Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Understanding Add-Ins.

Understanding Add-Ins

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 19, 2019)

Many features of Excel are available only through what are called add-ins. For instance, the Analysis ToolPak is a good example of an add-in. The tools available in add-ins such as the Analysis ToolPak are not part of the basic Excel system, but can be added to the system as needs dictate. These add-ins are nothing more than programs which have been "added to" Excel in such a way that they appear to be part of Excel itself.

You also know that macros are nothing more than programs that you write using a language understood by Excel. These programs instruct Excel to perform tasks that otherwise might be time consuming or repetitious on your part. These programs, if elaborate enough, can become full-fledged applications that operate under Excel.

Excel allows you to translate your macro programs into add-ins, which can become part of Excel—the same as the Analysis ToolPak and others. Eventually you might want to take advantage of this capability. The files you convert to add-ins do not need to be elaborate, nor do they have to be fancy. Converting them to add-ins does have several advantages, however:

  • The program code cannot be altered by others.
  • The program code runs a bit quicker.
  • The add-in is available without needing to open any particular workbook.
  • The functions provided by the add-in appear to be a part of Excel.

    In essence, add-ins are nothing but a special type of workbook which you have converted to an add-in format that is understood by Excel.

    You may want to make sure your macro code which is destined to be an add-in performs some initializing routine that modifies, in some way, the Excel user interface. For instance, an add-in may modify the ribbon structure used by Excel or it may add a selection to the Quick Access Toolbar so that the functions in the add-in can be accessed. Your macros should take care of the interface modification so that people can access your add-ins. If you don't modify the interface in some way, then users can only get to the macro code in your add-in by directly referencing in a worksheet formula the names of any functions in your add-in.

Note:

If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the ExcelTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (8527) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Understanding Add-Ins.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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