User guide

While Abacus is designed to be as easy to use as possible, searching for and using data is complex by its very nature. To help you start to navigate Abacus, here are some basic instructions on key activities and functions. If you already know the basics and wish to explore further, please see the search syntax page and the Advanced User’s Guide.


Your first login

If you have never logged in to Abacus, when you log in for the first time from your institutional web page, you will be taken to the account creation page. Abacus will automatically create an account which uses information provided by your institution.

Verify that your account details are correct (which they should be, as they have come from your institution) and confirm them.

Click on the Abacus logo at the top left of the page, and you will be able to use the Abacus service.

You will only need to perform the above on your very first login.

The primary Abacus web page is located at Anyone may search Abacus and view the data descriptions but many data files can only be accessed by users affiliated with SFU, UBC, UNBC, or UVic. To work with these licensed files you will need to log in with your university credentials.

If you have come directly to the Abacus home page, as opposed to navigating from your institution’s library web site, follow these instructions to log in:

UVic users login here using your university credentials. After login you will be redirected to the UVic collection in Abacus.

SFU, UBC, and UNBC users use the Log In link at the extreme right of the top menu bar.

Where to login

By default, you will be presented with a drop down list showing SFU, UBC, and UNBC. Select your institution and login using the credentials supplied by your university, such as the Campus-wide Login (CWL) used at the University of British Columbia.

Login screen

If the drop-down list of institutions is not visible and you are being prompted for username/password authentication, you will see Other options underneath the dialogue boxes, with a button labelled Your Institution. Clicking on this button will produce the drop-down list as described above.

Switch to institutional login

It is not necessary to select a username/password for Abacus, an account will be created for you the first time you login. Your institutional login ID is all that is required to access and download files to which your university has access. See your first login above.

This section introduces Abacus search options. For more information see the search syntax page.

Searching is possible from almost anywhere inside Abacus. From the main page at, the search feature will search the entire contents of Abacus, including material to which your institution may not have access.

To easily limit your search to material to which your account has access, select your university from the icons at the top of the page.

To limit your search to material that is available to the public without login, select the Abacus Open Data icon.

Should your search produce too many results, it can be narrowed by selecting the facets on the left side of the page, such as “Producer Name”.

Facets may also be discarded once applied by clicking on them after they appear at the top of the search results.

Selected search tips

Wilcard operators function only on terms, not phrases.

For more detail and additional tips, refer to the search syntax page.

The Advanced search will allow you to search by very specific individual fields and to search within the data itself for applicable datasets. Note that not all datasets have variable-level searching implemented, nor does every study in Abacus have every field filled, as some values are not applicable to some types of datasets.


Once you’ve found a data set in the search, click on the title and you’ll be taken to its page. By default, you are taken to a short display with an abstract and a listing of files. For each file, you may have several options, depending on its type.

Linking and downloading individual files

If there is no direct download link, and programmatic access is required, the using the equivalent of the following curl commands will allow direct download.

Publicly accessible data files

As an example, the 2020 Labour Force Survey data:

File page for the August 2020 ASCII data:

To download this file:

curl "" -o"

Licensed data

To download licensed data, you will need an API token (see the Advanced User’s Guide)

As an example, the CanMap Content Suite, v2019.3:

File page for the file:

To download this file:

curl -H "X-Dataverse-key: YOURAPITOKEN" "" -o

Where YOURAPITOKEN is your account’s API token.

Bulk downloads

To download multiple files at once, select the checkbox at the left of the top row of the file table. This will automatically select all of the files in the study. Download the files using Download button on the top row of the table.

For data sets with very large files, such as the geospatial datasets from DMTI Spatial Inc. or compilations of lidar or orthoimagery, downloads may be truncated due to size limits on zip files. Other download options are available, such as API based downloads (as per the Advanced User’s Guide).


To view the metadata or detailed description of the material in Abacus, select the Metadata tab of the data set in which you are viewing. By default, citation metadata is visible, with other sections of metadata (such as Geospatial data) is only visible after clicking on the appropriate button.

For many social science data sets, much of the metadata will be stored in the Social Science and Humanities Metadata section, such as sample information, etc.

Study metadata can be exported in a variety of formats for use in other applications by selecting the format desired from the Export Metadata button found just above the citation metadata. Some formats can be used with citation managers, such as DataCite and Dublin Core, but import formats are dependent entirely on the citation manager software.


For more detailed information beyond this brief guide, please see the Advanced User’s Guide, which will give a detailed overview of the use of Dataverse, the software which powers Abacus.

Support within Abacus itself is available as well. For email assistance, use the Support link in the interface menu bar.

For support with specific data sets, or to report errors and technical issues, within each record you can use the Contact button just above and to the right of the dataset title. Note that in most cases, the Support and Contact buttons will be sent to the same people, ie Abacus Support.