The Complete Guide To The VBA Workbook

VBA Workbook

“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

This post provides a complete guide to using the VBA Workbook.

If you want to use VBA to Open a Workbook then check out Open Workbook

If you want to use VBA to create a new workbook go to Create New Workbook

For all other VBA Workbook tasks, check out the quick guide below.


A Quick Guide to the VBA Workbook

The following table provides a quick how-to guide on the main VBA workbook tasks

TaskHow to
Access open workbook using nameWorkbooks("Example.xlsx")
Access open workbook (the one opened first)Workbooks(1)
Access open workbook (the one opened last)Workbooks(Workbooks.Count)
Access the active workbookActiveWorkbook
Access workbook containing VBA codeThisWorkbook
Declare a workbook variableDim wk As Workbook
Assign a workbook variableSet wk = Workbooks("Example.xlsx")
Set wk = ThisWorkbook
Set wk = Workbooks(1)
Activate workbookwk.Activate
Close workbook without savingwk.Close SaveChanges:=False
Close workbook and save wk.Close SaveChanges:=True
Create new workbookSet wk = Workbooks.Add
Open workbookSet wk =Workbooks.Open ("C:\Docs\Example.xlsx")
Open workbook as read onlySet wk = Workbooks.Open ("C:\Docs\Example.xlsx", ReadOnly:=True)
Check Workbook existsIf Dir("C:\Docs\book1.xlsx") = "" Then
MsgBox "File does not exist."
Check Workbook is openSee Check Workbook Open section below
List all open workbooksFor Each wk In Application.Workbooks
    Debug.Print wk.FullName
Next wk
Open workbook with the File DialogSee File Dialog section below function below
Save workbookwk.Save
Save workbook copywk.SaveCopyAs "C:\Copy.xlsm"
Copy workbook if closedFileCopy "C:\file1.xlsx","C:\Copy.xlsx"
SaveAs workbook wk.SaveAs "Backup.xlsx"


Getting Started with the VBA Workbook

We can access any open workbook using the code Workbooks(“Example.xlsm). Simple replace Example.xlsm with the name of the workbook you wish to use.

The following example shows you how to write to a cell on a worksheet. You will notice we had to specify the workbook, worksheet and range of cells.

Public Sub WriteToA1()

' Writes 100 to cell A1 of worksheet "Sheet1" in MyVBA.xlsm
Workbooks("MyVBA.xlsm").Worksheets("Sheet1").Range("A1") = 100

End Sub

This example may look a little be confusing to a new user but it is actually quite simple.

The first part up to the decimal point is the Workbook, the second part is the Worksheet and the third is the Range. Here are some more examples of writing to a cell

Public Sub WriteToMulti()

' Writes 100 to cell A1 of worksheet "Sheet1" in MyVBA.xlsm
Workbooks("MyVBA.xlsm").Worksheets("Sheet1").Range("A1") = 100

' Writes "John" to cell B1 of worksheet "Sheet1" in MyVBA.xlsm
Workbooks("MyVBA.xlsm").Worksheets("Sheet1").Range("B1") = "John"

' Writes 100 to cell A1 of worksheet "Accounts" in MyVBA.xlsm
Workbooks("MyVBA.xlsm").Worksheets("Accounts").Range("A1") = 100

' Writes the date to cell D3 of worksheet "Sheet2" in Book.xlsc
Workbooks("Book.xlsx").Worksheets("Sheet2").Range("D3") = "1\1\2016"

End Sub

You can see the simple pattern here. You can write to any cell in any worksheet from any workbook. It is just a matter of changing the workbook name, worksheet name and the range to suit your needs.

Take a look at the workbook part


The Workbooks keyword refers to a collection of all open workbooks. Supplying the workbook name to the collection gives us access to that workbook. When we have the object we can use it to perform tasks with the workbook.


Troubleshooting the Workbooks Collection

When you use the Workbooks collection to access a workbook, you may get the error message:

Run-time Error 9: Subscript out of Range.

This means that VBA cannot find the workbook you passed as a parameter.

This can happen for the following reasons

  1. The workbook is currently closed.
  2. You spelled the name wrong.
  3. You created e new workbook (e.g. Book1) and tried to access it using Workbooks(“Book1.xlsx”). It’s name is not Book1.xlsx until it is saved for the first time.
  4. (Excel 2007/2010 only) If you are running two instances of Excel then Workbooks() only refers to to the workbooks open in the current Excel instance.
  5. You passed a number as Index and it is greater than the number of workbooks open e.g. you used Workbooks(3) and only two workbooks are open.

