Safely keep revision history, track and compare changes in Excel spreadsheets

(Note: the video may not reflect the latest upgrades. Please use the guide below.)

Some disappointments are familiar to every Excel user. You or your colleagues may enter incorrect values or even delete critical data by mistake. MS Excel Track Changes feature comes with limitations: history of changes is periodically deleted, it does not do backups and works only for shared workbooks. How can you protect data without piles of backup copies or complicated macros?

XLTools Version Control add-in solves these problems and keeps your data safe:

  • Track changes made to a workbook
  • Review change log and see who modified the file and when
  • Recover and roll back to any previous version
  • Compare versions and highlight modified cells
  • Store revision history in a Git repository on your own PC

Before you begin, add Version Control to Excel

Version Control for Workbooks is one of the 20+ features within XLTools Add-in for Excel. Works in Excel 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, desktop Office 365.

– free trial gives you 14 days of full access to all features.

How to enable Version Control in Excel and start tracking changes

XLTools Version Control add-in for Excel workbooks is a revision control, or a source control tool. It helps track changes to Excel files and gives a clear picture of who, how and when modified the document.

  1. Open a workbook Click the Enable button on XLTools tab.
  2. In the Settings window, click Enable Done, now you are tracking changes and history of the spreadsheet. Next, you can commit versions of the workbook.
Or: Open XLTools Settings Version Control tab Enable.

How to commit versions of Excel workbook to Change Log

Once you enable Version Control in a workbook, we recommend you commit the initial version to Change Log. This will allow you to compare future versions with it, as well as restore the initial version if necessary.

  1. Click the Commit Changes button A dialogue box will open.
  2. Add a descriptive comment, e.g. "Initial version" OK Done, the initial version is saved to Change Log.

As you keep editing the workbook, keep committing versions along the way. We recommend you commit a version after any critical changes, or as often as often as you find necessary.

  1. Make changes When ready to commit the version, click Commit Changes.
  2. Add a comment OK.
Tip: create descriptive comments. It will help tell the versions apart and search for the necessary version in the Change Log.

By default, a version is committed to Change Log through the Commit Changes button on the ribbon. If you want to commit a version every time you save the file, specify this in the settings:

  1. Open XLTools Settings Version Control tab.
  2. Check the box "Commit a version to Change Log every time I save a workbook with changes".

How to preview and diff recent changes before committing a version

  1. Edit the workbook Click Commit Changes A window will open.
  2. To preview and diff changes, double-click on the modified worksheet name in the list.
  3. A temporary file will open, and the Newer version will have the changed cells highlighted in red color.
  4. Review the result Close the temporary file Click OK to commit this new version, or Cancel to go back to editing the workbook.

How Excel spreadsheet versions are saved to Git repository

All versions of a workbook that were committed to Change Log are saved to the Git repository on your computer. Being a widely adopted system for revision control, Git accurately records all changes and does not take much of your disk space.

Immediately after you enable Version Control, a folder 'WorkbookName_Revisions' is automatically generated in the same destination as the workbook. This is the Git repository that will safely store all revision history of the workbook. Every time you commit a version, it is saved to the repository.

Important: do NOT delete, rename or move this repository folder. Otherwise the revision history will be lost.

The Change Log shows the list of all previously committed versions.

Click the Change Log button on XLTools tab The Change Log will open.

  • Review the list of versions: it displays comments, authors and the time the version was committed. You can see who made changes and when.
  • Filter the committed versions and search for the version you need. Type what you are looking for, and the search will run through version names, comments, authors and dates.
  • Review the tools in the menu: you can expand and collapse the list, open, save, roll back to, diff and compare versions.

How to compare two versions of an Excel worksheet

You can easily compare two worksheet versions with each other:

  1. Click the Change Log button The log will open.
  2. Hold the Ctrl key and select two worksheet versions you want to compare In the log's menu, or in the right-click context menu, select Compare two selected versions.

  3. A temporary workbook will open. The sheet with the Newer version has the modified cells highlighted in red.
Note: the Version Control tool compares the values in cells. If the values are different in the two versions, the cell will be highlighted. Version Control does not (yet) track changes to formulas, formats, added or removed rows and columns.

In the same way, you can compare any worksheet version with the previous or the current version:

  1. Click the Change Log button Select any worksheet version.
  2. In the log's menu, or in the right-click context menu, select Diff with Previous version or Diff with Current version.
  3. A temporary workbook will open, and the modified cells will be highlighted.

How to compare two workbook versions with Inquire Add-in

The Version Control tool is integrated with the Inquire plugin. It helps compare spreadsheet versions in more detail.

The Inquire plugin is a free plugin by Microsoft, available in Office Professional Plus edition. See how to turn on Inquire in Excel.

  1. Click the Change Log button The log will open.
  2. Hold the Ctrl key and select two workbook versions you want to compare In the log's menu, or in the right-click context menu, select Compare two selected versions in Inquire.

