How to make a dynamic dependent dropdown list in Excel an easy way

The tutorial shows how to create an Excel drop down list depending on another cell by using new dynamic array functions.

Creating a simple drop down list in Excel is easy. Making a multi-level cascading drop-down has always been a challenge. The above linked tutorial describes four different approaches, each including a crazy number of steps, a bunch of different formulas, and a handful of limitations relating to multi-word entries, blank cells, etc.

That was the bad news. The good news is that those methods were designed for pre-dynamic versions of Excel. The introduction of dynamic arrays in Excel 365 has changed everything! With new dynamic array functions, creating a multiple dependent drop-down list is a matter of minutes, if not seconds. No tricks, no caveats, no nonsense. Only fast, straightforward and easy-to-follow solutions.

Notes:

How to make dynamic drop down list in Excel

This example demonstrates the general approach to creating a cascading drop down list in Excel by using the new dynamic array functions.

Supposing you have a list of fruit in column A and exporters in column B. An additional complication is that the fruit names are not grouped but scattered across the column. The goal is to put the unique fruit names in the first drop-down and depending on the user's selection show the relevant exporters in the second drop-down.
Source data for a dependent drop down list

To create a dynamic dependent drop down list in Excel, carry out these steps:

1. Get items for the main drop down list

For starters, we shall extract all different fruit names from column A. This can be done by using the UNIQUE function in its simplest form - supply the fruit list for the first argument (array) and omit the remaining optional arguments as their defaults work just fine for us:

=UNIQUE(A3:A15)

The formula goes to G3, and after pressing the Enter key the results spill into the next cells automatically.
Getting the unique items for the main drop down list

2. Create the main drop down

To make your primary drop-down list, configure an Excel Data Validation rule in this way:

  • Select a cell in which you want the dropdown to appear (D3 in our case).
  • On the Data tab, in the Data Tools group, click Data Validation.
  • In the Data Validation dialog box, do the following:
    • Under Allow, select List.
    • In the Source box, enter the reference to the spill range output by the UNIQUE formula. For this, type the hash tag right after the cell reference, like this: =$G$3#

      This is called a spill range reference, and this syntax refers to the entire range regardless of how much it expands or contracts.

    • Click OK to close the dialog.

    Creating the main drop down list

Your primary drop-down list is done!
The first dropdown is accomplished.

3. Get items for the dependent drop down list

To get entries for the secondary dropdown menu, we'll filter the values in column B based on the value selected in the first dropdown. This can be done with the help of another dynamic array function called FILTER:

=FILTER(B3:B15, A3:A15=D3)

Where B3:B15 are the source data for your dependent drop down, A3:A15 are the source data for your main dropdown, and D3 is the main dropdown cell.

To make sure the formula works correctly, you can select some value in the first drop-down list and observe the results returned by FILTER. Perfect! :)
Getting items for the dependent drop down list

4. Make the dependent drop down

To create the second dropdown list, configure the data validation criteria exactly as you did for the first drop down at step 2. But this time, reference the spill range returned by the FILTER function: =$H$3#
Configuring the dependent drop down list

That's it! Your Excel dependent dropdown list is ready for use.
A dependent dropdown list in Excel

Tips and notes:

  • To have the new entries included in the drop-down list automatically, format your source data as an Excel table. Or you can include a few blank cells in your formulas as demonstrated in this example.
  • If your original data contains any gaps, you can filter out blanks by using this solution.
  • To alphabetically sort a dropdown's items, wrap your formulas in the SORT function as explained in this example.

How to create multiple dependent drop down list in Excel

In the previous example, we made a drop down list depending on another cell. But what if you need a multi-level hierarchy, i.e. a 3rd dropdown depending in the 2nd list, or even a 4th dropdown depending on the 3rd list. Is that possible? Yes, you can set up any number of dependent lists (a reasonable number, of course :).

For this example, we have placed states / provinces in column C, and are now looking to add a corresponding dropdown menu in G3:
Source data for a multiple dependent drop down list

To make a multiple dependent drop down list in Excel, this is what you need to do:

1. Set up the first drop down

The main dropdown list is created with exact the same steps as in the previous example (please see steps 1 and 2 above). The only difference is the spill range reference you enter in the Source box.

