Aug
2

How to share Excel file for multiple users and co-author a shared workbook

In this tutorial, you will find full details on how to share Excel workbook with other people by saving it to a local network or OneDrive, how to control user access to a shared Excel file and resolve conflicting changes.

These days more and more people are using Microsoft Excel for team work. In the past, when you needed to share an Excel workbook with someone, you could send it as an email attachment or save your Excel data to PDF for printing. While fast and convenient, the former method created multiple versions of the same document, and the latter produced a secure though non-editable copy.

The recent versions of Excel 2010, 2013 and 2016 make it easy to share and collaborate on workbooks. By sharing an Excel file, you are giving other users access to the same document and allow them to make edits simultaneously, which saves you the trouble of keeping track of multiple versions.

How to share an Excel file

This section shows how to share an Excel workbook for multiple users by saving it to a local network location where other people can access it and make edits. You can keep track of those changes and accept or reject them.

With the workbook open, perform the following steps to share it:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click the Share Workbook button.
    Sharing an Excel workbook
  2. The Share Workbook dialog box will appear, and you select the Allow changes by more than one user at the same time. This also allows workbook merging check box on the Editing tab.
    Allow changes by more than one user at the same time.
  3. Optionally, switch to the Advanced tab, select the desired settings for tracking changes, and click OK.

    For example, you may want to have changes updated automatically every n number of minutes (all the other settings on the screenshot below are the default ones).

  4. Select the desired settings for tracking changes.

  5. Save you Excel file to a network location where other people can access it (the fastest way is by using the Ctrl + S shortcut).

If done correctly, the word [Shared] will appear to the right of the workbook's name as shown in the screenshot below:
Excel shared workbook

Now, you and your colleagues can work on the same Excel file at the same time. You are free to accept or reject their changes, and after the desired changes have been incorporated, you can stop sharing the workbook. Further on in this tutorial, you will find the details on how to do all this.

Note. If Microsoft Excel refuses to share a certain workbook, most likely it's because of one of the following reasons:

  1. Workbooks that have tables or XML maps cannot be shared. So, be sure to convert your tables to ranges and remove the XML maps before sharing your Excel file.
  2. To be able to share a workbook, some privacy settings need to be disabled. Go to File > Excel Options > Trust Center, click the Trust Center Settings… button, and under the Privacy Options category, uncheck the Remove personal information from file properties on save box.

How to share Excel workbook and protect change tracking

If you'd like not only to share an Excel file, but also to ensure that no one turns off the change history or removes the workbook from shared use, proceed in this way:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click the Protect and Share Workbook button.
  2. The Protect Shared Workbook dialog window will show up, and you select the Sharing with track changes check box.
  3. Type a password in the Password (Optional) box, click OK, and then retype the password to confirm it.

    Though entering a password is optional, you'd better do it. Otherwise, there's little sense in using this option, because anyone would be able to remove the protection and thus stop the workbook sharing.

  4. Save the workbook.

Share Excel workbook and protect change tracking.

Clicking OK in the above dialog box will change the Protect and Share Workbook button on the ribbon to Unprotect Shared Workbook, and clicking this button will both remove the protection from the shared workbook and stop sharing it.

Note. If the workbook is already shared, and you want to protect sharing with a password, you must unshare the workbook first.

Protect worksheet vs. protect shared workbook

The Protect and Share Workbook option only prevents turning off change tracking in a shared workbook, but does not prevent other users from editing or deleting the workbook's contents.

If you want to prevent people from changing important information in your Excel document, you will need to lock some areas before sharing it ("before" is an important word here since the worksheet protection cannot be applied to an Excel shared workbook). For the detailed step-by-step instructions, please see:

Excel shared workbook limitations

When deciding to share your Excel file, please be aware that it may cause some troubles to your users because not all features are fully supported in shared workbooks. Here are some of the limitations:

  • Sorting and filtering by format
  • Conditional formatting
  • Merging cells
  • Excel tables and PivotTable reports
  • Charts and pictures
  • Data validation
  • Worksheet protection
  • Grouping or outlining data
  • Subtotals
  • Slicers and sparklines
  • Hyperlinks
  • Array formulas
  • Macros
  • A few more things

In fact, you will be able to use the existing features, but you won't be able to add or change them. So, if you'd like to benefit from any of the above options, be sure to apply them before sharing your Excel file. The complete list of features unsupported in shared workbooks can be found on Microsoft's web-site.

