Excel Data Validation: custom formulas and rules

The tutorial shows how to make custom Data Validation rules in Excel. You will find a few examples of Excel data validation formulas to allow only numbers or text values in specific cells, or only text beginning with specific characters, permit unique data preventing duplicates, and more.

In yesterday's tutorial we started to look at Excel Data Validation - what its purpose is, how it works, and how to use built-in rules to validate data in your worksheets. Today, we are going to take a step further and talk about the nitty-gritty aspects of custom data validation in Excel as well as experiment with a handful of different validation formulas.

How to create custom data validation with formula

Microsoft Excel has several built-in data validation rules for numbers, dates and text, but they cover only the most basic scenarios. If you want to validate cells with your own criteria, create a custom validation rule based on a formula. Here's how:

  1. Select one or more cells to validate.
  2. Open the Data Validation dialog box. For this, click the Data Validation button on the Data tab, in the Data Tools group or press the key sequence Alt > D > L (each key is to be pressed separately).
  3. On the Settings tab of the Data Validation dialog window, select Custom in the Allow box, and enter your data validation formula in the Formula box.
  4. Click OK.

Creating a custom formula-based validation rule in Excel

Optionally, you can add a custom input message and Error alert that will show up when the user selects the validated cell or enters invalid data, respectively.

Below you will find a few examples of custom validation rules for different data types.

Note. All Excel data validation rules, built-in and custom, verify only new data that is typed in a cell after creating the rule. Copied data is not validated, nor is the data input in the cell before making the rule. To pin down existing entries that do not meet your data validation criteria, use the Circle Invalid Data feature as shown in How to find invalid data in Excel.

Excel data validation to allow numbers only

Surprisingly, none of the inbuilt Excel data validation rules cater for a very typical situation when you need to restrict users to entering only numbers in specific cells. But this can be easily done with a custom data validation formula based on the ISNUMBER function, like this one:


Where C2 is the topmost cell of the range you want to validate.
A custom data validation rule to allow numbers only

Note. The ISNUMBER function allows any numeric values in validated cells, including integers, decimals, fractions as well as dates and times, which are also numbers in terms of Excel.

Excel data validation to allow text only

If you are looking for the opposite - to allow only text entries in given range of cells, then build a custom rule with the ISTEXT function, for example:


Where D2 is the uppermost cell of the selected range.
A custom data validation rule to allow text only

Allow text beginning with specific character(s)

If all values in a certain range should begin with a particular character or substring, then do Excel data validation based on the COUNTIF function with a wildcard character:


For example, to ensure that all order id's in column A begin with the "AA-", "aa-", "Aa-", or "aA-" prefix (case-insensitive), define a custom rule with this data validation formula:

Data validation to allow text beginning with specific characters

Validation formula with the OR logic (multiple criteria)

In case there are 2 or more valid prefixes, add up several COUNTIF functions, so that your Excel data validation rule works with the OR logic:

Excel data validation formula with the OR logic

Case-sensitive validation formula

If the character case matters, then use EXACT in combination with the LEFT function to create a case-sensitive validation formula for entries beginning with specific text:

EXACT(LEFT(cell, number_of_chars), text)

For instance, to allow only those order ids that begin with "AA-" (neither "aa-" nor "Aa-" is allowed), use this formula:


In the above formula, the LEFT function extracts the first 3 characters from cell A2, and EXACT performs a case-sensitive comparison with the hard-coded substring ("AA-" in this example). If the two substrings match exactly, the formula returns TRUE and the validation passes; otherwise FALSE is returned and the validation fails.
Case-sensitive validation formula to allow text beginning with specific characters

Allow entries containing certain text

To allow entries that contain specific text anywhere in a cell (in the beginning, middle, or end), use the ISNUMBER function in combination with either FIND or SEARCH depending on whether you want case-sensitive or case-insensitive match:

  • Case-insensitive validation:

    ISNUMBER(SEARCH(text, cell))
  • Case-sensitive validation:

    ISNUMBER(FIND(text, cell))

On our sample data set, to permit only entries containing the text "AA" in cells A2:A6, use one of these formulas:





The formulas work with the following logic:

You search the substring "AA" in cell A2 using FIND or SEARCH, and both return a position of the first character in the substring. If the text is not found, an error is returned. For any numeric value returned as the result of search, the ISNUMBER function yields TRUE, and data validation is successful. In case of an error, ISNUMBER returns FALSE, and the entry won't be allowed in a cell.
Data validation to allow entries containing certain text

Data validation to allow only unique entries and disallow duplicates

In situations when a certain column or a range of cell should not contain any duplicates, configure a custom data validation rule to allow only unique entries. For this, we are going to use the classic COUNTIF formula to identify duplicates:

=COUNTIF(range, topmost_cell)<=1

For example, to make sure that only unique order ids are input in cells A2 to A6, create a custom rule with this data validation formula:

=COUNTIF($A$2:$A$6, A2)<=1

When a unique value is entered, the formula returns TRUE and the validation succeeds. If the same value already exists in the specified range (count greater than 1), COUNTIF returns FALSE and the input fails validation.

