Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. 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: Unlocking a Worksheet with an Unknown Password.

Unlocking a Worksheet with an Unknown Password

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 29, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Dennis has a travel expense worksheet that he has inherited; it has been passed down within his organization for years. Some of the cells in the worksheet need to be unlocked so that Dennis can correct the outdated formulas they contain. There is the problem, though: The worksheet is locked, and changing the formulas is not permitted because of the protection. Dennis wants to know how he can unprotect the worksheet so he can make the necessary changes.

Depending on the way that the worksheet was protected, you may be able to simply copy the worksheet contents to a new worksheet. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new, blank worksheet. This can be in the current workbook or in a new workbook.
  2. Display the original worksheet that is protected. The first cell in the worksheet (A1) should be selected.
  3. Press Shift+Ctrl+End. Excel should select all the used cells in the worksheet. (If it doesn't, hold down the Shift key and press the arrow keys until you have selected all the worksheet cells.)
  4. Press Ctrl+C. This copies the selected cells to the Clipboard.
  5. Display the new, blank worksheet you created in step 1. Cell A1 should be selected.
  6. Press Ctrl+V. Excel pastes the contents of the Clipboard to the new worksheet.

The new worksheet can be changed in any way you need. If the old worksheet has links to other worksheets, you may need to copy those separately or establish those links manually. You will also need to adjust row heights and column widths, as necessary, to match the old worksheet.

If your worksheet is saved in the XLSX or XLSM formats, there is something else you might try. These formats are nothing but XML code within a ZIP container, with the filename extension changed to either XLSX or XLSM. This means you can follow these general steps, all within Windows:

  1. Make a copy of the workbook. (You always should do your tinkering on a copy, not the original.)
  2. Change the workbook's filename extension to ZIP. For instance, if the workbook started as MyWorkbookCopy.xlsx, change it to MyWorkbookCopy.zip.
  3. Double-click the renamed workbook file. It should open up as a compressed folder just fine.
  4. Find the file in the folder named sheetXXX.xml that corresponds to the worksheet you want to unprotect, where XXX is a number representing the "sheet number" of the worksheet within the workbook.
  5. Open the sheetXXX.xml file in a text editor, such as Notepad.
  6. Search for <sheetProtection> (including the angle brackets).
  7. Delete the entire sheetProtection tag. This means that you delete everything between and including <sheetProtection> and </sheetProtection>.
  8. Save the file.
  9. Change the workbook's filename extension from .zip to .xlsx or .xlsm, depending on what it originally was.

At this point, you should be able to open the workbook in Excel and you'll find that the worksheet is no longer protected.

If the above ideas don't work, for some reason, you will need to actually try to crack the worksheet password. There are macros available, on the Internet, that will remove or identify any internal passwords, such as those used to protect a worksheet. If you do a search for "Excel password cracker" or something similar, you will find lots of candidates. The problem is that you'll also get lots of search results for programs that remove workbook passwords—something you don't need for this particular purpose.

Let me save you some trouble, however. There is a perfectly good internal password remover that is available at this page:

http://www.mcgimpsey.com/excel/removepwords.html

The page explains the macro (which is rather long) and even provides a download you can use, if desired.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12199) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Excel in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Unlocking a Worksheet with an Unknown Password.

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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