How to edit an Excel shared workbook

After you open a shared workbook, you can enter new or change existing data in a regular way.

You can also identify your work in a shared workbook:

  1. Click the File tab > Options.
  2. In the General category, scroll down to the Personalize your copy of Office section.
  3. In the User Name box, enter the user name that you want to display, and click OK.

Identifying your work in a shared workbook

Now, you can input and edit data as usual, keeping in mind the following limitations of shared workbooks.

How to resolve conflicting changes in a shared Excel file

When two or more users are editing the same workbook simultaneously, some edits can affect the same cell(s). In such situations, Excel keeps the changes of the user who saves the workbook first.  When another user tries to save the workbook, Excel displays the Resolve Conflicts dialog box with the details about each conflicting change:
Resolving conflicting changes in a shared file

To resolve conflicting changes, do one of the following:

  • To keep your change, click Accept Mine.
  • To keep the other user's change, click Accept Other.
  • To keep all of your changes, click Accept All Mine.
  • To keep all of the other user's changes, click Accept All Others.
Tip. To save a copy of the shared workbook with all your changes, click the Cancel button in the Resolve Conflicts dialog box, and then save the workbook under a different name (File > Save As). You will be able to merge your changes at a later point.

How to force recent changes to override previous changes automatically

To have the most recent changes automatically override any previous changes (made by you or by other users), without displaying the Resolve Conflicts dialog box, do the following:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click Share Workbook.
  2. Switch to the Advanced tab, select The changes being saved win under Conflicting changes between users, and click OK.

Have the changes being saved override the previous changes.

To view all the changes that have been made to the shared workbook, use the Track Changes feature on the Review tab, in the Changes group. It will show you when a particular change was made, who made it, and what data was changed. For more information, please see:

How to merge different copies of a shared workbook

In some situations, it can be more convenient to save several copies of a shared workbook, and then merge changes made by different users. Here's how:

  1. Share your Excel file to a local network location.
  2. Other users can now open the shared file and work with it, each person saving their own copy of the shared workbook to the same folder, but using a different file name.
  3. Add the Compare and Merge Workbooks feature to your Quick Access toolbar. The detailed steps on how to do this can be found here.
  4. Open the primary version the shared workbook.
  5. Click the Compare and Merge Workbooks command on the Quick Access toolbar.
    Compare and Merge Workbooks
  6. In the Select Files to Merge dialog box, select all the copies you want to merge (to select several files, hold the Shift key while clicking the file names, and then click OK).

Done! The changes by different users are merged into a single workbook. Now you can highlight the changes, so you can view all the edits at a glance.

How to remove users from a shared Excel workbook

Sharing an Excel file for multiple users can result in many conflicting changes. To avoid this, you may want to disconnect certain people from the shared workbook.

To remove a user from a shared workbook, do the following:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click the Share Workbook button.
  2. On the Editing tab, select the name of the user you want to disconnect, and click the Remove User button.

Remove a user from a shared workbook

Note. This action disconnects users only for the current session, but does not prevent them from reopening and editing the shared Excel file again.

If the selected user is currently editing the shared workbook, Microsoft Excel will warn you that any unsaved changes of that user will be lost. You click OK to continue or Cancel to abort the operation and allow the user to save their work.

If it is you that have been disconnected, you can preserve your work by saving the shared workbook with a different name, then reopen the original shared workbook and merge your changes from the copy you've saved.

If you want to delete personal views of the removed user, switch to the View tab > Workbook Views group, and click Custom Views. In the Custom Views dialog box, select the views you want to remove, and click Delete.
Delete personal views of the removed user.

How to unshare an Excel file

When the teamwork has been completed, you can stop sharing the workbook in this way:

Open the Share Workbook dialog box (Review tab > Changes group). On the Editing tab, clear the Allow changes by more than one user at the same time… check box, and click OK.
Stop sharing the workbook

Excel will displays an alert that you are about to remove the file from shared use and erase the change History. If that's what you want, click Yes, otherwise No.

Notes:

  1. Before clearing this box, make sure you are the only person listed under Who has this workbook open now. If there are other users, disconnect them first.
  2. If the box is uncheckable (grayed out), most likely shared workbook protection is on. To unprotect the workbook, click OK to close the Share Workbook dialog box, and then click the Unprotect Shared Workbook button on the Review tab, in the Changes group.

