Category Archives: VBA

Happy Holidays 2015

OK, so I know a few days ago I said I had written my last blog posted before the end of the holiday. But then I’ve released holiday cards in both 2013 and 2014, so this year should be no different. So I went with a topical Star Wars theme. The text being shown is  an abridged version of the introduction chapter in Dashboards for Excel.

Recording #3

Speaking of which, if you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you should. The book currently has a 4 out-of 5 on Amazon, with the most recent reviews being the most complimentary. (And I swear, I don’t know the people writing these reviews.) Aside from some complaints about the book not being in color, the book is doing well. For what it’s worth, I inquired about color printing with my publisher long before it was printed, but most tech-trade books are not published in color and the few that are already have a strong history of sales and success. (But also: don’t stop asking! If enough people ask for a color imprint, I can make a stronger case to my publisher for the second edition!) Remember the eBook versions are in color too, if that’s your thing. And, of course, I have all the print materials at the ready, so you can always ask me directly if you have trouble understanding anything.

Download File: Happy Holidays 2015.xlsm


Remember to hit the download icon from within Google Drive to get the file.

If you want to change the Star-Wars-text for your own application (aren’t there like a million business uses for this?!?!), simply click the worksheet tab called “Backend” and type new text into the textbox.

Thanks to all of you for a wonderful year. Next year will be even better!



Enlarging Form Control Option Buttons

In a previous tip, I had complained about form control option buttons. I had argued they suffer because you can’t change the font size nor the “punch circle.” But then an idea dawned on me that builds off of that previous tip. We could use the same dynamic described in that earlier article and combine it with the camera tool.

Click here to learn more about the Camera tool.

Say Cheese!

Let’s take a look. On the left side, I’ve create a button list. This is just a place to store my option buttons. Notice I’ve placed them within a single cell each—this makes it easy to take a snapshot with the camera tool (since the camera will always only reference one cell).  The image below shows how  this works. Notice option buttons are all linked to cell B8, which I’ve named “SelectedIndex.”


Again, following my previous tip, we can assign each image created by the camera tool to a macro. That macro would change the Selected Index depending upon which button was selected

Click here to read that previous tip to understand it in full.

Let’s take a look at that macro:

Public Sub OptionButtonHandler()
    Dim Index As Integer
    Index = CInt(Replace(Application.Caller, "Button", ""))
    [SelectedIndex].Value = Index
End Sub

You maybe wondering about that last line in the subroutine. Camera tool images can be a little funky. In the previous screenshot, you can see that these option buttons images are on the same tab as their form control counterparts. Presumably, you’ll place the option button images on a different worksheet tab and the original button list will live on a hidden tab. For whatever reason, whenever you place these form control images on another tab, the image won’t always sync with the right value. So making a call to recalculate will ensure that it does. The download file provided at the end of this post demonstrates a setup where the images are on a different tab.

Note: I’ve only noticed this problem in Excel 2010. Excel 2013+ does not seem to have this issue requiring a call to calculate. I’ve included it here so it’s backward compatible with previous versions of Excel. It’s also a bit slower, so feel free to remove it completely if it’s not an issue on your end. 


Look, I’m probably not going to use these buttons anytime soon. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I don’t have a lot of use for them. I’ll still prefer my method of using shapes. However, the camera tool when combined with my earlier tip does allow you to create functionality not native to Excel. For instance, if you type a new font in one of the cells on the button list, you can even change the format of the radio button in the way it’s presented. In the image below, I’ve deleted the original caption to the option button. In its place I wrote another caption into the cell and picked a cheesy font. Yes, it doesn’t look great, but you can play with the formats and make it look better. This should give you an idea of what’s available.


My hope with this article is that we keep the creative juices flowing and see what other novel ways it can be applied.  Again, I probably won’t use this, but hey, maybe you will, and that’s enough for me.

I’m going to Dublin, Ireland


From December 23-30, I’ll be in Dublin, Ireland on holiday with my wife. If you are in the Dublin area and would like to say hi, let me know! Otherwise, this is likely my last blog post before the end of the year, so have happy holiday and terrific new year!

