    keys = ConstantArray[First[table], Length[Rest[table]]],
    values = Rest[table]
   Map[Association, MapThread[Rule, {keys, values}, 2], 2]

assc4 = ta4[table]; // RepeatedTiming
assc4 === assc

{10.0572, Null}


...it is not

I have also tried ParallelMap with AssociationThread[First[table], #] & but this is incredibly slow.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I tried Inner[Rule, table[[1]], #, Association]& /@ table[[2;;All]], but this is not faster than your ta[ ]. $\endgroup$ Aug 21, 2023 at 15:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe you could try directly importing the CSV as a Dataset with SemanticImport? I do not know if this will be faster however. Ex: imported = SemanticImport["yourCSV.csv"] // Normal; $\endgroup$
    – ydd
    Aug 21, 2023 at 16:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also, as another option, you could create a paired list instead of a list of associations and do all your manipulations with that instead. Thread[{First@table, #}] & /@ Rest[table]; // RepeatedTiming is about 05-0.6 s . But there may be a good reason you want a list of associations like you have in assc $\endgroup$
    – ydd
    Aug 21, 2023 at 16:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ An alternative: Table[AssociationThread @@ ({table[[1]], table[[i]]}), {i, 2, Length[table]}] $\endgroup$ Aug 21, 2023 at 20:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ perhaps try Import["yourCSVfile", "Dataset", "HeaderLines" -> 1]? $\endgroup$
    – kglr
    Aug 21, 2023 at 21:46

1 Answer 1


I find Association (and Dataset) are too heavy for tabular data. Try TableSet.

TableSet supports Query, JoinAcross, and many other SQL-like functions. Named Slots are used so you get Association-like data manipulation in Query. Also, it uses much less memory than Association.

Hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ (+1) Nice Resource Function, @Edmund! $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2023 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Edmund, let me see how I can incorporate this into my existing project where I already make extensive use of Associations $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2023 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ I think I'm missing something obvious but how do you extract the column values using the column name in TableSet? ie analogous to assoc[[All,"ColName"]] $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2023 at 13:51

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