Who Has the Workbook Open?

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 29, 2018)

Kim's workbook is saved on a network drive and multiple users access it all day long to update the information. Sometimes she tries to access the workbook and it is already open by someone else. Excel used to tell her who had the workbook open so she could go to them and ask them to close it. Now Excel just says the same, never-changing person has it open, even when it is someone else who has it open. Kim wonders why this would be happening all of a sudden.

To figure out why this is happening, it is necessary to understand how Microsoft handles the "naming" of who has a workbook open in Excel. When you open a workbook that nobody else has open, Excel creates a "temp file" that is used to indicate you have that file open; it contains your username, as configured within Excel. When someone else comes along and tries to open the same workbook, they are shown your username, as stored in that temp file.

If you are seeing the same name over and over again, then there are two possibilities. The most likely possibility is that you have a bunch of people all on the same network and none of them have configured their copies of Excel with their unique usernames. This isn't as uncommon as you might imagine; Office 365 subscriptions are notorious for this. During installation, you aren't asked for a username (like you were in previous versions of Office), so the program defaults to a generic name. If people don't go in and change the name, then everyone will have the same name, and it is the same name shown when Excel tries to open a workbook that someone else already has open.

The solution to this problem, of course, is to have everyone customize their version of Excel to include their username. Follow these steps:

  1. Display the Excel Options dialog box. (In Excel 2007 click the Office button and then click Excel Options. In Excel 2010 or a later version display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. At the left side of the dialog box click General. (If you are using Excel 2007, click the Popular option instead.) (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The General options of the Excel Options dialog box.

  4. Change the name shown in the User Name field.
  5. Click on OK.

Remember that each person on the network needs to do this. Now, when they start using Excel workbooks on the network, it is the name specified in step 3 that is stored in the temp file and displayed to anyone else trying to open the workbook.

Earlier I mentioned there were two possibilities. The other one is that, somehow, the temp file associated with a particular workbook isn't getting deleted as it should. (It should be automatically deleted when the original user closes the workbook.) This can be solved by having everyone close Excel, and then someone with administrative privileges going in and deleting any temp files located.

Deleting the files is easy, once you can find them. I mention this because the files are marked as hidden system files (by Office), and they are not normally visible when you are navigating through your various folders. You can configure Windows to display these types of files by following the steps detailed in this tip.

You can tell that a file is a lock file by the fact that it starts with a tilde and a dollar sign. For instance, if you are working on the workbook MyBook.xlsx, then the lock file for that workbook would be ~$MyBook.xlsx. Provided that nobody is actually using MyBook.xlsx, you can delete ~$MyBook.xlsx with no problems.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (13566) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365.

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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