  3. The result of the comparison will open in Inquire: review the changes to values, formulas, document structure, formats, etc.

In the same way, you can compare any workbook version with the previous or the current version:

  1. Click the Change Log button Select any workbook version.
  2. In the log's menu, or in the right-click context menu, select Diff with Previous version in Inquire or Diff with Current version in Inquire.
  3. The result of the comparison will open in Inquire.

To open, save or roll back to any previous workbook version:

  1. Click the Change Log button Select the workbook version you need.
  2. In the log's menu, or in the right-click context menu, select the operation you need:

    • Open this workbook version
    • Save this workbook version as
    • Roll back to this version

How to use Version Control for a shared Excel workbook

XLTools Version Control add-in helps arrange group work and collaborate on shared spreadsheets effectively.

  1. Make sure that all your team members have XLTools add-in installed on their PCs.
  2. Place the workbook in a shared folder on a local disk Share the workbook with your team Provide reading and writing permissions. This prevents anyone outside the group from editing the workbook under versioning.
  3. Each member can commit and compare versions and view the Change Log.

How to use Version Control for VBA macros in Excel

If you work with macros in Excel, you can also use Version Control to track and compare changes in your VBA projects.

Limitations when using Version Control

When the spreadsheet is stored on a network folder or a cloud drive, Version Control may return file path errors (“pathname is too long”). In order to store revision history, the Git repository creates nested folders and sometimes the paths to these subfolders may exceed the limitation set in Windows.

Our development team is already searching for a workaround. In the meanwhile, we recommend you try and shorten the network path, as well as the name of the spreadsheet. Or, save the spreadsheets on the local disk on your computer.

Any questions or suggestions?
SebastianDoes this work with password protected VBA code?
March 12, 2019 at 16:49
Maria BalobanovaHi Sebastian, yes, but first you have to remove protection from the VBA code, make the changes, save the version, then apply password protection back.
March 13, 2019 at 12:41
Chuck Beauregard Does XLTools track Userform code, modules, and formulas?  
January 16, 2018 at 07:16
Maria Balobanova

Hi Chuck, XLTools Version Control tracks changes to values in cells, i.e. the result of the formula, but not the formula itself. If by Userform code and modules you mean VBA code - then yes. Please see here.

