Excel macro tutorial for beginners: how to create and use VBA macros

This tutorial will set you on your way to learning Excel macros. You will find how to record a macro and insert VBA code in Excel, copy macros from one workbook to another, enable and disable them, view the code, make changes, and a lot more.

For Excel newbies, the concept of macros often looks insurmountable. Indeed, it may take months or even years of training to master VBA. However, this does not mean you cannot take advantage of the automation power of Excel macros right away. Even if you are a complete novice in VBA programming, you can easily record a macro to automate some of your repetitive tasks.

This article your entry point to the fascinating world of Excel macros. It covers the essential basics that you need to know to get started and provides links to the related in-depth tutorials.

What are macros in Excel?

Excel macro is a set of commands or instructions stored in a workbook in the form of VBA code. You can think of it as a small program to perform a predefined sequence of actions. Once created, macros can be re-used anytime. Running a macro executes the commands it contains.

Typically, macros are used to automate repetitive tasks and daily routines. Skilled VBA developers can write really sophisticated macros that go well beyond reducing the number of keystrokes.

Quite often, you may hear people referring to a "macro" as "VBA". Technically, there is a distinction: a macro is a piece of code while Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the programming language created by Microsoft to write macros.

Why use Excel macros?

The main purpose of macros is to have more work done in less time. Like you use formulas to crunch numbers and manipulate text strings, you can use macros to perform frequent tasks automatically.

Let's say, you are to create a weekly report for your supervisor. For this, you import various analytics data from a couple or more external resources. The problem is that those data are messy, superfluous, or not in the format that Excel can understand. That means you need to reformat dates and numbers, trim extra spaces and delete blanks, copy and paste information into appropriate columns, build charts to visualize trends, and do a lot more different things to make your report clear and user-friendly. Now, imaging that all these operations can be performed for you instantly in a mouse click!

Of course, building a complex macro takes time. Sometimes, it can take even more time than performing the same manipulations manually. But creating a macro is a one time set-up. Once written, debugged and tested, VBA code will do the job quickly and flawlessly, minimizing human errors and costly mistakes.

How to create a macro in Excel

There are two ways to create macros in Excel - by using the Macro Recorder and Visual Basic Editor.

Tip. Within Excel, most operations with macros are done via the Developer tab, so be sure to add Developer tab to your Excel ribbon.

Recording a macro

Even if you don't know anything about programing in general and VBA in particular, you can easily automate some of your work just by letting Excel record your actions as a macro. While you are performing the steps, Excel closely watches and writes down your mouse clicks and keystrokes in the VBA language.

The Macro Recorder captures nearly everything that you do and produces a very detailed (often redundant) code. After you've stopped the recording and saved the macro, you can view its code in the Visual Basic Editor and make small changes. When you run the macro, Excel goes back to the recorded VBA code and executes the exact same moves.

To start recording, click the Record Macro button on either the Developer tab or the Status bar.
Recording a macro in Excel

For the detailed information, please see How to record macro in Excel.

Writing a macro in Visual Basic Editor

The Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) Editor is the place where Microsoft Excel keeps the code of all macros, both recorded and written manually.

In the VBA Editor, you can not only program a sequence of actions, but also create custom functions, display your own dialog boxes, evaluate various conditions, and most importantly code the logic! Naturally, creating your own macro requires some knowledge of the structure and syntax of the VBA language, which is beyond the scope of this tutorial for beginners. But there is nothing that would prevent you from reusing someone else's code (say, the one you've found on our blog :) and even a complete novice in Excel VBA should have no difficulties with that!

First, press Alt + F11 to open the Visual Basic Editor. And then, insert the code in these two quick steps:

  1. In the Project Explorer on the left, right-click the target workbook, and then click Insert > Module.
  2. In the Code window on the right, paste the VBA code.

When done, press F5 to run the macro.
Writing a macro in the Visual Basic Editor

For the detailed steps, please see How to insert VBA code in Excel.

