Finding Circular References

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 16, 2019)

1

When Michael opens a particular workbook, Excel informs him that it contains circular references. Problem is, Michael cannot figure out where that circular reference is. So, he is looking for the best way to locate these.

There are actually two ways you can easily locate any circular references. Here's the first:

  1. Display the Formulas tab of the ribbon.
  2. In the Formula Auditing group, click the Error Checking tool. Excel displays a drop-down list.
  3. Choose Circular References. Excel displays a list of all the circular references in your worksheet.

At this point you have a couple of options. You can jot down the cell addresses that contain circular references, or you can simply click on one of the addresses. If you choose the latter option, you are taken to that cell and you can make any changes necessary. You can then repeat the above steps until all the circular references are resolved. If you choose the former option, then simply go to each of the cells in the jotted-down list and make changes to resolve the references.

There is another way you can locate circular references. Note that when you open the workbook—after dismissing the notification about the circular references—near the bottom-left corner of the workbook you'll see a "Ready" indicator on the Status bar. Just to the right of that there should be an indicator of the first circular reference in the active worksheet. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Circular references are noted on the Status bar.

If you know your workbook has circular references but you don't see the indicator, it could be on a different worksheet. Click through each worksheet until you see the notation. You can then go to the indicated cell and change the formula to get rid of the circular reference.

You should note that it is possible to instruct Excel to allow circular references. (They are valid in some scenarios.) This is done by changing the Enable Iterative Calculation check box on the Formula tab of the Excel Options dialog box. If this option is enabled, you will never see a notice about circular references, and you won't be able to locate any in the workbook. Why? Well, because you told Excel it was OK for them to be there and, thus, they are not an error.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (13701) 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. ...

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What is 9 - 3?

2019-11-16 20:29:46

MIchael Armstrong

Great! The "first way" was the way described in every reference I found, but didn't work in my Office 365 version of Excel, but the "second way" worked fine. Why they indicate the error cell only after dismissing the error message escapes me, but I'm sure they have their motives. Wondering now what happens if there are more than one circular errors in the sheet. A simple test showed that it only flags the last one it finds. I imagine you are then supposed to fix that one, close and re-open, fix the one flagged then, and rinse, lather, repeat.


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