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: Uncovering and Removing Links.

Uncovering and Removing Links

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 19, 2019)

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It can be frustrating to open an Excel file and be continually asked if you want to update linked information, particularly if you are not sure what information is linked. If you want to get rid of links in a workbook, there are several things to try.

First, choose Edit Links on the Data tab of the ribbon, if the option is available. (It will only be available if Excel recognizes explicit links in the workbook.) From the resulting Links dialog box you cannot delete links, but you can change the links so that they point to the current workbook. When you later save and again open your workbook, Excel will recognize the self-referential links and delete them.

Another way you can find links is to search for either the left bracket ([) or right bracket (]) in your workbook. The brackets are used by Excel when putting together the links to other files. For instance, this is a link to an external file, as it would appear in a cell:

=[Book1.xls]Sheet1!$D$7

When you find links similar to the above, all you need to do is delete them. Make sure that you search each worksheet in your workbook.

Another place to look for links is in the defined range names maintained by Excel. This is a particularly common place for links if you are working with a workbook that contains worksheets copied or moved from other locations. The defined names, rather than pointing to a cell range in the current workbook, could be pointing to a range in a different workbook. Click the Name Manager tool on the Formulas tab of the ribbon, then step through each defined name, examining the address to which it refers. Delete or change any that refer to other workbooks.

Another place to check is your macros. It is possible to assign macros to graphics in a worksheet. Click on any graphics and see if you get an error. If you do, this is a good indication that the graphic is linked to a macro contained in a different file. If you delete the graphic, or change the macro assignment, the link problem should go away.

Still another possible location for wayward links is in PivotTables. When you create a PivotTable, it can refer to data on a different worksheet in your workbook. If you later move that source worksheet to a different workbook, your PivotTable will be linked to the external data source. The only solution here is to delete the PivotTable, copy the source data back to the current workbook, or move the PivotTable to the external workbook.

Finally, you should check graphs and charts. If you recently moved worksheets out of your current workbook into another workbook, it is possible that charts and graphs remaining in your current workbook now refer to data on a worksheet you moved to another workbook. If this is the case, you will need to either remove the graph or chart, move it to the other workbook, or copy the source data back into the current workbook.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11890) 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: Uncovering and Removing Links.

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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What is 8 + 2?

2019-01-19 05:49:10

Alex B

With the use of Excel Tables becoming more common and hence the use of structured references, doing a find on square brackets gives too many false positives. You are better of searching for the "xls"


2019-01-19 05:17:02

Pieter de la Court

Thanks for this useful Excel tip! One more type of difficult to find links I come across sometimes is in cells with data validation. If you have cells that have data entry restriction set to "List" (referenced to a range in the worksheet) and you copy them from one workbook to another, the data validation still refers to the range in the original workbook. Remove or change this by removing or editing the data validation of the copied cells.


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