Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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: Working with Record Numbers.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 26, 2021)
For some data tables in Excel, you may want to assign a record number to cells in a particular column. For instance, you might want record numbers for 20 different records, ranging between 1 and 20 or between 100 and 119. It doesn't really matter to Excel what range you select. How you go about setting up the record numbers depends on what you want to later do with them.
If you want the record numbers to be static—that is, they are always assigned to a particular record and never change—then you should use the AutoFill feature of Excel to assign the numbers. To do this, simply enter all your data except the record numbers. Then type in the first two or three record numbers, select them, and drag on the AutoFill handle (the black square at the bottom-right corner of the selection) to fill out the rest of the records.
Using this approach is fast and easy, but it does make the record numbers static. For instance, if you delete the record that has a record number of 107, then that particular record number is gone, and your numbers will show a gap, jumping from 106 to 108.
If you want dynamic record numbers—ones that change as you make deletions—then you can use a formula to calculate the record numbers. You could put the first record number in, for instance, cell A5, and then in the next cell down you would use a formula such as =A5+1 to calculate the new record number.
This still presents a problem, however, because if you delete a record, all the record numbers below the one you deleted will show an error (#REF!). Why? Because you delete a cell on which the next cell down was dependent. A better solution is to use a record number formula that is dependent on the row in which the formula is located. For instance, let's assume your first record is in row 5. You could use this formula to generate a range of record numbers starting with 100:
Now, if you delete a record, the remaining record numbers readjust themselves and you don't end up with any errors.
If you use this approach, you'll want to make sure that you don't delete any rows above those rows that contain your records, as doing so will cause your record numbers to be incorrect. For instance, if you use the above formula and you delete row 3, your first row for records becomes row 4, so your first record number becomes 99. (Remember that you wanted them to start with 100, so this is now incorrect!)
To head off this potential error, change your first formula (in cell A5) to the following:
Note that this formula doesn't use the ROW function, but the ROWS function. The ROWS function returns the number of rows in the range specified. In this case, it returns the value 2, which is added to 98, giving the desired record number of 100. Plus, if you delete any rows before row 4, your formula still works. You can copy the formula from A5 down as far as necessary, and you should end up with the proper record numbers in all the cells.
ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12402) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Working with Record Numbers.
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