Please pay attention that we lock the range with absolute cell references (A$2:$A$6) and use a relative reference for the top cell (A2) to get the formula to adjust properly for each cell in the validated range.
Data validation to allow only unique entries

Note. This data validation formulas is case-insensitive, it does not distinguish uppercase and lowercase text.

Validation formulas for dates and times

Inbuilt date validation provides quite a lot of predefined criteria to restrict users to entering only dates between the two dates you specify, greater than, less than, or equal to a given date.

If you want more control over data validation in your worksheets, you can replicate the inbuilt functionality with a custom rule or write your own formula that goes beyond the built-in capabilities of Excel data validation.

Allow dates between two dates

To limit the entry to a date within a specified range, you can use either the predefined Date rule with the "between" criteria or make a custom validation rule with this generic formula:

AND(cell>=start_date), cell<=end_date)


  • cell is the topmost cell in the validated range, and
  • start and end dates are valid dates supplied via the DATE function or references to cells containing the dates.

For example, to allow only dates in the month of July of the year 2017, use the following formula:


Or, enter the start date and end date in some cells (F1 and F2 in this example), and reference those cells in your formula:

=AND(C2>=$F$1, C2<=$F$2)

Please notice that the boundary dates are locked with absolute cell references.
Data validation to allow dates between two dates

Allow weekdays or weekends only

To restrict a user to entering only weekdays or weekends, configure a custom validation rule based on the WEEKDAY function.

With the return_type argument set to 2, WEEKDAY returns an integer ranging from 1 (Monday) to 7 (Sunday). So, for weekdays (Mon to Fri) the result of the formula should be less than 6, and for weekends (Sat and Sun) greater than 5.

Allow only workdays:


Allow only weekends:


For example, to allow entering only workdays in cells C2:C6, use this formula:

Validation rule to allow only workdays

Validate dates based on today's date

In many situations, you may want to use today's date as the start date of the allowed date range. To get the current date, use the TODAY function, and then add the desired number of days to it to compute the end date.

For example, to limit the data entry to 6 days from now (7 days including today), we are going to use the built-in Date rule with the formula-based criteria:

  1. Select Date in the Allow
  2. Select between in the Data
  3. In the Start date box, enter =TODAY()
  4. In the End date box, enter =TODAY() + 6

Validating dates based on today's date

In a similar manner, you can restrict users to entering dates before or after today's date. For this, select either less than or greater than in the Data box, and then enter =TODAY() in the End date or Start date box, respectively.

Validate times based on current time

To validate data based on the current time, use the predefined Time rule with your own data validation formula:

  1. In the Allow box, select Time.
  2. In the Data box, pick either less than to allow only times before the current time, or greater than to allow times after the current time.
  3. In the End time or Start time box (depending on which criteria you selected on the previous step), enter one of the following formulas:
    • To validate dates and times based on the current date and time:
    • To validate times based on the current time:

The screenshot below shows a rule that allows only times greater than the current time:
Validating times based on current time

Custom Excel data validation rule not working

If your formula-based data validation rule does not work as expected, there are 3 main points to check:

  • Data validation formula is correct
  • Validation formula does not refer to an empty cell
  • Appropriate cell references are used

Check the correctness of your Excel data validation formula

For starters, copy your validation formula into some cell to make sure it does not return an error such as #N/A, #VALUE or #DIV/0!.

If you are creating a custom rule, the formula should return the logical values of TRUE and FALSE or the values of 1 and 0 equating to them, respectively.

If you use a formula-based criteria in a built-in rule (like we did to validate times based on the current time), it can also return another numeric value.

Excel data validation formula should not refer to an empty cell

In many situations, if you select the Ignore blank box when defining the rule (usually selected by default) and one or more cells referenced in your formula is blank, any value will be allowed in the validated cell.

Here is an example in the simplest form:
Validation formula should not refer to an empty cell

Absolute and relative cell references in data validation formulas

When setting up a formula-based Excel validation rule, please keep in mind that all cell references in your formula are relative to the upper left cell in the selected range.

