Contextures

Excel INDIRECT Function

The INDIRECT function returns a reference to a range. You can use this function to create a reference that won't change if row or columns are inserted in the worksheet. Or, use it to create a reference from letters and numbers in other cells.

Thanks to Dave Peterson, for his contributions to this page.

INDIRECT Function Introduction

Watch this short video, to see how to use the INDIRECT function. Written instructions are below the video. Download the sample INDIRECT workbook, to see the examples.

How INDIRECT Function Works

The INDIRECT function is useful when you want to return a value, based on a text string. For example, select a range name from a drop down list, and get the total amount for the selected range. In this screen shot, choose Actual or Budget in cell B2, and the total appears in cell B3.

INDIRECT shows sum of selected data typs, Budget or Actual

INDIRECT Function Arguments

The INDIRECT function has two arguments: INDIRECT(ref_text,a1)

  1. ref_text: A cell reference or a text string (or both), that create a range reference to a cell, range of cells or named range.
  2. a1: (optional) Does the reference use A1 reference style?
    • TRUE, or omitted -- ref_text is must be "A1" style
    • FALSE -- ref_text must be "R1C1" style

Examples

In most cases, a cell reference or combination of text string and cell reference works best with the INDIRECT function. The Budget/Actual example above shows this technique.

If you use a simple text string, the range is "hard coded" in the formula, which has limited usefulness, except for locking a cell reference.

Text string -- address is typed into the formula (not flexible)
  • A1 style: =INDIRECT("A4") or =INDIRECT("Demo!B3") or =INDIRECT("Budget")
  • R1C1 style: =INDIRECT("R4C1",FALSE)
Cell reference -- refers to a cell that contains a text string
  • A1 style: =INDIRECT(C6)
  • R1C1 style: =INDIRECT(C8, FALSE)
Combined -- Text string and Cell reference
  • A1 style: =SUM(INDIRECT("A4:A" & C12))

Refer to Different Sheet or Workbook

See the examples below, for referring to a different worksheet, or a different workbook.

NOTE: If the INDIRECT formula refers to a different workbook, that workbook must be open, or the formula will return a #REF! error.go to top

Lock a Cell Reference

The INDIRECT function can "lock" a specific cell in a formula. Then, if rows or columns are inserted or deleted above or to the left of that cell, the reference does not change. Without INDIRECT, the reference would automatically adjust.

To see how this works, follow these steps to create two formulas -- one with normal cell references, and one with an INDIRECT function.

  1. In cells C2:C7, type a list of numbers
  2. Copy the list into E2:E7
  3. In cell C8, type a SUM formula: =SUM(C2:C7)
  4. In cell E8, type this formula: =SUM(INDIRECT(“E2”):E7)

Insert a Row

To see the difference between the formulas, insert a blank row above row 2, and enter 100 for January, in cells C2 and E2.

  • The total amount changes in column E, because the start cell is locked at E2.
  • The total amount does NOT change in column C. The start cell shifts down to cell C3.

INDIRECT locks cell reference

go to top

Refer To Different Sheet

An INDIRECT formula can also refer to cells on other worksheets. In this example, you'll create a formula with the INDIRECT function, using references to a sheet name and cell name.

  1. On a worksheet named Data Sheet, enter numbers in cells A1:A10
  2. On a different sheet, in cell A2, enter the sheet name: Data Sheet
  3. In cell B2, type a cell name from the range of numbers, e.g.: A2
  4. In cell C2, type the following formula:
    =INDIRECT("'" & A2 & "'!" & B2)
  5. type an INDIRECT formula

  6. The first part of the string is a single quote within a set of double quotes:
         " ' "  (spaces were added for clarity)
  7. After the reference to A2, which contains the sheet name, is a single quote and exclamation mark, within a set of double quotes:
         " ' ! "  (spaces were added for clarity)
  8. The string ends with a reference to cell B2, which contains the cell address.
  9. Single quotes are included in the string to prevent errors if the sheet name contains space characters.
  10. Press the Enter key, and the formula returns the number in cell A2 on the Data Sheet worksheet.
  11. Change the number in cell C2, and the result in D2 will change.