How to share Excel workbook using OneDrive

Another way to share an Excel workbook is to save it to OneDrive, invite your colleagues to work on it, and see each other's changes instantaneously. Microsoft calls it co-authoring.

Save and share a workbook

In Excel 2013 and Excel 2010, to save a workbook to OneDrive, perform these steps:

  1. Click File > Share > Save to Cloud.
  2. Invite people to collaborate on the workbook by typing their names or email addresses in the corresponding box.
  3. Make sure Can edit is selected in the dropdown list on the right (default) and click Share.

Save an Excel file to OneDrive and invite people to collaborate on it.

In Excel 2016, you can simply click the Share button  in the upper-right corner, save the workbook to a cloud location (OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online library), type email addresses in the Invite people box, separating each with a semicolon, and then click the Share button on the pane (please see the screenshot below).

Clicking the Share button will send an email message to each person, a copy will be sent to you too, just in case. If you'd rather send the link yourself, click Get a sharing link at the bottom of the pane instead.
Sharing a workbook in Excel 2016

Co-author with other people

When your colleagues receive an invitation, they simply click the link to open the workbook in Excel Online, and then click Edit Workbook > Edit in Browser to edit the file.

Excel 2016 for Office 365 subscribers (as well as users of Excel Mobile, Excel for iOS and Excel for Android) can co-author in their Excel desktop application by clicking Edit Workbook > Edit in Excel.
Choose to edit in Excel or in browser.

Tip. If you are using Excel 2016, you can also click File > Open, and then select Shared with Me.

Now, as soon as other people start editing the workbook, their names will appear in the upper-right corner (sometimes pictures, initials, or even "G" that stands for guest). You can see other users' selections in different colors, your own selection is traditionally green:
See other users' selections in different colors.

Note. You may not see other people's selections if you are using a version other than Excel 2016 for Office 365 or Excel Online. However, all their edits to a shared workbook will appear in real time.

If multiple users are co-authoring, and you lose track of who is editing a specific cell, click on that cell, and the person's name will be revealed.
See who is editing a given cell.

To jump to the cell being edited by someone, click their name or picture, and then click the green box with the cell address.
Jump to the cell being edited by someone.

This is how you can share an Excel file with other users. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!

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14 Responses to "How to share Excel file for multiple users and co-author a shared workbook"

  1. Mike says:

    Once you unshare the workbook, can you then insert pivot tables and charts or do you need to save a new copy to start analyzing data?

  2. Vinay says:

    Hi Svetlana,

    I have very big matrix, suppose i select a particular cell, whether i can get the selected cell's first row and column( where the headings for the selected cell will be written).. I hope you got my query.

  3. Dave says:

    I am trying this now, and when one user filters, everyone's copy filters. Makes it really difficult to collaborate when filters are going on and off. Is there a workaround?

  4. David says:

    Hi,

    Can all the users edit and save changes simultaneously? Something like "Allow changes by more than one user at the same time" option.

    • Hi David,
      When two or more users are editing the same workbook simultaneously, some edits can affect the same cell or cells. In such situations, Excel keeps the changes of the user who saves the workbook first. To see how the possible conflicts can be solved, please read the section of this blog titled 'How to resolve conflicting changes in a shared Excel file'.

  5. Jubei says:

    Hi,

    I'm trying to share the workbook on an excel file with PowerPivot feature but was unsuccessful.

    Is this part of the limitation of Shared Workbook?
    Is there a workaround to resolve this?

    Thanks,

  6. Astaeka says:

    Thanks for the details! Really appreciate it!

  7. Hossein says:

    Can we set up a password so that only the user who is sent the link can work on the file and the link cannot be shared with other third parties?

  8. Rithy says:

    With the recent update, Ms has disable shared feature. Is there a way to enable it again?

  9. Dan says:

    I'm trying to enable the conditional formatting and Protect sheet function for one of my excel files. The file is originally shared by my previous colleague and she left the company already. Is there a way to make it unshared by me to enable the disabled functions?

  10. Andre Schule says:

    Hi Svetlana,
    can you please advice me how to run my excel software in the cloud, thinking of using a NAS system ( need access from different PC's, not at the same time) My program has also Macros which needs to be used.

    Thanks for advice

    Regards
    Andre

  11. Ann Wong says:

    How to activate "Unshare Workbook" button? Cannot click at all. It was in grey colour button.

  12. Wendy says:

    How to activate "Unshare Workbook" button? Cannot click at all. It was in grey colour button.

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