Download file: Large Option Buttons.xlsm

Also, buy my new book! Makes a great stocking stuffer!

A method for quickly importing and working with CSV files (part 2)

This is part 2 in which I explain how I solved the problem. Make sure to read the previous blog posts. Taken together, these show I though through and ultimately solved the problem.

Query Tables to the Rescue!

To solve this problem, I stumbled on something I rarely use, and that’s our good ol’ friend Query Tables. I don’t think they go by Query Tables anymore, but that’s what what they’re called in the code, so that’s the terminology I’m going to use here.

You might have used Query Tables as a manual feature before. For instance, to import a CSV file into Excel using Query Tables you would simply select From Text in the Get External Data Group from on the Data tab. See the snapshot below. These are Query Tables.


This functionality is really meant to create a connection between Excel and some other data source. The idea being you can manipulate and analyze data using Excel as your business logic and presentation layer.

But I didn’t need any of that here. I never expected the data in the underlying CSV file to change, so a connection that could refresh wasn’t necessary. Furthermore, unless you’re using these connections with PowerPivot, Excel has a bad history linking to other files.

But what Query Tables brings to the table (pun intended) is that they can dump an entire table’s worth of data rather quickly into a worksheet tab in one fell swoop. Try it for yourself manually to see how quick it is.

In fact, I was able to automate the entire process using the code below.

   1: Private Sub UploadFiles(FilePath As String, WorksheetTabName As String)

   2:     On Error Resume Next


   4:     Dim CurrentWorksheet As Excel.Worksheet

   5:     Set CurrentWorksheet = Worksheets(WorksheetTabName)


   7:     With CurrentWorksheet.QueryTables.Add(Connection:= _

   8:         "TEXT;" & FilePath _

   9:         , Destination:=CurrentWorksheet.Range("$A$1"))

  10:         .CommandType = 0

  11:         .Name = "DeleteMe"

  12:         .FieldNames = True

  13:         .RefreshOnFileOpen = False

  14:         .RefreshStyle = xlOverwriteCells

  15:         .AdjustColumnWidth = True

  16:         .RefreshPeriod = 0

  17:         .TextFilePlatform = 437

  18:         .TextFileStartRow = 1

  19:         .TextFileParseType = xlDelimited

  20:         .TextFileTextQualifier = xlTextQualifierDoubleQuote

  21:         .TextFileConsecutiveDelimiter = False

  22:         .TextFileCommaDelimiter = True

  23:         .TextFileTrailingMinusNumbers = True

  24:         .Refresh BackgroundQuery:=False

  25:     End With


  27:     CurrentWorksheet.QueryTables(1).Delete

  28:     ThisWorkbook.Names(WorksheetTabName & "!DeleteMe_1").Delete

  29: End Sub

So let’s go through how this works.

First, the way my program works is that the user supplies a folder containing the CSV files. Then, when they hit a button that says “Run,” I have Excel iterate through the contents of the folder. When I’ve verified a file in the folder is a correct file that will work with my application, I call the UploadFiles method just shown. The FilePath parameter contains to the direct path to the CSV file whose contents I’d like to upload; and the WorksheetTabName parameter refers to the worksheet where’d I’d like the contents to be dumped.

As you can see, on line 8, FilePath is supplied to the connection string when the query table is created. CurrentWorksheet is then used to tell Excel where the data will be placed (line 9).

On line 11, you see I named this query “DeleteMe.” Whenever Excel creates a new Query Table, it also creates a new named range in the background. There’s a default name Excel uses, but you can overwrite it with your own name. In this case, I use “DeleteMe” in place of the default as a reminder that the range shouldn’t exist (if my code errors out, I will see a DeleteMe named range in the name manager). You can see this happening below. It really helps with debugging.


