Don’t forget to share this post

Whether you are using Excel or Google Sheets, spreadsheets have become a key tool for collaboration. That is until accidental (or even purposeful) edits occur, which negatively impact your entire dataset.

Imagine arriving at your Excel spreadsheet to resume your work from the day before, except nothing looks like how you left it. This is the point where you probably wish you could turn back time or at least have protected the work you had done so far. Knowing how to lock cells, a sheet or a formula in Excel is extremely useful in these cases. Moreover, knowing how to unlock cells in Excel is just as important since you may wish to make some parts of the document editable again.

By the end of this article, you will know how to lock specific cells, shared files/sheets, and formulas in Excel. So, without further ado, let’s explore these methods to ensure that you maintain control over your hard work.

How to lock cells in Excel?

In simple terms, when you lock a cell in Excel, other users are automatically restricted from making changes to that information. As mentioned before, in cases where a spreadsheet will be modified or edited by several people, it will make everyone’s life easier if you either prevent them from changes or pre-approve specific users.

  1. 1. First of all, you need to select the cells that you want to lock.
How to lock cells in Excel Select cells
  1. 2. Go to the “Home” tab of your Excel sheet and select “Format” to the far right.
How to lock cells in Excel Home Format
  1. 3. From the drop-down menu, choose “Lock Cell”.
How to lock cells in Excel Choose Lock Cell

IMPORTANT: Although your selected range is now locked, it is still editable. This is because the sheet itself has not been protected. If you wish to prevent others from editing the content in these cells, you need to proceed to the following section.

How to Lock Cells in Google Sheets? (Rows/Columns/Sheets)

Cells in Google Sheets spreadsheets can be locked to prevent accidental edits. Here's how to lock cells, rows, columns or entire sheets in Google Sheets

READ MORE
How to lock cells in Google Sheets

How to lock a sheet in Excel?

In order to lock a sheet in Excel, you simply have to use the protect feature in the spreadsheet app. Please note that in order to lock a sheet in Excel, the previous steps have to be completed.

  1. 1. Go to the “Review” tab and select “Protect Sheet”.
How to lock a sheet in Excel Review
  1. 2. A small window should pop up which will allow you to protect the sheet and its corresponding contents by optionally setting a password or directly ticking the permissions you would like to grant users on this sheet.
How to lock a sheet in Excel Protect Sheet

IMPORTANT: By not protecting with a password, any of the users having access to this sheet are able to click on the "Unprotect Sheet" option and make the changes they want. You can learn more about password protection in our two blog articles on How to password protect an Excel file and How to password protect a Google sheet.

  1. 3. Lastly, to make sure you have successfully locked cells, you can check to see if the “Unprotect Sheet” option appears in the Review toolbar.
How to lock a sheet in Excel Password Protect Sheet
  1. 4. Another way to see if this has worked is to type directly in the locked cell. If you were successful, you will get the following alert message.
How to lock a sheet in Excel Password Protect Excel Sheet

Remember that you do not need to password protect the whole sheet to lock specific cells or content ranges in your spreadsheet. As shown in the list of lockable items above, you can also restrict users from formatting, sorting, or filtering content in the cell(s).

In the next section, you will learn how to narrow your locking range to a single cell instead of a column, row, or specified range.

How to lock specific cells in Excel (without protecting the sheet)?

Sometimes, you will need your team to continue working on or updating the content of a spreadsheet and will have to limit the locked content to a minimum. This is where locking specific cells come in handy. But, before we continue, make sure you click “Unprotect Sheet”.

  1. 1. Before you begin, make sure that you click “Unprotect Sheet” in the Review toolbar.
  2. 2. Select the cell(s) you wish to lock and press “Ctrl+Shift+F” on Windows or “Ctrl + 1” on Mac) to launch the "Format Cells" window. Note how in this case, I have only selected the first seven email addresses.
How to lock specific cells in Excel Format Cells
  1. 3. Go to the "Protection" tab and make sure the “Locked” option is ticked before clicking “Ok”.
How to lock specific cells in Excel Protection Locked

This shortcut to locking cells in bulk will make it easier to protect the data you want to remain intact. The next section will explain how to lock a cell in excel that contains a formula.

How to Unlock Cells in Excel
How to Unlock Cells in Excel?

Cells in Excel can be locked to prevent accidental edits. What if you want to unlock them? Here's how to unlock cells, worksheets and workbooks in Excel

READ MORE

How to lock formulas in Excel?

In many circumstances, you may have formulas in your Excel to handle important calculations of data. If these cells containing the formulas are changed (accidentally or not), not only will the cell be affected, but the row, column, or even the entire sheet.

  1. 1. A formula cell that is unprotected will showcase a small green triangle on the top-left corner as well as a warning sign.
How to lock formulas in Excel Warning Unprotected Formula
  1. 2. Click on the warning sign icon and select the option “Lock Cell” from the drop-down menu.
How to lock formulas in Excel Warning Lock Cell Formula
  1. 3. Similar to the steps on How to lock a sheet in Excel, go to the “Review” tab and click on “Protect Sheet” to protect the formula.
How to lock formulas in Excel Review Protect Sheet

You may also protect the formula by locking the specific cell formulas in your sheet, using the same steps on How to lock specific cells in Excel.

How to protect spreadsheet data with Layer?

Layer adds productivity features to your Google Sheets. Share parts of your spreadsheet, request input, and accept or reject changes to make collaboration seamless and more efficient while keeping full control over your data.

Using Layer, you can:

  • Manage Access: Give spreadsheet access to relevant stakeholders on a tab or cell level.
  • Review & Track: Consolidate input, and easily track changes.
  • Collaborate: Define, assign, and automate tasks and set deadlines.

Sign up for early access and start automating your Google Sheets workflows with Layer!

Conclusion

These locking methods in Excel are vital to ensure your spreadsheet data is safe from unwanted changes. Learning how to lock cells, sheets, or formulas within Excel will help you avoid any risk of having to edit mistakes manually down the line, which can end up becoming extremely time-consuming and unproductive.

By the end of this article, you should know how to lock cells, specific cells, cell formulas, and protect sheets, including passwords, in Excel. Using Google Sheets for collaborative work instead? You might want to go through our article on how to lock cells in Google Sheets to discover the different options to keep your spreadsheet data locked.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jan 17 2022, Updated Sep 23 2022