If you cannot resolve the error then use either of the functions in the section Finding all open Workbooks. These will print the names of all open workbooks to the Immediate Window(Ctrl + G).


Examples of Using the VBA Workbook

The following examples show what you can do with the workbook.

Note: To try this example create two open workbooks called Test1.xlsx and Test2.xlsx.

Public Sub WorkbookProperties()

    ' Prints the number of open workbooks
    Debug.Print Workbooks.Count

    ' Prints the full workbook name
    Debug.Print Workbooks("Test1.xlsx").FullName

    ' Displays the full workbook name in a message dialog
    MsgBox Workbooks("Test1.xlsx").FullName

    ' Prints the number of worksheets in Test2.xlsx
    Debug.Print Workbooks("Test2.xlsx").Worksheets.Count

    ' Prints the name of currently active sheet of Test2.xlsx
    Debug.Print Workbooks("Test2.xlsx").ActiveSheet.Name

    ' Closes workbook called Test1.xlsx

    ' Closes workbook Test2.xlsx and saves changes
    Workbooks("Test2.xlsx").Close SaveChanges:=True

End Sub

 Note: In the code examples I use Debug.Print a lot. This function prints values to the Immediate  Window. To view this window select View->Immediate Window from the menu( Shortcut is Ctrl + G)




Accessing the VBA Workbook by Index

You can also use an Index number with Workbooks(). The index refers to the order the Workbook was open or created.

Workbooks(1) refers to the workbook that was opened first. Workbooks(2) refers to the workbook that was opened second and so on.

' First workbook that was opened
Debug.Print Workbooks(1).Name

' Third workbook that was opened
Debug.Print Workbooks(3).Name

' The last workbook that was opened
Debug.Print Workbooks(Workbooks.Count).Name

In this example, we used Workbooks.Count. This is the number of workbooks that are currently in the Workbooks collection. That is, the number of workbooks currently open. So using it as the Index gives us the last workbook that was opened

Using the index is not really useful unless you really need to know the order. For this reason, you should avoid using it. You should use the workbook name with Workbooks() instead.


Finding all Open Workbooks

Sometimes you may want to access all the workbooks that are open. In other words, all the items in the Workbooks() collection.

You can do this using the For Each loop.

Public Sub PrintWrkFileName()

    ' Prints out the full filename of all open workbooks
    Dim wrk As Workbook
    For Each wrk In Workbooks
        Debug.Print wrk.FullName
    Next wrk

End Sub

You can also use the standard For loop to access all the open workbooks

Public Sub PrintWrkFileNameIdx()

    ' Prints out the full filename of all open workbooks
    Dim i As Long
    For i = 1 To Workbooks.Count
        Debug.Print Workbooks(i).FullName
    Next i

End Sub

For accessing workbooks either of these methods is fine. The For Each loop is generally preferred when you are accessing a large number of objects. In terms of open workbooks this is rarely an issue.

Note: Both examples read in the order of the first opened to the last opened. If you want to read in reverse order(last to first) you can do this

Public Sub PrintWrkFileNameIdxRev()

    ' Prints out the full filename of all open workbooks
    ' in reverse order.
    Dim i As Long
    For i = Workbooks.Count To 1 Step -1
        Debug.Print Workbooks(i).FullName
    Next i

End Sub


Open Workbook

So far we have dealt with workbooks that are already open. Of course, having to manually open a workbook before running a Macro, defeats the purpose of automating tasks. The Open Workbook task should be performed by VBA.

The following VBA code opens the workbook “Book1.xlsm” in the “C:\Docs” folder

Public Sub OpenWrk()

    ' Open the workbook and print the number of sheets it contains
    Workbooks.Open ("C:\Docs\Book1.xlsm")

    Debug.Print Workbooks("Book1.xlsm").Worksheets.Count

    ' Close the workbook without saving
    Workbooks("Book1.xlsm").Close saveChanges:=False

End Sub

It is a good idea to check a workbook actually exists before you try to open it. This will prevent you getting errors. The Dir function allows you to easily do this .

Public Sub OpenWrkDir()

    If Dir("C:\Docs\Book1.xlsm") = "" Then
        ' File does not exist - inform user
        MsgBox "Could not open the workbook. Please check it exists"
        ' open workbook and do something with it
    End If

End Sub


Check For Open Workbook

If you are opening a workbook as Read-Only, it doesn’t matter if it is already open. However, if you’re going to update data in a workbook then it is a good idea to check if it is already open.

The function below can be used to check if the workbook is currently open. If not, then it will open the workbook. In either case you will end up with the workbook opened.