January 16, 2018 at 13:49
Dennisif the formula is subscribing to a data stream (think Bloomberg formula), then even if the workbook structure hasn't changed at all, xltools will think all the data cells have been changed - which would be a lot of noise and not so helpful
June 11, 2018 at 10:38
Maria BalobanovaYou are right, Dennis. At the moment Version Control registers changes to values. We plan to expand the comparison functionality to track changes to formulas as well. Thanks for confirming that this could be something useful!
June 13, 2018 at 12:48
ThangIf I am sharing an excel file with a team, does all team members need to have this add-in for us to see who was the last one to edit, and what was edited? Or since I am project lead, only I need to have the add-in?
August 15, 2017 at 00:32
Maria BalobanovaHello Thang! Yes, indeed, to see the change log and work with Excel files under Version Control, each team member should have an XLTools license.
August 15, 2017 at 14:51
AmsalIs it available for MAC?
June 1, 2017 at 12:54
Maria BalobanovaHello Amsal, no, XLTools is only available on Windows platform.
June 1, 2017 at 14:11
JHUnder "How to use Version Control for a shared Excel spreadsheet" is says "Place the workbook in a shared folder in your network > Allow access to the group members." Is it possible to use a git repo like GitHub or Bit-bucket?
March 5, 2017 at 20:39
Maria BalobanovaHello JH, XLTools does not have this functionality yet. We've had a few similar requests, so we will consider supporting it in the next releases. Thank you!
March 6, 2017 at 13:26
WinDoes this Add-In require that I save the file as a macro-enabled spreadsheet? (i.e. xlsm)
December 16, 2016 at 00:37
Maria BalobanovaHello Win, If you have an xlsx workbook, and then enable Version Control - the file does not change its extension. The add-in does not require you to save it as xlsm. But you can also enable Version Control for xlsm files, and start tracking changes to your custom macro.
December 16, 2016 at 17:02
DavidIt appears that the add-in will not provide the sort of history across multiple versions that Excel's native track changes provides, with notes on cells like 'Changed on [date] from [value]' since, if the add-in can only compare two versions at a time [date] would always be the date of the earlier version being compared. Is that correct?
November 12, 2015 at 04:20
Maria BalobanovaHello David, XLTools Version Control provides a different functionality compared to native Excel track changes. You can view the history of all saved versions (when and who made the changes, comments to these versions). You can compare two versions of a sheet at a time - Version Control will pull these two versions, mark them 'Newer' and 'Older', and it will highlight the cells in the Newer version that are different compared to the Older. You are most welcome to download XLTools and activate the free trial - it will take a few minutes and you can see if XLTools can be helpful with your tasks.
November 12, 2015 at 14:47
Filippo BertoniSecond question. Let's imagine this scenario: I create an excel sheet with my laptop where XLtool is installed. I then send this file to a person using a Mac who does not have XLtool on his computer. As soon as this person sends the file back to me, can I still trace every single modification he/she made to the file?
November 6, 2015 at 16:35
Maria BalobanovaFilippo, potentially this is possible. You can save the file you receive from your colleague and then save the latest version of the changes. Then you can compare the two versions - yours and the one from your colleague. Version Control will highlight the cells with changes.
November 6, 2015 at 17:26
Filippo BertoniHello. Can be this used with Office 2016 for Mac?
November 6, 2015 at 16:28
Maria BalobanovaHello Filippo, XLTools is only compatible with Windows. We do not have current plans to develop a version for Mac.
November 6, 2015 at 17:23
John Da SilvaIf I use XLTools for versioning of a workbook on one computer that is saved to a USB drive, is the workbook still accessible on another computer that does not have XLTools? I am assuming that I can still modify the latest version on the other computer, but there would be no versioning history. Is that correct?
October 25, 2015 at 02:49
Maria BalobanovaHello John, You are right. Version Control is only available if you have XLTools installed on your computer and after you activate your XLTools PRO license. You can still access your Excel workbook (with all the latest saved changes) from a computer without XLTools and work with the spreadsheet as usual, but you won't be able to save or compare versions.
October 26, 2015 at 15:48
ErinIs there a network/group floating license version of this tool? Or is there any group purchase discount? (e.g. buying 20 individual license will get some discount) Is there a distributed version control function? (e.g. central site version difference/revision check against the working copies outside of the central site) Thanks, Erin
August 25, 2015 at 20:05
Maria BalobanovaHi Erin, For now, XLTools should be installed individually on each computer. We plan to create a corporate license version in the future. One license copy is per user per computer. We do have volume discounts, I will send you the details by email. Version Control is meant for team work - just share the workbook in Excel settings, and XLTools Version Control will help you can save, comment and compare versions with the original document of with each other.
August 25, 2015 at 20:57
Oliver BrainHey I was wondering if this add-in is able to track changes in the VBA script? Thanks for your help
June 15, 2015 at 20:27
Maria BalobanovaHi Oliver, Right now we are expanding the functionality of the Version Control feature – so that it tracks macros’ history and highlights changes in VBA versions (similar logic as with spreadsheets). Oliver, we received an email request from you for a free trial - but I could not reach you (invalid email). Please provide a different email address and we will be happy to help!
June 18, 2015 at 13:42
Guido CinatoHi, I'm also interested in an add-in to track VBA code changes, please keep me informed, thanks. Guido
September 1, 2015 at 18:15
Maria BalobanovaHi Guido, we are working on it at the moment. We will let you know when it's released. Thanks for staying in touch!
September 1, 2015 at 20:46
Guido Cinatogot it, thanks
April 5, 2016 at 16:25
Ignacio De BustamanteQuisiera saber si hay una version del instalador de XLTools compatible con Excel 2013 en español ya que la version en ingles no la puedo istalar en mi sistema pues no es compatible.
March 10, 2015 at 07:24
Peter LiapinHello, yes we support Excel 2013, but unfortunately we do not have Spanish version of XLTools yet.
March 13, 2015 at 16:46
Tim MillerExcel 2013 64bit too?
March 24, 2015 at 00:39
Peter LiapinYes, x64 is also supported.
April 1, 2015 at 14:50
JackHi, I'm interested in using this for version control. Does it allow distributed revision control? Our use case is 2-3 developers working on a spreadsheet made up of several pages. Often the spreadsheet is opened from it's location on a shared network drive, minor changes made and sometimes the version number is not incremented. This makes it very hard to track changes and also who made them. Ideally we would pull the spreadsheet to a working directory, do a diff and commit changes then push them to a master repository. Would it be suitable for this kind of workflow?
November 17, 2014 at 18:30
KCSWould like to see an answer to this question. Distributed is what's really needed in a case I am considering as well. Have many people working on one spreadsheet and need to have commits with users' name and comments. Features like working copies, a central check-in site, and conflict management/resolution would be the best. A work-around might be to have users log into the same remote machine, work on the single-copy worksheet there (one at a time), and then commit changes. Would that be a license violation?
June 19, 2015 at 01:43
Chris PriceHow many licences would you need to buy - e.g. could I just buy one as the owner of the workbook or would we need a licence for everyone who accesses the sheet in order to track all changes?
September 2, 2014 at 11:44
Peter LiapinDear Chris, You will need to install XLTools Add-In for everyone who accesses the worksheet, i.e. you will need to get as many licenses as many computers you and your colleagues have. We are currently thinking about volume license discount, so please contact me if you want to buy few licenses. We can agree about special price for you depending on amount of users you have.
September 3, 2014 at 00:59
How can we help?