How to track changes in Excel

Svetlana Cheusheva by , updated on

The tutorial shows how to track changes in Excel: highlight changes on screen, list changes in a separate sheet, accept and reject changes, as well as monitor the last changed cell.

When collaborating on an Excel workbook, you may want to keep track of the changes that have been made to it. This could be especially useful when the document is almost finished and your team is making the final revisions.

On a printed copy, you could use a red pen to mark edits. In an Excel file, you can review, accept or reject changes electronically by using the Track Changes feature specially designed for it. Furthermore, you can monitor the latest changes by using the Watch Window.

Excel Track Changes - the basics

By using the built-in Track Changes in Excel, you can easily review your edits directly in the edited worksheet or on a separate sheet, and then accept or reject each change individually or all changes at a time. To use the Excel tracking feature most effectively, there are a few points for you to remember.

1. Track Changes is only available in shared workbooks

Excel's Track Changes works only in shared workbooks. So, whenever your turn on tracking in Excel, the workbook becomes shared, meaning that multiple users can make their edits simultaneously. That sounds great, but sharing a file has its drawbacks too. Not all Excel features are fully supported in shared workbooks including conditional formatting, data validation, sorting and filtering by format, merging cells, to name a few. For more information, please see our Excel shared workbook tutorial.

2. Track Changes cannot be used in workbooks that contain tables

If the Track Changes button is unavailable (grayed out) in your Excel, most likely your workbook contains one or more tables or XML maps, which are not supported in shared workbooks. In that case, convert your tables to ranges and remove XML maps.

3. It's not possible to undo changes in Excel

In Microsoft Excel, you cannot revert the worksheet back in time by undoing changes like you can do in Microsoft Word. Excel's Track Changes is rather a log file that records information about the changes made to a workbook. You can manually review those changes and choose which ones to keep and which ones to override.

4. Not all changes are tracked in Excel

Excel does not track every single change. Any edits you make to cell values are tracked, but some other changes like formatting, hiding/unhiding rows and columns, formula recalculations are not.

5. Change history is kept for 30 days by default

By default, Excel keeps the change history for 30 days. If you open an edited workbook, say, in 40 days, you will see the change history for all 40 days, but only until you close the workbook. After closing the workbook, any changes older than 30 days will be gone. However, it's possible to change the number of days for keeping change history.

How to track changes in Excel

Now that you know the basics of Excel Track Changes, let's talk about how to enable and use this feature in your worksheets.

Turn on Excel Track Changes feature

To view the changes made to a given workbook by you or other users, perform these steps:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click the Track Changes button, and then select Highlight Changes....
    Highlight changes in a shared workbook.
  2. In the Highlight Changes dialog box, do the following:
    • Check the Track changes while editing. This also shares your workbook. box
    • Under Highlight which changes, select the desired time period in the When box, and whose changes you want to see in the Who box (the screenshot below shows the default settings).
    • Select the Highlight changes on screen option.
    • Click OK.

    Highlight Changes options

  3. If prompted, allow Excel to save your workbook, and you are done!

Excel will highlight edits by different users in different colors as shown in the next section. Any new changes will be highlighted as you type.

Tip. If you are enabling Excel Track Changes in a shared workbook (which is indicated by the word [Shared] appended to the workbook name), the List changes on a new sheet will also be available. You can select this box too to view full details about each change on a separate sheet.

Highlight changes on screen

With Highlight changes on screen selected, Microsoft Excel shades the column letters and row numbers where changes were made in a dark red color. At the cell level, edits from different users are marked in different colors - a colored cell border and a small triangle in the upper-left corner. To get more information about a specific change, just hover over the cell:
Highlight changes on screen

View tracked changes history in a separate sheet

Apart from highlighting changes on screen, you can also view a list of changes on a separate sheet. To have it done, perform these steps:

  1. Share a workbook.

    For this, go to the Review tab > Changes group, click the Share Workbook button, and then select the Allow changes by more than one user at the same time check box. For more detailed steps, please see How to share a workbook in Excel.

  2. Turn on the Excel Track Changes feature (Review > Track Changes > Highlight Changes).
  3. In the Highlight Changes dialog window, configure the Highlight which changes boxes (the screenshot below shows the recommended settings), select the List changes on a new sheet box, and click OK.

List changes on a separate sheet.

This will list all tracked changes on a new worksheet, called the History sheet, which shows many details about each change including when it was made, who made it, what data was changed, whether the change was kept or not.