How to run macros in Excel

There are several ways to start a macro in Excel:

  • To run a macro from a worksheet, click the Macros button on the Developer tab or press the Alt + F8 shortcut.
  • To run a macro from the VBA Editor, press either:
    • F5 to run the entire code.
    • F8 to go through the code line-by-line. This is very useful for testing and troubleshooting.

Additionally, you can launch a macro by clicking a custom button or pressing the assigned shortcut. For full details, please see How to run macros in Excel.

How to enable macros in Excel

Because of security reasons, all macros in Excel are disabled by default. So, to use the magic of VBA codes to your advantage, you need to know how to enable them.

The easiest way to turn on macros for a specific workbook is to click the Enable Content button in the yellow security warning bar that appears at the top of the sheet when you first open a workbook with macros.
Enabling macros for a specific workbook

To learn more about macro security, please see How to enable and disable macros in Excel.

How to change macro settings

Microsoft Excel determines whether to allow or disallow VBA codes to be executed in your workbooks based on the macro setting selected in the Trust Center.

Here are the steps to access the Excel macro settings and change them if needed:

  1. Go to the File tab and select Options.
  2. On the left-side pane, select Trust Center, and then click Trust Center Settings… .
  3. In the Trust Center dialog box, click Macro Settings on the left, select the desired option, and click OK.

In the screenshot below, the default macro setting is selected:
Excel macro settings

For more information, please see Excel macro settings explained.

How to view, edit and debug VBA codes in Excel

Any changes to the code of a macro, whether it's generated automatically by the Excel macro recorder or written by you, are made in the Visual Basic Editor.

To open the VB Editor, either press Alt + F11 or click the Visual Basic button on the Developer tab.
Open the VBA Editor.

To view and edit the code of a specific macro, in the Project Explorer on the left, double-click the module that contains it, or right-click the module and pick View Code. This open the Code window where you can edit the code.

To test and debug a macro, use the F8 key. This will take you through the macro code line-by-line letting you see the effect that each line has on your worksheet. The line currently being executed is highlighted in yellow. To exit debug mode, click the Reset button on the toolbar (blue square).
Testing and debugging a macro

How to copy a macro to another workbook

You created a macro in one workbook and now want to reuse it in other files too? There are two ways to copy a macro in Excel:

Copy the module containing a macro

In case the target macro resides in a separate module or all the macros in the module are useful for you, then it makes sense to copy the whole module from one workbook to another:

  1. Open both workbooks - the one that contains the macro and the one where you wish to copy it.
  2. Open the Visual Basic Editor.
  3. In the Project Explorer pane, find the module containing the macro and drag it to the destination workbook.

In the screenshot below, we are copying Module1 from Book1 to Book2:
Copying a macro to another workbook

Copy the source code of a macro

If the module contains many different macros while you need just one, then copy only the code of that specific macro. Here's how:

  1. Open both workbooks.
  2. Open the Visual Basic Editor.
  3. In the Project Explorer pane, double-click the module containing the macro that you'd like to copy to open its Code window.
  4. In the Code window, find the target macro, select its code (beginning with Sub and ending with End Sub) and press Ctrl + C to copy it.
  5. In the Project Explorer, find the destination workbook, and then either insert a new module into it (right-click the workbook and click InsertModule) or double-click an existing module to open its Code window.
  6. In the Code window of the destination module, press Ctrl + V to paste the code. If the module already contains some code, scroll down to the last code line, and then paste the copied macro.
    Copying the source code of a macro

How to delete macros in Excel

If you no longer need a certain VBA code, you can delete it by using the Macro dialog box or the Visual Basic Editor.

Deleting a macro from a workbook

To delete a macro directly from your Excel workbook, carry out these steps:

  1. On the Developer tab, in the Code group, click the Macros button or press the Alt + F8 shortcut.
  2. In the Macro dialog box, select the macro you want to remove and click Delete.

Deleting a macro in Excel

Tips:

Deleting a macro via Visual Basic Editor

A benefit of using the VBA Editor is that it enables you to delete an entire module with all the macros it contains in one go. Also, the VBA Editor allows deleting macros in the Personal Macro Workbook without unhiding it.

