Understanding Auto-Population of Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 10, 2023)
This tip applies to Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 365


Sometimes when Donald adds a new value to a new row in an input column, some of the adjacent columns get auto-populated with the formula from the above cells. However, not all of the columns do this automatically. On some columns he needs to drag down the cell handle to copy the formulas. Donald wonders what causes some columns to auto-populate and some to not.

Auto-population of cells is an interesting and perplexing subject, primarily because there is no easy answer to the question that Donald is asking. If your data is stored in a worksheet as a defined table, then auto-population is a snap. (Remember—defined tables are created when you select a cell in your data and choose the Table tool on the Insert tab of the ribbon.)

To see the auto-population in action, select a cell in any column in the row immediately below the defined table. When you enter a value into the cell, Excel adds a row to the table and auto-populates any formulas from the old last row of the table. Like I said—a snap!

Where it gets dicey is if the data is not stored in a defined table. In this case, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how Excel determines when to auto-populate or not. For instance, I have a very simple table that occupies columns A:G in a worksheet. If I type a value into cell A8, the formula from cell G7 is auto-populated into cell G8. This doesn't happen if I select cells A4:A7 and drag the fill handle downward, nor does it happen if I put values into any cell in the range B8:F8; only if I put a value into cell A8. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Sample data in a worksheet.

There is no macro at play here; the formula simply auto-populates. I also can determine that it is not because the values in column A are referenced in the formula, even though they are. The reason I know this is because I have a very similar simple worksheet where the values in column A are also referenced in a formula in column H, but the same auto-population effect does not occur. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Auto-populate does not work on this worksheet's data.

For all outward appearances, the two worksheets are structurally very similar, and neither of them contains anything fancy—just plain values and a single column containing formulas. Yet, they behave very differently when it comes to auto-population of new rows added to the data.

To make matters even murkier, the regular table that auto-populates (the one shown in Figure 1) stops auto-populating if I place any values in cells B7, D7, E7, or F7. As mentioned, if I put a value in cell A8, then cell G8 auto-populates. I can then, at that point, place values in cells B7, D7, E7, or F7, but I cannot place them into those columns in row 8. Doing so, again, turns off auto-population.

What is at work here? Perhaps only the programmers at Microsoft can provide the definitive answer, but testing provides no reproduceable or comprehensible results. For something a bit more stable, it seems that defined tables are the way to go in order to better understand auto-population. (Sorry, Donald!)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (13652) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Microsoft 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. ...


Allowing Only Form Field Changes

Word allows you to create forms that other people can use to enter information. One of the last steps normally taken with ...

Discover More

Odd Sorting

Word is great at sorting simple information in tables and paragraphs. If you have more complex information (such as ...

Discover More

Spreading Out Worksheet Rows

If someone sends you a worksheet that has lots of data in it, you might want to "spread out" the data so you can have ...

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Three-Dimensional Transpositions

Excel makes it easy to transpose your data so that rows become columns and columns rows. It doesn't have a built-in ...

Discover More

Trimming Off All Spaces

The easy way to get rid of spaces at the beginning or end of a cell's contents is to use the TRIM function. ...

Discover More

Using the Same Range Name on Different Worksheets

Defined names can be a great boon when working in a worksheet. Usually names are available throughout an entire workbook, ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is eight more than 2?

2020-01-24 08:12:07


I do not know if this is related, but I would love a solution to the following issue of Auto-Populating.

In my Sales for the Month sheet, I have about 10 columns and 2000 rows of information. Column A is the Qty and Column B is for the Associate Code, the other columns are for formulas that are not related to the question. Row one is Labeled QTY in column A and Associate Code in column B, the others are labeled according to their formula.

In column B, the first 1500 rows contain a hyphen. We put the hyphen in these cells of column B because sometimes blank cells in a row won't auto-populate from details within that column if there is no actual data in-between.

The remaining 500 rows at the bottom of the data have the alpha/numeric code for our Associates (for example: AB123 John Doe, AC234 Sarah Jones, AD345 Jason Smith...we have 500 associates.) We keep these names at the bottom to help with auto-populating the Associates name. The first 1500 rows are for entering sales in a month.

Here's the question...

As we enter sales data (starting in row 2), we type 5 in Column A and tab to Column B where we need to put AB123 John Doe. Since AB123 John Doe is in the list at the bottom, it should auto-populate so that we don't have to type the whole name AB123 John Doe. About half the time, the Associate Code will immediately fill in after typing AB12 (or even AB).

The other half of the time it won't. If I type AB12, backspace the "2", type the "2", backspace the "2", type the "2", back space the "2" (about 5 or 6 times) it will finally populate.

Do you know why this happens or how to fix it...or is that just an Excel thing?

2019-07-22 07:45:06

Louis Farrell

Steve - This was for 'ad hoc' tables. Defined tables works as expected.

2019-07-22 04:59:25

Steve Askins

Louis - thanks for investigating... are you referring to defined tables or to 'ad-hoc' ones?

I find that with a defined table it auto-populates in the second row onwards?


2019-07-22 04:02:36

Louis Farrell

I tested some scenarios, and it now makes sense to me:

Firstly, formulas start auto-populating only on row 5, e.g. first 4 rows had been populated with data and formulas.

Secondly, once all the cell's precedent cells are populated, that specific formula is auto-populated.
E.g. if the formula references only column C, it would auto-populate once something is entered in column C.
Other formulas will auto-populate as soon as their precedent cells are populated.

Thirdly, if the auto-populate did not occur due to blank cells, auto-populate will switch off for subsequent formulas in that column only.

Lastly, at least one of the precedent cells must be entered, not copied.

2019-07-21 12:03:47

Steve Askins


Thanks for this - it confirms what I suspected that the auto populate in a non-defined table is not contollable but it is generally helpful and is rarely unhelpful.

Question for you on auto-populate of formulae in defined tables: if I edit the all formulae in a column and then add an additional row, the formulae in the new row contains the original formula not the new one.

Is there a way to get the table to auto-populate with the new formulae?


This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.