The reason there are so many repeats is that each name created by the code above is scoped locally to the sheet in which it was created. Excel also adds that “_1” to the end. I imagine if I had multiple connections on the same sheet it would increment that last number. But maybe someone with more experience could confirm that for me?

In any event, we want to ensure there are no traces of the connection settings. So the BackgroundQuery setting to FALSE on line 24 ensures there are no direct updates from the backend data. Line 27 deletes the QueryTable we just created. Don’t worry this just deletes the connection behind the scenes, but it keeps the data that’s been dumped. Finally, line 28 removes the range that was just created. Since it’s local to the worksheet, we can refer to it as “WorksheetName!DeleteMe_1” and then delete it.

So let’s recap. I’ve created a mechanism to quickly import the data from CSV files. I used the functionality incorporated into Query Tables to bypass other solutions that either were not as good or weren’t feasible. In particular, I was  able to get around two solutions I particularly hate: (1) the iterative algorithm; and (2) copying and pasting from other files.

All told, this solution works great! Right now, Excel will iterate through a folder of about eight CSV files and place the data from each CSV file rather quickly. In fact, it happens so quickly, I had to add a completion msgbox just to ensure the code was actually being run! Neither the iterative or copying/pasting solution can boast these results.

Remember, whenever possible, do more with less.

Developing a JSON Excel Add-In With VB.NET

Written by Bjoern Stiel

Add-Ins are a great way to increase Excel’s firepower. Add-Ins not only add additional functionality but are also an ideal vehicle for distributing your custom functions across multiple workbooks and users.

If writing a new Add-In is on your to-do list anyway, this is the perfect opportunity to look beyond VBA. VBA has become a bit middle-aged. Integration with modern stuff like NoSQL databases or web services can become quite painful as it involves messing around with DLLs and cumbersome APIs.

Excel-DNA is a free open source tool that lets you expose .NET functions to Excel via the XLL interface. This gives you immediate access to all .NET languages (VB.NET, C#, F# etc.) and libraries. Which makes developing modern looking WPF forms or hooking into a JSON API really a breeze.

In this post, I show you how to get started with Excel-DNA. We hit the ground running busting out our first two functions and have a brief look at what to watch out for when migrating over from VBA. To wrap it all up, we build a slick Excel JSON client in just a few lines of code and show use it to retrieve data from a web server with a simple =OBJECT_GET(…) function call.

All source code is available for download at GitHub:

An example spreadsheet is available at

1. Getting Started
There are two ways to write a User Defined Function in Excel-DNA. Either as a text file (.dna) or a .NET assembly (.dll). It’s easiest to start with the text file approach which we will do throughout this post. You need three things:
– a text editor such as Notepad
– the .NET Framework 2.0 runtime or later (.NET 4.0 or later if you are on Excel 64-bit), should already be installed with Windows anyway, so you probably do not need to worry about this bit
– the Excel-DNA XLL (

If you want to get jump-started, clone my git repository and you’re good to go, it comes with all batteries. Get the example workbook at and open one of the XLLs (ending with 32 or 64 -depending whether you are on Excel 32- or 64-bit) via drag & drop, file/open or the Add-In manager.

2. Writing Our First Function
I’ve defined the code in the excel-json-client.dna file which is just a text file. As mentioned above, you can Visual Studio studio (which you probably should) but to avoid all the overhead, I’ll keep it simple in this post.

Let’s look at the DISTINCT function defined in the Helpers module. It gives you a first idea of how we pass around data between .NET and Excel. We receive a two-dimensional array of type Object (think Variant), filter out all duplicates and return another two dimensional Object array. I’m pretty sure there’s a more elegant way of removing the duplicates via LINQ (.NET’s Language Integrated Query language) but it does the job.

