Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Losing Data in a Shared Workbook.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 26, 2016)
Karen described a problem in which a shared workbook, stored on a company network, periodically loses all the data it previously contained. In trying to track down the problem Karen did tests where she and her coworkers tried to open the file at the same time and save it at the same time, but all the tests left the data intact. Still, she reports that there are times when the workbook data is simply erased; wiped clean.
This problem is, perhaps, a prime example of why many people refuse to trust shared workbooks in Excel. Many folks have related experiences where data has become corrupted, information is overwritten, or data just outright disappears. All the problems were traced to the fact that a workbook was shared, and the problems went away when the sharing was turned off.
This leads to the first suggestion: don't share the workbook. If you "unshared" it, then only a single person can open the workbook at a time, which reduces complexity and decreases the chances of corruption. If the data contained in the workbook is extensive and it must be shared among multiple users, consider converting to a program that is designed for better data integrity in a multi-user environment, such as Access.
If this is not possible, consider turning on Track Changes in Excel (an option available when you share the workbook) so that a change history is maintained. This allows you to see who last changed a workbook. If you open the workbook and find the data missing, checking the change history may actually disclose that the data was deleted—probably inadvertently—by a user.
Of course, it is possible that the change history may not provide the information that you hope it will. The reason that sharing a workbook can lead to data corruption is the way in which Excel allows users to work with data. In a program such as Access, data is fetched and worked with on a record-by-record basis. While the record is in use by a user, no other user can make changes to the record, but they can make changes to other records.
In Excel, the entire workbook is transferred to the user's computer, not just a single record from the data in the workbook. In a shared-workbook scenario, this means that multiple copies of the workbook are actually open at the same time, and Excel is charged with resolving potential conflicts in data. Consider the following scenario:
In this thirty-minute scenario, can anyone tell which of the users' changes are saved in the final version of the workbook? Which changes should be saved? When you consider the ramifications of such a scenario (and this scenario is not uncommon), then you can see why many people suggest not using Excel in a shared environment.
ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2998) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Losing Data in a Shared Workbook.
Excel Smarts for Beginners! Featuring the friendly and trusted For Dummies style, this popular guide shows beginners how to get up and running with Excel while also helping more experienced users get comfortable with the newest features. Check out Excel 2013 For Dummies today!
Have you ever opened a workbook, only to have it not display your worksheet data? This can be very disconcerting, but it ...Discover More
Need to do work in more than one workbook at a time? For many, this ability is a necessity. Excel allows you to easily ...Discover More
Workbooks can contain many worksheets. If you want to pull a workbook apart and create a whole series of workbooks based ...Discover More
FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."
Got a version of Excel that uses the menu interface (Excel 97, Excel 2000, Excel 2002, or Excel 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.