(The code below is taken from this StackOverFlow entry)

Function GetWorkbook(ByVal sFullFilename As String) As Workbook
    Dim sFilename As String
    sFilename = Dir(sFullFilename)
    On Error Resume Next
    Dim wk As Workbook
    Set wk = Workbooks(sFilename)
    If wk Is Nothing Then
        Set wk = Workbooks.Open(sFullFilename)
    End If
    On Error Goto 0
    Set GetWorkbook = wk
End Function


You can use this function like this

Sub ExampleOpenWorkbook()

    Dim sFilename As String
    sFilename = "C:\Docs\Book2.xlsx"

    Dim wk As Workbook
    Set wk = GetWorkbook(sFilename)
End Sub


This code is fine is most situations. However, if the workbook could be currently open in read-only mode or could be currently opened by another user then you may want to use a slightly different approach.

An easy way to deal this with this scenario is to insist that the file must be closed for the application to run successfully. You can use the function below to simply check is the file already open and if so inform the user that it must be closed first.

(The code below is also taken from this StackOverFlow entry)

Function IsWorkBookOpen(FileName As String) As Boolean

    Dim ff As Long, ErrNo As Long

    On Error Resume Next
    ' Open file and store error number
    ff = FreeFile()
    Open FileName For Input Lock Read As #ff
    Close ff
    ErrNo = Err
    On Error Goto 0

    ' Check errro number
    Select Case ErrNo
        Case 0 ' No error
            IsWorkBookOpen = False
        Case 70 ' Permission denied error
            IsWorkBookOpen = True
        Case Else ' Other error
            Error ErrNo
    End Select
End Function

An example of using this function is shown below. In this case, if the workbook is already open then you inform the user that is must be closed for the macro to proceed.

Sub ExampleUse()

    Dim sFilename As String
    sFilename = "C:\temp\Book1.xlsm"

    If IsWorkBookOpen(sFilename) = True Then
        MsgBox "File is already open. Please close file and run macro again."
        Exit Sub
    End If
    ' Write to workbook here
End Sub


Close Workbook

To Close a Workbook in Excel VBA is very simple. You simply call the Close method of the workbook.


Normally when you close a workbook in VBA, you don’t want to see messages from Excel asking if you want to save the file.

You can specify whether to save the workbook or not and then the Excel messages will not appear.

' Don't save changes
wk.Close SaveChanges:= False

' Do save changes
wk.Close SaveChanges:= True

Obviously, you cannot save changes to a workbook that is currently open as read-only.


Save Workbook

We have just seen that you can save a workbook when you close it. If you want to save it any other stage you can simply use the Save method


You can also use the SaveAs method

wk.SaveAs "C:\Backups\accounts.xlsx"

The Workbook SaveAs method comes with twelve parameters which allow you to add a password, set the file as read-only and so on. You can see the details here

You can also use VBA to save the workbook as a copy using SaveCopyAs

wk.SaveCopyAs "C:\Docs\Copy.xlsm"


Copy Workbook

If the workbook is open you can use the two methods in the above section to create a copy i.e. SaveAs and SaveCopyAs.
If you want to copy a workbook without opening it then you can use FileCopy as the following example demonstrates

Public Sub CopyWorkbook()
    FileCopy "C:\Docs\Docs.xlsm", "C:\Docs\Example_Copy.xlsm"
End Sub


Using the File Dialog To Open a Workbook

The previous section shows you how to open a workbook with a given name. Sometimes you may want the user to select the workbook. You can easily use the Windows File Dialog shown here

FileDialog VBA Workbook

The Windows File Dialog

The following function opens a workbook using the File Dialog. The function returns the full file name if a file was selected. If the user cancels it displays a message and returns an empty string.

Public Function UserSelectWorkbook() As String

    On Error Goto ErrorHandler

    Dim sWorkbookName As String

    Dim FD As FileDialog
    Set FD = Application.FileDialog(msoFileDialogFilePicker)

    ' Open the file dialog
    With FD
        ' Set Dialog Title
        .Title = "Please Select File"

        ' Add filter
        .Filters.Add "Excel Files", "*.xls;*.xlsx;*.xlsm"

        ' Allow selection of one file only
        .AllowMultiSelect = False

        ' Display dialog

        If FD.SelectedItems.Count > 0 Then
            UserSelectWorkbook = FD.SelectedItems(1)
            MsgBox "Selecting a file has been cancelled. "
            UserSelectWorkbook = ""
        End If
    End With

    ' Clean up
    Set FD = Nothing
    Exit Function
    MsgBox "Error: " + Err.Description
End Function

When you call this function you have to check for the user cancelling the dialog. The following example shows you how to easily call the UserSelectWorkbook function and handle the case of the user cancelling

Public Sub TestUserSelect()

    Dim userBook As Workbook, sFilename As String

    ' Call the UserSelectworkbook function
    sFilename = UserSelectWorkbook()

    ' If the filename returns is blank the user cancelled
    If sFilename <> "" Then
        ' Open workbook and do something with it
        Set userBook = Workbooks.Open(sFilename)
    End If

End Sub

You can customise the dialog by changing the Title, Filters and AllowMultiSelect in the UserSelectWorkbook function.