If you are creating a rule for more than one cell and your validation criteria are dependent on specific cells, be sure to use absolute cell references (with the $ sign like $A$1), otherwise your rule will work correctly only for the first cell. To better illustrate the point, please consider the following example.

Supposing, you want to restrict data entry in cells D2 to D5 to whole numbers between 1 (minimum value) and the result of dividing A2 by B2. So, you calculate the maximum value with this simple formula =A2/B2, like shown in the screenshot below:
Incorrect cell references in a data validation formula

The problem is this seemingly correct formula won't work for cells D3 to D5 because relative references change based on a relative position of rows and columns. Thus, for cell D3 the formula will change to =A3/B3, and for D4 it will become =A4/B4, doing data validation all wrong!

To fix the formula, just type "$" before the column and row references to lock them: =$A$2/$B$2. Or, press F4 to toggle between different reference types.

In situations when you want to validate each cell based on its own criteria, use relative cell references without $ sign to get the formula to adjust for each row or/and column:
Correct cell references in a data validation formula

As you see, there is no "absolute truth", the same formula could be right or wrong depending on situation and your particular task.

This is how to use data validation in Excel with your own formulas. T gain more understanding, feel free to download our sample workbook below and examine the rule settings. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!

Practice workbook for download

Excel Data Validation examples (.xlsx file)


  1. Hello. Can i ask if posible to make data validation on cell that allow only to input greater than number from the present number from the cell.and show error if i input less than the present number from the cell. In short the input number must be always greater than the present number.without using minimum number.thank you if somebody can help.

  2. Hi, is it possible to have a set of letter values (as in like a regular "List" data validation) + whole numbers only? without having to list down all numbers in the list used in data validation?

    List = A,B,C,D
    Cells should allow, A or B or C or D or any whole numbers but should not allow E or any other words.

  3. Hello
    I am trying to find the correct format to apply a formula from a cell to another cell where the input choice in that cell is from a drop down list.

  4. Good morning, I hope you're doing well. My question is how do I use custom data validation to "only enter currency values without decimals" in a certain column?

    • Hello! Compare the number you enter with the same number rounded to integers.
      For example, use this formula data validation for column C:


  5. Hello, I made a formula using data validation where I am going to validate one cell if it contains the exact word then you won't be able to edit the rest of the cells however I need to copy this formula to other group of cells but it will only validate the original cell because it won't work if I don't write $ on it so instead I need to manually rewrite the formula after copying it. Is there any way to copy the formulas automatically without needing to rewrite the formula to validate the new cell? My explanation might be confusing lol.

    What I'm doing is I have a cell that has a dropdown list of "Open" and "Closed". If I select Closed in the dropdown it will validate it and I won't be able to edit the group of cells I selected, if it's Open then I will be able to edit it.

    Now I need to copy the whole thing to make a new one but I can't copy the exact result because in the formula it has $ sign where it will be permanent. So even though it is copied it is still validating the same cell. So I need to rewrite the formula with a different cell number on it.

    My question is if there's any way to work around it. I tried all the copy pasting method but it won't work. If I don't put dollar sign then the formula won't work, the result is no matter if I selected Open or CLosed I won't be able to edit it if I write it without the $ sign.

  6. I am looking for a validation rule to do this. The custom
    We are currently using Excel Shortcuts to enter the dates in the cell (Date & Time Shortcut = Ctrl+; then Spacebar Ctrl+Shift+;)
    The date is always displayed as 12 04 2023 12:19. I have even tried to write a macro to run when you save the file to change the Date Columns to the correct format, to no avail!!
    Will it be possible to do this with Data Validation??
    And how will I go about it? I understand after looking at your explanations it will need to be a Custom Validation, but I have no idea how to do it or where to begin.
    I have made an Input form on an Excel sheet to capture the data and transfer it to the correct worksheet. Al that is working.
    My challenge is the date/Time format on the input form.
    Regional Settings on PC
    Format - English (South Africa)
    Short Date - dd MMM yyyy
    Long Date - dd MMMM yyyy
    Short time - HH:mm
    Long Time - HH:mm


  7. How do i create data validation for range of cells where sum of all the cells in that range not to exceed a particular value

    • Hello!
      Select a range of cells (e.g. A2:A10). Create a data validation rule for this range with the formula SUM (for example SUM(A2:A10)<20)
      I hope it’ll be helpful.