This time, the UNIQUE formula is in E8, and the main drop down list is going to be in E3. So, you select E3, click Data Validation, and supply this reference: =$E$8#
Setting up the first drop down list

2. Configure the second drop down

As you may have noticed, now column B contains multiple occurrences of the same exporters. But you want only unique names in your dropdown list, right? To leave out all duplicate occurrences, wrap the UNIQUE function around your FILTER formula, and enter this updated formula in F8:

=UNIQUE(FILTER(B3:B15, A3:A15=E3))

Where B3:B15 are the source data for the second drop down, A3:A15 are the source data for the first dropdown, and E3 is the first dropdown cell.

After that, use the following spill range reference for the Data Validation criteria: =$F$8#
Configuring the second drop down

3. Set up the third drop down

To gather the items for the 3rd drop down list, make use of the FILTER formula with multiple criteria. The first criterion checks the entire fruit list against the value selected in the 1st dropdown (A3:A15=E3) while the second criterion tests the list of exporters against the selection in the 2nd dropdown (B3:B15=F3). The complete formula goes to G8:

=FILTER(C3:C15, (A3:A15=E3) * (B3:B15=F3))

If you are going to add more dependent dropdowns (4th, 5th, etc.), then most likely column C will contain multiple occurrences of the same item. To prevent duplicates from getting into the preparation table, and consequently in the 3rd dropdown, nest the FILTER formula in the UNIQUE function like we did in the previous step:

=UNIQUE(FILTER(C3:C15, (A3:A15=E3) * (B3:B15=F3)))

The last thing for you to do is to create one more Data Validation rule with this Source reference: =$G$8#
Setting up the third drop down

Your multiple dependent drop down list is good to go!
Multiple dependent drop down list in Excel

Tip. In a similar manner, you can get items for subsequent drop-downs. Assuming column D contains the source data for your 4th dropdown list, you can enter the following formula in H8 to retrieve the corresponding items:

=UNIQUE(FILTER(D3:D15, (A3:A15=E3) * (B3:B15=F3) * (C3:C15=G3)))

How to make an expandable drop down list in Excel

After creating a dropdown, your first concern may be as to what happens when you add new items to the source data. Will the dropdown list update automatically? If your original data is formatted as Excel table, then yes, a dynamic drop down list discussed in the previous examples will expand automatically without any effort on your side because Excel tables are expandable by their nature.

If for some reason using an Excel table is not an option, you can make your dropdown list expandable in this way:

  • To include new data automatically as it is added to the source list, add a few extra cells to the arrays referenced in your formulas.
  • To exclude blank cells, configure the formulas to ignore empty cells until they get filled.

Keeping these two points in mind, let's fine-tune the formulas in our data preparation table. The Data Validation rules do not require any adjustments at all.

Formula for the main dropdown

With the fruit names in A3:A15, we add 5 extra cells to the array to cater for possible new entries. Additionally, we embed the FILTER function into UNIQUE to extract unique values without blanks.

Given the above, the formula in G3 takes this shape:

=UNIQUE(FILTER(A3:A20, A3:A20<>""))

Formula for the dependent dropdown

The formula in G3 does not need much tweaking - just extend the arrays with a few more cells:

=FILTER(B3:B20, A3:A20=D3)

The result is a fully dynamic expandable dependent drop down list:
Making an expandable drop down list in Excel

How to sort drop down list alphabetically

Want to arrange your dropdown list alphabetically without resorting the source data? The new dynamic Excel has a special function for this too! In your data preparation table, simply wrap the SORT function around your existing formulas.

The data validation rules are configured exactly as described in the previous examples.

To sort from A to Z

Since the ascending sort order is the default option, you can just nest your existing formulas in the array argument of SORT, omitting all other arguments which are optional.

For the main dropdown (the formula in G3):

=SORT(UNIQUE(FILTER(A3:A20, A3:A20<>"")))

For the dependent dropdown (the formula in H3):

=SORT(FILTER(B3:B20, A3:A20=D3))

Done! Both drop down lists get sorted alphabetically A to Z.
Sorting a drop down list alphabetically

To sort from Z to A

To sort in descending order, you need to set the 3rd argument (sort_order) of the SORT function to -1.

For the main dropdown (the formula in G3):

=SORT(UNIQUE(FILTER(A3:A20, A3:A20<>"")), 1, -1)

For the dependent dropdown (the formula in H3):

=SORT(FILTER(B3:B20, A3:A20=D3), 1, -1)

This will sort both the data in the preparation table and the items in the dropdown lists from Z to A:
Sorting a drop down list descending

Tip. Another fast and easy way to enter information in Excel spreadsheets is a data entry form.