To permanently delete a module, perform these steps:

  1. In the Project Explorer, right-click on the module and choose Remove from the context menu.
  2. When asked whether you want to export the module before removing it, click No.

Removing a macro module via the Visual Basic Editor

To remove a specific macro, simply delete its source code directly in the Code window. Or, you can delete a macro by using the Tools menu of the VBA Editor:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Macros. The Macros dialog box will appear.
  2. In the Macros In drop-down list, select the project containing the unwanted macro.
  3. In the Macro Name box, select the macro.
  4. Click the Delete button.
    Deleting a specific macro

How to save macros in Excel

To save a macro in Excel, either recorded or written manually, just save the workbook as macro enabled (*.xlms). Here's how:

  1. In the file containing the macro, click the Save button or press Ctrl + S.
  2. The Save As dialog box will appear. Choose Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (*.xlsm) from the Save as type drop-down list and click Save:

Saving a macro in Excel

How to export and import macros in Excel

If you'd like to share your VBA codes with someone or move them to another computer, the fastest way is to export the entire module as a .bas file.

Exporting macros

To export your VBA codes, this is what you need to do:

  1. Open the workbook containing the macros.
  2. Press Alt + F11 to open the Visual Basic Editor.
  3. In the Project Explorer, right-click the Module containing the macros and select Export File.
  4. Navigate to the folder where you want to save the exported file, name the file, and click Save.

Exporting macros to a .bas file

Importing macros

To import a .bas file with VBA codes into your Excel, please follow these steps:

  1. Open the workbook into which you want to import macros.
  2. Open the Visual Basic Editor.
  3. In the Project Explorer, right-click the project name and select Import File.
  4. Navigate to the .bas file and click Open.

Importing macros into Excel

Excel macro examples

One of the best ways to learn Excel VBA is by exploring code samples. Below you will find examples of very simple VBA codes that automate some basic operations. Of course, these examples won't teach you coding, for this there exist hundreds of professional-grade VBA tutorials. We just aim to illustrate a few common features of VBA that will hopefully make its philosophy a little more familiar to you.

Unhide all sheets in a workbook

In this example, we use the ActiveWorkbook object to return the currently active workbook and the For Each loop to go through all the sheets in the workbook one-by-one. For each found sheet, we set the Visible property to xlSheetVisible.

Sub	Unhide_All_Sheets()
	Dim wks As Worksheet

	For Each wks In ActiveWorkbook.Worksheets
		wks.Visible = xlSheetVisible
	Next wks
End Sub

Hide active worksheet or make it very hidden

To manipulate the currently active sheet, use the ActiveSheet object. This sample macro changes the Visible property of the active sheet to xlSheetHidden to hide it. To make the sheet very hidden, set the Visible property to xlSheetVeryHidden.

Sub Hide_Active_Sheet()
	ActiveSheet.Visible = xlSheetHidden
End Sub

Unmerge all merged cells in selected range

If you want to perform certain operations on a range rather than the entire worksheet, use the Selection object. For example, the below code will unmerge all the merged cells in a selected range at one fell swoop.

Sub Unmerge_Cells()
	Selection.Cells.UnMerge
End Sub

Show a message box

To show some message to your users, use the MsgBox function. Here's an example of such a macro in its simplest form:

Sub Show_Message()
	MsgBox ("Hello World!")
End Sub

In real-life macros, a message box is typically used for information or confirmation purposes. For instance, before performing a action (unmerging cells in our case), you display a Yes/No message box. If the user clicks "Yes", the selected cells are unmerged.

Sub Unmerge_Selected_Cells()
	Dim Answer As String

	Answer = MsgBox("Are you sure you want to unmerge these cells?", vbQuestion + vbYesNo, "Unmerge Cells")
	If Answer = vbYes Then
		Selection.Cells.UnMerge
	End If
End Sub

To test the code, select one or more range containing merged cells and run the macro. The following message will appear:
A macro shows a message box.

Below are the links to more complex macros that automate challenging and time-consuming tasks:

How to protect Excel macros

If you'd like to prevent your macro from being viewed, modified or executed by others, you can protect it with password.