Note: If either cell A2 or B2 is empty, the formula will return an error. To prevent this, you can add an IF function:

    =IF(OR(A2="",B2=""),"",INDIRECT("'" & A2 & "'!" & B2))    go to top

Refer to Different Workbook

An INDIRECT formula can refer to cells in other workbooks, but will return a #REF! error if that workbook is closed. In this example, you'll create a formula with the INDIRECT function, using references to a file name, sheet name and cell name.

Set up a Data Workbook

  1. Create a new Excel file named TestFile.xlsx
  2. Change the first sheet name to Test Data
  3. On the Test Data sheet, enter numbers in cells A1:A10
  4. Save the workbook

Set up a Linked Workbook

Next, follow these steps, to create a workbook that will link to the data workbook. Or, get the download file, and go to the WkbkRef sheet.

  1. Create another new Excel file, named LinkedFile.xlsx
  2. On the first sheet, in cell A2, type the data file name, with or without file extension:  Test File
  3. In cell A3, enter the sheet name: Test Data
  4. In cell A4, type A7 -- we'll pull a number from that cell in the data workbook

Get a Sample Formula

To see the syntax that you'll need to use in your INDIRECT formula, follow these steps:

  1. In the linked file, select cell A7, and type an equal sign:   =
  2. Switch to Test File workbook, click on cell A7, and press Enter
  3. In the formula bar, you'll see the reference that was created:
           ='[Test File.xlxs]Test Data'!$A$7
  4. To keep that formula visible, type an apostrophe in front of the equal sign

INDIRECT with other workbook - must be open

Create an INDIRECT formula

Next, follow these steps to create an INDIRECT formula that uses the same syntax. The formula will include the single quote marks, square brackets and exclamation mark.

  1. In cell A6, type the following formula:
    =INDIRECT("'[" & A2 & "]" & A3 & "'!" & A4)

How the Formula Works

  1. The first part of the string is a single quote and square bracket, within a set of double quotes:
         " ' [ "  (I added spaces here, so it's easier to read). Single quotes are included in the string to prevent errors if the sheet name or file name contain space characters, like there are in this example
  2. The & (ampersand) characters join all the parts of the text string together.
  3. A2 is the cell that has the data file name
  4. Next, there are characters to end the data workbook name -- a square bracket, within a set of double quotes:  " ] "  (spaces added for clarity)
  5. A3 is the cell with the sheet name
  6. Next, there are characters to end the data sheet name -- a single quote and exclamation mark, within a set of double quotes:   " ' ! "  (spaces added for clarity)
  7. A4 is the cell with the data cell address.

Test the Formula

  1. Change the cell address in cell A4, and the result in A6 will change.
  2. After the INDIRECT formula is working, you can delete the sample link in cell A5

Formula Notes

Note1: If A2, A3 or A4 is empty, the formula will return an error. To prevent this, you can add an IF function:

     =IF(OR(A2="",A3="",A4=""),"",INDIRECT("'[" & A2 & "]" & A3 & "'!" & A4))

 Note2: If the Test File.xlsx workbook is closed, the INDIRECT formula will return a #REF error. I haven't used the following files, but they may help you if you need to pull data from a closed workbook:

Refer to a Named Range

In addition to cell references, you can refer to named ranges in an INDIRECT formula. In this example, the INDIRECT function is used to sum the selected named range.

  1. In cells A1:B5, type headings and numbers, as shown at right.
  2. Name cells A2:A5 as East, and cells B2:B5 as West. There are naming instructions here:

    Names -- Naming Ranges

  3. In cell D2, type the name of one of the ranges, e.g. East
  4. In cell E2, type the formula: =SUM(INDIRECT(D2))
  5. Press the Enter key, and the formula returns the sum of numbers in the East range.
  6. Change cell D2 to West, and the formula returns the sum of numbers in the West range.go to top

INDIRECT with named range

Dependent Drop Down Lists

The INDIRECT function can be used with Data Validation, to create dependent drop down lists. For example, select the Fruit category in column A, and the data validation list in column B shows a list of Fruit options.

create dependent dropdown lists

There are instructions for this technique on the  Data Validation - Dependent Lists page.

Download the Sample File

Download the sample INDIRECT workbook The zipped file is in xlsx format, and does not contain any macros.

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Last updated: September 21, 2017 2:01 PM