Public Module Helpers
 Public Function DISTINCT(data As Object(,))
   Dim dict As Dictionary(Of String, Integer) = New Dictionary(Of String, Integer)
   Dim key As String
   Dim i As Integer = 0, j As Integer = 0
   For i = 0 To data.GetUpperBound(0)
     key = ""
     For j = 0 To data.GetUpperBound(1)
       key += data(i, j).ToString()
     If Not dict.ContainsKey(key) Then
       dict.Add(key, i)
     End If
   Dim out(dict.Count-1, data.GetUpperBound(1)) As Object
   i = 0
   For Each key In dict.Keys
     For j = 0 To data.GetUpperBound(1)
       out(i, j) = data(dict.Item(key), j)
     i += 1
   DISTINCT = out
 End Function
End Module

3. Migrating From VBA to VB.NET
Migrating from VBA to VB.NET/Excel-DNA is relatively straight forward. But there are a couple of gotchas and things to watch out for, most importantly:
– Variant is no longer supported: use the Object type instead
– Function parameters of type Object will arrive as one of the following: Double, String, Boolean, ExcelDna.Integration.ExcelError, ExcelDna.Integration.ExcelMissing, ExcelDna.Integration.ExcelEmpty, Object[,] containing an array with a mixture of the above types, ExcelReference (only if AllowReference=true in ExcelArgumentAttribute causing R type instead of P)
– Arrays: In VBA, the default lower bound of an array dimension is 0 but can be set to 1 using “Option Base”. VB.NET does not support “Option Base” and the lower bound of an array dimension must be 0. Be careful though that most Office collections begin with 1. For a more exhaustive list, I definitely recommend checking out Patrick O’Beirne’s excellent guide and Govert’s (the guy who wrote and maintains Excel-DNA) documentation on Excel-DNA’s Data marshalling.

4. A JSON Excel client
JSON is all over the web and has become the number one choice for RESTful APIs. Pulling JSON from a web server onto Excel is definitely a useful thing to have. For example, at spreadgit, we run our entire admin-backend off Excel via a JSON API. Unfortunately, building a JSON client in VBA is quite a messy job and involves a lot of HTTP and deserialization stuff which does really feel like re-inventing the wheel.

With Excel-DNA however, we can use whatever is available in the .NET world. HTTP request classes are built in and for handling the JSON bit we use the excellent Json.NET library, written and maintained by James Newton-King’s. All we need to do is some plumbing work. Before we roll up sleeves, let’s briefly design the data flow.

1. User requests data from a URL (that returns a JSON) by calling the Excel function =OBJ_GET(http://myobject#field)
2. Let’s see if the object http://myobject already exists in our cache from a previous call. If not, do an HTTP request to http://myobject and stick it into our cache.
3. Return the value for “field” on object http://myobject (now definitely in our cache)

As you can see, we make use of the hash mark separator to identify a field within our JSON document. Let’s start with a thin JSON class. We want to deserializes the JSON data we get from the web server as a (nested) dictionary so we can easily gain access to its fields via keys.

Public Class Json
 Public Shared Function Deserialize(json As String) As Object
   Deserialize = ToObject(JToken.Parse(json))
 End Function

 Public Shared Function ToObject(token As Newtonsoft.Json.Linq.JToken) As Object
   If token.Type = JTokenType.Object Then
   Dim dict As Dictionary(Of String, Object) = New Dictionary(Of String, Object)
   Dim prop As Object
   For Each prop In CType(token, JObject).Properties()
     dict.Add(prop.Name, ToObject(prop.Value))
   ToObject = dict
   ElseIf token.Type = JTokenType.Array Then
     Dim lst As List(Of Object) = New List(Of Object)
     Dim value As Object
     For Each value In token
     ToObject = lst
     ToObject = DirectCast(token, JValue).Value
   End If
   End Function
 End Class

Next thing on our list is the cache. It is simply another dictionary, whereby the url is our key (up to the hash mark separator as mentioned above) and the JSON deserialized dictionary our value.