Using ThisWorkbook

There is an easier way to access the current workbook than using Workbooks(). You can use the keyword ThisWorkbook. It refers to the current workbook i.e. the workbook that contains the VBA code.

If our code is in a workbook call MyVBA.xlsm then ThisWorkbook and Workbooks(“MyVBA.xlsm”) refer to the same workbook.

Using ThisWorkbook is more useful than using Workbooks(). With ThisWorkbook we do not need to worry about the name of the file. This gives us two advantages:

  1. Changing the filename will not affect the code
  2. Copying the code to another workbook will not require a code change

These may seem like very small advantages. The reality is your filenames will change all the time. Using ThisWorkbook  means your code will still work fine.

The following example shows two lines of code. One using ThisWorkbook  and one using Workbooks(). The one using Workbooks will no longer work if the name of MyVBA.xlsm changes.

Public Sub WriteToCellUsingThis()

    ' Both lines do the same thing.
    Debug.Print ThisWorkbook.FullName
    Debug.Print Workbooks(“MyVBA.xlsm”).FullName

End Sub


Using the ActiveWorkbook

ActiveWorkbook refers to the workbook that is currently active. This is the one that the user last clicked on.

This can seem useful at first. The problem is that any workbook can become active by a simple mouse click. This means you could easily write data to the wrong workbook.

Using ActiveWorkbook also makes the code hard to read. It may not be obvious from the code which workbook should be the active one.

I hope I made it clear that you should avoid using ActiveWorkbook unless you really have to. In this case be very careful.


Examples of the Accessing the Workbook

We’ve looked at all the ways of accessing a workbook. The following code shows examples of these ways

Public Sub WorkbooksUse()

    ' This is a workbook that is already open and called MyVBA.xlsm
    Debug.Print Workbooks("MyVBA.xlsm").FullName

    ' The workbook that contains this code
    Debug.Print ThisWorkbook.FullName

    ' The open workbook that was opened first
    Debug.Print Workbooks(1).FullName

    ' The open workbook that was opened last
    Debug.Print Workbooks(Workbooks.Count).FullName

    ' The workbook that is the currently active one
    Debug.Print ActiveWorkbook.FullName

    ' No workbook mentioned - the active one will be used
    Debug.Print Worksheets("Sheet1").Name

    ' A closed workbook called Book1.xlsm in folder C:\Docs
    Workbooks.Open ("C:\Docs\Book1.xlsm")
    Debug.Print Workbooks("Book1.xlsm").FullName

End Sub


Declaring a VBA Workbook variable

The reason for declaring a workbook variable is to make your code easier to read and understand. It is easier to see the advantage using an example

Public Sub OpenWrkObjects()

    Dim wrk As Workbook
    Set wrk = Workbooks.Open("C:\Docs\Book1.xlsm")

    ' Print number of sheets in each book
    Debug.Print wrk.Worksheets.Count
    Debug.Print wrk.Name


End Sub

You can set a workbook variable with any of the access methods we have seen.

The following shows you the same code without a workbook variable

Public Sub OpenWrkNoObjects()

   Workbooks.Open ("C:\Docs\Book1.xlsm")

   Debug.Print Workbooks("Book2.xlsm").Worksheets.Count
   Debug.Print Workbooks("Book2.xlsm").Name


End Sub

In these examples the difference is not major. However, when you have a lot of code, using a variable is useful particularly for worksheet and ranges where the names tend to be long e.g. thisWorkbook.Worksheets(“Sheet1”).Range(“A1”).

You can name the workbook variable to be something like wrkRead or wrkWrite. Then at a glance you can see what this workbook is being used for.


Create New Workbook

To create a new workbook you use the Workbooks Add function. This function creates a new blank workbook. It is the same as selecting New Workbook from the Excel File menu.

When you create a new workbook you will generally want to Save it. The following code shows you how to do this.

Public Sub AddWordbook()

    Dim wrk As Workbook
    Set wrk = Workbooks.Add

    ' Save as xlsx. This is the default.
    wrk.SaveAs "C:\Temp\Example.xlsx"

    ' Save as a Macro enabled workbook
    wrk.SaveAs "C:\Temp\Example.xlsm", xlOpenXMLWorkbookMacroEnabled

End Sub

When you create a new workbook it normally contains three sheets. This is determined by the property Application.SheetsInNewWorkbook.