  8. I have a sheet with all the users assigned to a project. Now, this is a live sheet which needs to be updated periodically. Is there any way, I can add a restriction, so that an user can only edit their own data (perhaps using their own User ID as a key)?


  9. I want to creat a custom date like mm-dd-yyyy is possible

  10. Good day

    How would I go about to allow only a-z or A-Z (no numeric in the text) and also that the entry may not exceed 40 characters. With ISTEXT it allows abc123. Thanking you in advance.

  11. Without wanting to push my luck (because I already had a question answered here in record time)... :-)

    Is it possible to automatically hide/unhide rows/columns depending on the answer in a validated list?


    A1 contains a validated drop down list of nationalities (100+ options)

    In Row 2 I have written (field B1): ID number. But that entire line (where the answer has to be given in B2 what the ID number is) should only be visible if in A1 the Answer "Dutch" was selected.

    If any other value that "Dutch" was selected in A1, then row 2 should be invisble but row 3 (where the person has to fill in his Social Security number should become visible.

    So in short: if A1 = "Dutch" then make row 2 visible and row 3 invisble. If A1 = any other value than "Dutch" in the dropdown menu, then make row 2 invisble and row 3 visible.

    Thanks again!

  12. Hi,
    I need to find a solution to the following challenge

    Cell B2 has a dropdown list of 5 choices (A/B/C/D/E as an example)

    Cell C2 now needs to contain dropdown lists which are particular to what is in B2. So If B2 = "A" then the dropdown in C2 needs to contain a certain amount of options in a dropdown menu which is tied to "A" (these values that are linked to A/B/C/D/E are in a separate tab and are each in a different column in that tab sheet).

    I tried "custom" and then went for =if(B2="A"; [target fields for dropdown linked to A here]); if(B2="B"; [target fields for dropdown linked to A here]); ... and so on.

    But that does not work. :-(

    Many thanks!

  13. Hello,
    Is it possible to create the drop down (data validation) using formula? I need to create the excel file in email attachment in SAP environment and I can only create the data validation in excel file using formulas (in development perspective).

  14. Hello,
    Is there a possibility to set up a different areas to search in based on data in a specific cell?
    Imagine you have ten customers. In one cell (B11), you use data validation - list - source (K10:K20) to choose the customer from the list.
    Any idea how to arrange that in another cell (B21) I could choose from the list of different sides that every customer has, but only from the list that belongs to the particular customer?
    Thank you,

  15. Using custom validation, the cell can only show "0" or values between 10,000 - 36,000. How do I do this?

  16. Is it possible to create a data validation formula that returns only the distinct values from a table column?

  17. Sir, how I write a data validation formula for entering a text and number combination format of 320.6 ABC.
    It should always be 3 digits, 1 decimal, then space and 3 English characters. format should be 320.6 ABC


  18. Hey!

    This was awesome. If I want to have a drop down of the numbers 1-50 and they can only select each number once (for example, identifying a list of their top 50 out of 2000) what formula would I use?

  19. Hello,
    Could you tell me please how to set up a column where only a four digit number is allowed (a year)? Thank you.

  20. Hi, thank you for your valuable help. Could you please tell me how I can ensure that my user enters Text first then numbers? Examples: ABC123 or ABCD12 or AB1234 etc, there is no set rule to 'count' of alphabet or numbers.

  21. Hey! So I'm trying to do a nested if function for a list dropdown and my issue is that I have too many options and it exceeds the character limit of the source bar in the data validation popup. Is there any way to get around this?

  22. Hi,

    I have a drop down menu with a list of percentage ranges and I want a different calculation dependent on each selection:

    < 90% then deduct 10% from cell E9 and update total in cell L9

    90-95% then deduct 5% from cell E9 and update total In cell L9

    96-99% then deduct 2.5% from cell E9 and update total in cell L9

    I initially tried IF statements based on the ‘text’ selected but it is only updating the total based on each individual cell with a drop down list, and I need each cell with the drop down menu to keep updating one cell total collectively.

    Can you help at all please?

  23. HI,
    I have a data set with a validation rule which does not allow names to be duplicated across the row. I would like to add a drop down list for the names to be selected from but when I try to do this it erases the previous validation rule which prevents the duplication. Is there any way I can add these two rules together?

  24. Hello,

    Please, I need help in excel coding:
    first, I want to know the coding formula for phone number validation to be equal to 8 characters e.g.: 65000000
    second, I used the formula "${hh_depend}+${hh_workf}" to calculate the sum of 2 variables. And I need validation coding which allows this total value to be strictly less than the answer of a previous variable ${hh_size} value.

    Thank you

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