Lock macro for viewing

To protect your VBA codes from unauthorized viewing and editing, do the following:

  1. Open the VBA Editor.
  2. In the Project Explorer, right-click the project you'd like to lock, and choose VBAProject Properties…
  3. In the Project Properties dialog box, on the Protection tab, check the Lock project for viewing box, enter the password twice, and click OK.
  4. Save, close and reopen your Excel file.

Lock macro for viewing

When you try to view the code in the Visual Basic editor, the following dialog box will appear. Type the password and click OK.
The macro is password-protected.

To unlock macros, just open the Project Properties dialog box again and remove a tick from the Lock project for viewing box.

Note. This method protects the code from viewing and editing but does not prevent it from being executed.

Password-protect macro from running

To protect your macro from being executed so that only the users who know the password could run it, add the following code, replacing the word "password" with your real password:

Sub Password_Protect()
	Dim password As Variant

	password = Application.InputBox("Please enter Password", "Password Protected Macro")

	Select Case password
		Case Is = False
			'do nothing
		Case Is = "password"
			'your code here
		Case Else
			MsgBox "Incorrect Password"
	End Select
End Sub

The macro uses the InputBox function to prompt the user to enter password:
A password is needed to run the macro.

If the user's input matches the hardcoded password, your code is executed. If the password does not match, the "Incorrect Password" message box is displayed. To prevent the user from peeping the password in the Visual Basic Editor, remember to lock the macro for viewing as explained above.

Note. Given the numbers of various password crackers available on the web, it is important to realize that this protection is not absolute. You can regard it rather as a protection against accidental use.

Excel macro tips

Excel VBA pros have devised tons of ingenious tricks to make their macros more effective. Below I will share a couple of my favorite ones.

How to make your macros work faster

If your VBA code actively manipulates the cell contents, you can speed up its execution by turning off screen refreshing and formula recalculating. After executing your code, turn this on again.

The following lines are to be added to the beginning of your code (after the lines that start with Dim or after the Sub line):

	Application.ScreenUpdating = False
	Application.Calculation = xlCalculationManual

The following lines are to be added to the end of your code (before End Sub):

	Application.ScreenUpdating = True
	Application.Calculation = xlCalculationAutomatic

How to break VBA code into multiple lines

When writing code in the VBA editor, at times you may create very lengthy statements, so you have to scroll horizontally to view the end of the line. This does not affect the code execution but makes it difficult to examine the code.

To split a long statement into several lines, type a space followed by an underscore (_) at the point at which you want to break the line. In VBA, this is called the line-continuation character.

To continue the code on the next line correctly, please follow these rules:

  • Do not split the code in the middle of argument names.
  • Do not use an underscore to break comments. For multiple-line comments, type an apostrophe (') at the beginning of each line.
  • An underscore must be the last character on a line, not followed by anything else.

The following code example shows how to break the statement into two lines:

Answer = MsgBox("Are you sure you want to unmerge these cells?", _
	vbQuestion + vbYesNo, "Unmerge Cells")

How to make a macro accessible from any workbook

When you write or record a macro in Excel, usually it can only be accessed from that specific workbook. If you'd like to reuse the same code in other workbooks, save it to the Personal Macro Workbook. This will make the macro available to you whenever you open Excel.

The only obstacle is that the Personal Macro Workbook does not exist in Excel by default. To create it, you will need to record at least one macro. The following tutorial provides all the details: Personal Macro Workbook in Excel

Stop Excel from showing a security warning when there are no macros in a workbook

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where Excel continuously asks if you want to enable macros while you definitely know that there are no macros in this particular workbook?

The most likely reason is that some VBA code was added and then removed, leaving an empty module, which triggers the security alert. To get rid of it, simply delete the module, save the workbook, close and reopen it. If this does not help, do the following:

  • For ThisWorkbook and for each individual sheet, open the Code window, press Ctrl + A to select all the code and delete it (even if the Code window looks empty).
  • Delete any UserForms and Class Modules that the workbook contains.

That's how you create and use VBA macros in Excel. I thank you for reading and hope to see you again on our blog next week!

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