If you want to have a different number of sheets in a new workbook then you change this property before you create the new workbook. The following example shows you how to create a new workbook with seven sheets.

Public Sub AddWordbookMultiSheets()

    ' Store SheetsInNewWorkbook value so we can reset it later
    Dim sheetCnt As Long
    sheetCnt = Application.SheetsInNewWorkbook

    ' Set sheets in a new workbook to be 7
    Application.SheetsInNewWorkbook = 7

    ' Workbook will be created with 7 sheets
    Dim wrk As Workbook
    Set wrk = Workbooks.Add

    ' Display sheet count
    Debug.Print "number of sheets: " & CStr(wrk.Worksheets.Count)

    ' Reset to original value
    Application.SheetsInNewWorkbook = sheetCnt

End Sub


The With keyword and the Workbook

The With keyword makes reading and writing VBA code easier. Using With means you only need to mention the item once. With  is used with Objects. These are items such as Workbooks, Worksheets and Ranges.

The following example has two Subs. The first is similar to code we have seen so far. The second uses the With keyword. You can see the code is much clearer in the second Sub. The keywords End With mark the finish of a section code using With.

' Not using the With keyword
Public Sub NoUsingWith()

   Debug.Print Workbooks("Book2.xlsm").Worksheets.Count
   Debug.Print Workbooks("Book2.xlsm").Name
   Debug.Print Workbooks("Book2.xlsm").Worksheets(1).Range("A1")

End Sub

' Using With makes the code easier to read
Public Sub UsingWith()

    With Workbooks("Book2.xlsm")
        Debug.Print .Worksheets.Count
        Debug.Print .Name
        Debug.Print .Worksheets(1).Range("A1")
    End With

End Sub



The following is a brief summary of the main points of this post

  1. To get the workbook containing the code use ThisWorkbook.
  2. To get any open workbook use Workbooks(“Example.xlsx”).
  3. To open a workbook use Set Wrk = Workbooks.Open(“C:\Folder\Example.xlsx”).
  4. Allow the user to select a file using the UserSelectWorkbook function provided above.
  5. To create a copy of an open workbook use the SaveAs property with a filename.
  6. To create a copy of a workbook without opening use the FileCopy function.
  7. To make your code easier to read and write use the With keyword.
  8. Another way to make your code clear is to use a Workbook variables
  9. To run through all open Workbooks use For Each wk in Workbooks where wk is a workbook variable.
  10. Try to avoid using ActiveWorkbook and Workbooks(Index) as their reference to a workbook is temporary.


You can see a quick guide to the topic at the top of this post



This was an in-depth post about a very important element of VBA – the Workbook.  I hope you found it beneficial. Excel is great at providing many ways to perform similar actions but the downside is it can lead to confusion at times.

To get the most benefit from this post I recommend you try out the examples. Create some workbooks and play around with the code. Make changes to the code and see how the changes affect the outcome. Practice is the best way to learn VBA.

If you found this post useful then feel free to share it with others.  You may also want to check out The Complete Guide to Worksheets in Excel VBA. You can view all the posts by category here.


What’s Next

Once you understand Workbooks the next topics you  may want to check out are Worksheets and Ranges and Cells. These three topics are a core part of VBA and it’s vital to understand them. You can get the complete list of all the VBA posts here.

I also have a free eBook(see below) which you will find useful if you are new to VBA.


Get the Free eBook

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    1. Hi Sidharth,

      Thanks for pointing that out.
      Sometimes when I update a post, WordPress automatically changes the greater/less than symbols. I’ve updated the post to fix them.


  1. Hi Paul, I’ve gone through couple of websites to actually learn Macros if a person is novice and none could provide the basics so clearly the way you are doing.
    I’m actually learning VBA and macros through your website.
    Gr8 work 🙂

  2. Hi Paul,

    I like your site because the explanations you provide are really making me understand some things I didn’t before.

    However I found a few hickups in the ‘Finding all open workbooks section’. In the seconde and third example (PrintWrkFileNameIdx and PrintWrkFileNameIdxRev) you use “Dim i” and then continue with ‘”Next wrk”. I guess someone copied the first example (PrintWrkFileName), where “wrk” was actually used, and changed the contents 😉



    1. Hi Cor,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you like the site. I’ve update the post to fix those issues.


  3. hi paul….
    what a great piece of work. i m glad i accessed ur site. being a software engineer my self … i was really in search of logically connected concepts and not the syntax ….and i found both…thanks a lot

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