That's how to create dynamic drop down list in Excel with the help of the new dynamic array functions. Unlike the traditional methods, this approach works perfectly for single and multi-word entries and takes care of any blank cells. Thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!

Practice workbook for download

Excel dependent drop down list (.xlsx file)

143 comments

  1. Hi,
    What happens if you have multiple dynamic dropdowns,
    Many rows where you choose different fruits and then need the exporters available in column E
    D3 has Apricot and the choices are available as expected in E3 - data comes from $F$8#
    D4 has Orange but the choices available in E4, are still for Apricot, as the Exporter list is still referring to the Fruit in D3. $F$8#

    • Hi! Try carefully using the instructions in the third section of this article: How to make an expandable dropdown list in Excel.

  2. To use the Filter function but it links to another worksheet

  3. Thank you, but my excel is in new version and it does not have filter and unique formula, can you please help?

  4. Hello,

    I have question about first section : How to make dynamic drop down list in Excel.
    D3 is your main dropdown cell. What if i want to have dropdown cell in another rows (D4, D5.... ) with same filter options and sorce data?

    Thank you

  5. Hello, I have a list of 5 criteria questions that will be selected and based on those answer I want to feedback to be the top 3 choices based on the questions the selected. How would I write the formula, I am thinking we will need to assign a value on the answer they selected before selecting the top 3 options to select from

    • Hi! Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

  6. Thank you for this! This was very helpful and worked in my first three drop down. We could finally automate our reports. However, I have 4 drop down that needs to be made. What would be the formula if I need 4 drop down? Thank you.

    • Hi! The code works for all drop-down lists on your worksheet. Unless you specify a range of cells in which it can work. This is explained in the article above.

  7. I followed these steps almost excatly and was so excited I finally found a way to get my drop dowans to work I got the first 2 drop downs to work but then I keep getting a calc error on the third -.-.

    Source Data Table:
    Column 1 = A1000 - A1329
    Column 2 = B1000 - B1329
    Column 3 = C1000 - C1329

    Prep Table:
    First drop down in cell F1000 reads - =UNIQUE(A1000:A1329)
    Second drop down in cell G1000 reads =UNIQUE(FILTER(B1000:B1329,A1000:A1329=L1000)
    Third drop down, dysplaying #CALC!, in cell H000 reads =UNIQUE(FILTER(C1000:C1329,(A1000:A1329=L1000)*(B1000:B1329=M1000)))

    Dynamic Table:
    Cell L1000 drop down works (data validation reads =$F$1000#)
    Cell M1000 drop down works (data validation reads =$G$1000#)
    Cell N1000 drop down does not work and displays the #CALC! error (data validation reads =$H$1000#)

    Im not sure if you can help provide all these details but im not sure what im doing wrong.

    Hopefully someone can help, thank you in advance this guide is great!

  8. I am trying to create a drop down of product names, but each name has three or four specific fields of dependent data to that product name that I want to come over as it is selected from the drop down. Once an item is selected from the drop down, a calculator will reference that data to come up with a specific number. Is that possible?

    • Hi! A drop-down list creates a standard text string. No references or data fields are possible. With the selected value, you can then use a formula to retrieve the data associated with it. For example, using VLOOKUP or INDEX+MATCH. I hope I've understood what you're asking.

  9. Is there a way to be able to use our dynamic lists for each row?

    Basically what I am wanting to do is the Value of cells in Column D depend on value selected in Column C - for each row.

  10. Hello!

    Say I am tracking equipment on a large construction project that includes 4 different construction sites where equipment will be either stored or utilized. Each construction site will have its own area on an excel sheet (all 4 on the same sheet for better visualization when determining equipment needs). Using source data, I create 4 identical lists of available equipment for the project, one for each site. Is it possible to have parameters in each list such that when I select a piece of equipment that is currently in site #1, that same piece of equipment would not be show up in the same list in site #2 (or site #3 and #4, for that matter) for selection, until that piece of equipment is de-selected? I hope that makes sense! My main concern is eliminating the potential of showing the same piece of equipment in two different sites. Thank you!

    • Hi! You're asking beyond the advice this blog can provide. Solving this complex problem requires more than a single formula. If you have a specific question about how a function or a formula works, I'll do my best to help you.