Public Class Cache
 Private _objects As New Dictionary(Of String, Object)

 Public Sub Clear()
 End Sub

 Public Sub ImportObject(baseUrl As String)
   Dim wrGETURL As WebRequest
   wrGETURL = WebRequest.Create(baseUrl)
   Dim dictionary As New Dictionary(Of String, Object)
   Dim objStream As Stream
   objStream = wrGETURL.GetResponse.GetResponseStream()
   Dim objReader As New StreamReader(objStream)
   _objects.Add(baseUrl, Json.Deserialize(objReader.ReadToEnd))
 End Sub

 Public Function GetObject(url As String) As Object
   Dim baseUrl As String = Nothing
   baseUrl = url.Split("#")(0)
   If Not _objects.ContainsKey(baseUrl) Then
   End If
   GetObject = _objects.Item(baseUrl)
 End Function

 Public Function GetObjectPartial(url As String) As Object
   Dim baseUrl As String = Nothing, obj As Object
   Dim key As String
   baseUrl = url.Split("#")(0)
     obj = GetObject(baseUrl)
     If url.Contains("#") Then
       For Each key In url.Split("#")(1).Split("/")
         obj = obj.Item(key)
     End If
     GetObjectPartial = obj
   Catch ex as Exception
     GetObjectPartial = ex.Message
   End Try
 End Function`
End Class

That’s pretty much it. Last thing to do is to wrap it all up nicely in a couple of Excel functions. We use a slight trick to be able to work with complex objects: Anything we cannot resolve on a two-dimensional grid, we just return the URL of the object instead of the data. Let’s assume we retrieve a JSON document from http://localhost:8000/test.json that looks like this (which is a nested object):

    'id': 1234,
    'object': {
      'name': 'test', 
      'data': [['date' 'value'], ['2014-04-01', 100], ['2014-04-02', 101]]

In this instance
=OBJECT_GET(“http://localhost:8000/test.json”) returns http://localhost:8000/test.json
=OBJECT_GET(“http://localhost:8000/test.json#id”) returns 1234
=OBJECT_GET(“http://localhost:8000/test.json#object” returns http://localhost:8000/test.json#object
=OBJECT_GET(“http://localhost:8000/test.json#object#data”) returns [[‘date’ ‘value’], [‘2014-04-01’, 100], [‘2014-04-02’, 101]]

 Public Module Objects
 Dim cache As Cache = New Cache()
 Public Function OBJECT_GET(url As String)
   Dim path As String() = Nothing
   Dim obj As Object
   Dim i As Long = 0, j As Long
   Dim row As Object, col As Object, item As Object

   obj = cache.GetObjectPartial(url)
   If TypeOf obj Is List(Of Object) Then
   If TypeOf CType(obj, List(Of Object))(0) Is List(Of Object) Then
   Dim o(,) As Object
   ReDim o(CType(obj, List(Of Object)).Count()-1, CType(obj, List(Of Object))(0).Count()-1)
   For Each row In obj
     j = 0
     For Each col In row
       o(i, j) = col
       j += 1
     i += 1
   obj = o
     Dim o() As Object
     ReDim o(CType(obj, List(Of Object)).Count()-1)
     For Each item In obj
       o(i) = item
       i += 1
     obj = o
   End If
   ElseIf TypeOf obj Is Dictionary(Of String, Object) Then
     obj = url
   End If
   OBJECT_GET = obj
 End Function
End Module

Let’s give it a try and access some Apple stock data via the API. Feel free to download the example workbook at Take it for a spin and try with any other JSON API you can find.

Please note that the code above doesn’t cover all cases, for instance arrays of objects aren’t handled properly. Another nice thing to have is an object explorer UI to explorer the objects in your cache easily. Or adding POST, PUT and DELETE requests, all of which can be easily added. This gives you a powerful, generic Add-In that lets you hook into literally any JSON API.

How do you like using VB.NET via Excel-DNA?

About the Author
Bjoern Stiel
Founder of Pathio (formerly known as spreadgit), a GitHub like version control platform for Excel. As a former quant developer and trader, used to push Excel beyond its limits, now jack of all trades. You can find me online, tweeting about Excel, writing posts or developing .NET Add-Ins. Contact me @path_io or drop me a line