The conflicting changes (i.e. different changes made to the same cell by different users) that were kept have Won in the Action Type column. The numbers in the Losing Action column refer to the corresponding Action Numbers with information about the conflicting changes that were overridden. As an example, please see action number 5 (Won) and action number 2 (Lost) in the screenshot below:
The History sheet

Tips and notes:

  1. The History sheet displays only saved changes, so be sure to save your recent work (Ctrl + S) prior to using this option.
  2. If the History sheet does not list all the changes that have been made to the workbook, select All in the When box, and then clear the Who and Where check boxes.
  3. To remove the History worksheet from your workbook, either save the workbook again or uncheck the List changes on a new sheetbox in the Highlight Changes dialog window.
  4. If you want Excel's track changes to look like Word's track changes, i.e. deleted values formatted with strikethrough, you can use this macro posted on the Microsoft Excel Support Team blog.

Accept or reject changes

To accept or reject changes made by different users, go to the Review tab > Changes group, and click Track Changes > Accept/Reject Changes.
Accept or reject changes in Excel

In the Select Changes to Accept or Reject dialog box, configure the following options, and then click OK:

  • In the When list, choose either Not yet reviewed or Since date.
  • In the Who list, select the user whose changes you want to review (Everyone, Everyone but me or a specific user).
  • Clear the Where box.

Select the changes to review.

Excel will show you the changes one by one, and you click Accept or Reject to keep or cancel each change individually.
Click Accept or Reject to keep or cancel each change individually.

If several edits were made to a given cell, you will be asked which of the changes you want to keep:
Choose which of the changes you want to accept.

Alternatively, you can click Accept All or Reject All to approve or cancel all changes in one go.

Note. Even after accepting or rejecting the tracked changes, they will still be highlighted in your workbook. To remove them completely, turn off Track Changes in Excel.

Set for how long to keep change history

By default, Excel keeps the change history for 30 days and permanently erases any older changes. To keep changes history for a longer period, perform these steps:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click the Share Workbook button.
  2. In the Share Workbook dialog window, switch to the Advanced tab, enter the desired number of days in the box next to Keep change history for, and click OK.

Set for how long to the change history should be kept.

How to turn off Track Changes in Excel

When you no longer want changes to be highlighted in your workbook, turn off the Excel Track Changes option. Here's how:

  1. On the Review tab, in the Changes group, click Track Changes > Highlight Changes.
  2. In the Highlight Changes dialog box, clear the Track changes while editing. This also shares your workbook check box.
    Turn off Track Changes in Excel.

Note. Turning off change tracking in Excel permanently deletes the change history. To keep that information for further reference, you can List changes on a new sheet, then copy the History sheet to another workbook and save that workbook.

How to track the last changed cell in Excel

In some situations, you may not want to view all of the changes made to a workbook, but only to monitor the last edit. This can be done by using the CELL function in combination with the Watch Window feature.

As you probably know, the CELL function in Excel is designed to retrieve information about a cell:

CELL(info_type, [reference])

The info_type argument specifies what type of information you want to return such as a cell value, address, formatting, etc. Overall, 12 info types are available, but for this task, we will use just two of them:

  • Contents - to retrieve the cell's value.
  • Address - to get the cell's address.

Optionally, you can utilize other into types to retrieve additional information, for example:

  • Col - to get the column number of the cell.
  • Row - to get the row number of the cell.
  • Filename - to display the path of the filename that contains the cell of interest.

By omitting the reference argument, you instruct Excel to return information about the last changed cell.

With the background information established, perform the following steps to track the last changed cell in your workbooks:

  1. Enter the below formulas in any empty cells:



    Like show in the screenshot below, the formulas will display the address and current value of the last cell changed:
    Cell formulas to track the last changed cell

    That is great, but what if you move away from the sheet with your Cell formulas? To be able to monitor the latest changes from any sheet that you have currently open, add the formula cells to the Excel Watch Window.

  2. Add the formula cells to Watch Window:
    • Select the cells where you've just entered the Cell formulas.
    • Go to the Formulas tab > Formula Auditing group, and click the Watch Window button.
    • In the Watch Window, click Add Watch... .
    • The small Add Watch window will show up, with the cell references already added, and you click the Add button.

Add the formula cells to Watch Window.

This places the formula cells into the Watch Window. You can move or dock the Watch Window toolbar wherever you want, for example at the top of the sheet. And now, whatever worksheet or workbook you navigate to, the information about the last changed cell is just a glance away.

Note. The Cell formulas catch the latest change that has been made to any open workbook. If the change was made to a different workbook, the name of that workbook will be displayed like shown in the screenshot below:
Tracking the last changed cell in Excel

This is how you track changes in Excel. I thank you for reading and hope to see you on our blog next week!