  11. Hi Sir,

    I have three dependent values similar to Fruit, Exporters and State/Province. In the above example, there are 3 sections like the Source data, preparation table and the Dynamic drop-down area. in the Dynamic drop-down area, currently only one row and their drop-down results are shown. I have a scenario where the Dynamic drop-down is there in a separate sheet and I have to do it for multiple rows. i.e., In Row 1, User would select Orange, USA and the State list will be shown. in the Row 2 and subsequent rows, select the Fruit and Exporter, based on it show the third drop-down list for multiple rows.

    • Hi! If I understand the question correctly, you can create dependent dropdown lists as described in this guide. But without seeing your data, it is impossible to offer you formulas for this.

  12. Is it possible to make the pulled data editable? When I change this data it disappears. Thank you!

  13. Thanks, learned something new today :)

  14. How do you make an indirect dynamic drop down for excel 2010? I managed to get the dynamic lists to work, the primary dropdown to work, but its dependent drop down doesn't work. Help most appreciated.

  15. Thanks for the insightful explainer.

    I noticed that if a cell is already populated, changing the adjacent cell where the data would now not match does not depopulate the cell, meaning the cell now has erroneous info. How would one automate the cell to exclude non conforming input?

    Thanks.

    • Hi! If I understand correctly, you can automatically remove data from a cell with a second dropdown list when the first dropdown list is modified using a VBA macro.

  16. How can I achieve the same thing but with multiple rows in column D:E?
    Like: I have several rows where the user selects a value from the first drop-down list and the cell right to it needs to be dynamically populated with corresponding values.

    Your example works only if I have one row, because you will need one temporary table. How does it work with multiple rows of lists?

      • This worked perfectly. I had my spreadsheet with a list of businesses in different categories and those having their own sub-categories. Do the exercise on the page, don't try to immediately interpret it into your application. Just - fresh spreadsheet, apricots, oranges and Brazils. It makes complete sense when you do the exercise, and then easy to interpret into my application. Thanks, Alexander and Ablebits Team!

    • I have the same question as Dennis, does anyone have the answer?
      Meaning: I want to perform the same cascading dynamic dropdown menu's multiple times, but this means that for each input row, I would have to make a unique temporary table. Can this be done easier? Can I put the UNIQUE and FILTER formula in the data validation list criteria?

      • Hi! If I understand your task correctly, this article above may be helpful. This article shows you how to use the Dynamic Array functions to create a cascading drop-down list in Excel.

        • Thanks Alexander! Unfortunately, this is not what I am looking for. I have a multiple dependent drop-down list as in your example, but I want to perform this exercise multiple times based on the same input table. Using the example your sent, this means that I want to be able to select fruit, then exporter, then state/province in cells E3:G3 (using the info from the preparation table), en then I want to perform this exercise again in cells E4:G4 and again and again. But this means taht I would have to build a new preparation table each time I want to perform this exercise right? Or is there a simpler way, eg by using the UNIQUE and FILTER formulas in the data validation list criteria?

          • Have you read the article you are commenting on? The article talks about how to use UNIQUE and FILTER formulas in the data validation list criteria. Or explain why these recommendations do not work for you.

            • Hi, yes I have read the article above. Probably I am not understanding it correctly, but as I read it, it explains how to use the UNIQUE and FILTER formulas to create the correct list in the preparation table. Then this list can be called in the data validation list. I have succeeded in doing so.
              However, my case requires something different. Let me explain:

              I have a table with headers called 'Supplier', 'Product Group', 'Product Name', 'Cost Price' and 'Discount'. I want users to be able to select their top 10-20 products in terms of procurement volume and see in one glance how much discount they can get on the total of these top products. This means that I want all of their top 10-20 products in an overview.
              Since the list of products is enormous, I want them to be able to first filter by supplier, then by productgroup, and then select their top product. Then automatically cost price and discount will be shown. Afterwards, the user has to be able to select their second top product in the row below. Selecting the supplier is no problem, but then selecting the product group is, because the drop-down list still refers to the selected supplier form the first product. Do I need to create a preparation table for the total number of products I want my users to be able to select? Or can I include the combi UNIQUE and FILTER formula in the data validation criteria (so not in the preparation table)?

              • Hi! I can't see your data and can't give you a formula. I think it is better to create a separate dynamic table using the FILTER formula and get the data for the dropdown list from it.

  17. Thank you for training

  18. thanks, it as a great help

  19. Sorry, new to validation, for some reason when I asked my last question, did not realize that Copy would work fine.

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