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: Errors when Copying References to External Cells.

Errors when Copying References to External Cells

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 10, 2016)

Kirk noted that if he copies a cell referencing a cell in an external workbook, he gets an error. However, if that external workbook is open when he does the very same steps, he does not get an error message. Kirk wonders why this occurs.

There could be a variety of reasons for this happening. The most probable is that for whatever reason the information that it must get from the external sheet is unavailable or cannot be located.

Another possible reason is that your formula could be an INDIRECT link or the workbook could have been opened and the links not updated. If the formula is complex, Excel requires that the external workbook be open. (Microsoft has never provided a clue as to what constitutes "complex" in this case. Basically, if you get an error, the formula is "complex.")

In general, you could consider a formula complex if it does a calculation on the external data to get a result, such as with MATCH, LOOKUP, etc. An example would be storing a month number in workbook A and using that value to calculate year-to-date costs from monthly data stored in individual cells in workbook B. (In other words, you use the month number as an index to access the information in workbook B.)

A workaround for some (but not all) situations is to do the complex calculations completely in workbook B with workbook B linking to workbook A to get the data needed for that calculation. Retrieving the month number from workbook A is not complex and can be easily done by Excel. You could then open workbook A and have it read the result of the calculation from workbook B.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (3848) 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: Errors when Copying References to External Cells.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Counting Cells with Specific Characters

Excel is used by many people to hold all sorts of data, not just numbers. If you have cells that include meaningful leading ...

Discover More

Copying the Results of Filtering

Filtering is a great asset when you need to get a handle on a subset of your data. Excel even makes it easy to copy the ...

Discover More

Deleting a Chart

Charts serve a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is temporary. If you want to get rid of a chart, here's how to do it.

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More ExcelTips (menu)

Deleting All Names but a Few

Want to get rid of most of the names defined in your workbook? You can either delete them one by one or use the handy macro ...

Discover More

Counting Words

Do you need to know how many words are in a range of cells? Excel provides no intrinsic way to count the words, but you can ...

Discover More

Quickly Filling a Column

Excel has a great (and little known) shortcut for filling a column with information. It comes in very handy when you need to ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is four less than 6?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

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.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.