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XLS files are one of the most widely used spreadsheet file formats. They are an essential tool for storing, organizing, and analyzing data, making them an indispensable part of many businesses, organizations, and individuals.

In this guide, we will explore the XLS file format, how to create and edit XLS files, share and organize them, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

What Is an XLS File?

An XLS file is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file format. It is a tabular representation of data organized into columns and rows, with cells containing data such as numbers, text, or formulas. XLS files were first introduced in 1987 and were the default file format for Microsoft Excel versions up to 2003.

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Importance of XLS Files

XLS files are incredibly useful for organizing, analyzing, and presenting data. They provide a flexible and intuitive way of working with data, allowing users to perform complex calculations and create charts, graphs, and other visualizations. XLS files are also widely supported, making them an accessible and convenient choice for many different types of users.

Understanding the XLS File Format

A brief history of XLS files

XLS files were first introduced in 1987 as part of Microsoft Excel for Windows. Since then, they have become one of the most widely used spreadsheet file formats in the world. XLS files are widely supported by many different types of software applications, including Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and LibreOffice Calc.

Differences between XLS and other spreadsheet file formats

XLS files are one of several spreadsheet file formats available. Other popular formats include XLSX, CSV, and ODS. The key differences between these file formats are the way they store data, their level of support for advanced features, and their compatibility with different software applications.

How XLS files work

XLS files work by organizing data into a tabular format, with columns and rows defining the structure of the data. Each cell in the table can contain data, such as numbers, text, or formulas, which can be used to perform calculations or analyze data. XLS files also support many advanced features, such as charts, graphs, and conditional formatting, which can be used to present data in a visually appealing and informative way.

Key features of XLS files

  • Support for advanced formulas and functions
  • Ability to create charts, graphs, and other visualizations
  • Support for conditional formatting
  • Ability to organize and structure data using templates and pivot tables
  • Support for macros, which allow users to automate repetitive tasks

XLS vs. XLSX file format

XLSX is a newer version of the XLS file format that was introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. XLSX files have a number of advantages over XLS files, including better support for advanced features, smaller file sizes, and improved security. XLSX files also use an XML-based format, which makes them more flexible and easier to work with than XLS files.

XLS vs. CSV file format

The CSV (Comma Separated Values) file format is a text-based file format that stores data in plain text. Unlike XLS files, CSV files do not support advanced features such as formulas, charts, or formatting. However, CSV files are simple to create, are supported by a wide range of applications, and are easy to share between different operating systems and platforms.

Opening XLS Files

Requirements for opening XLS files

You need a spreadsheet application that supports the XLS file format to open XLS files. Microsoft Excel is the most commonly used spreadsheet application for opening XLS files, but several other options are available, such as Google Sheets, LibreOffice Calc, and online viewers.

How to open XLS files in Microsoft Excel?

To open an XLS file in Microsoft Excel, simply double-click the file in Windows Explorer or drag and drop the file into an open instance of Microsoft Excel. Alternatively, you can open an XLS file from within Microsoft Excel by clicking the File menu and selecting Open.

How to open XLS files in Google Sheets?

To open an XLS file in Google Sheets, you will first need to upload the file to Google Drive. You can do this by navigating to Google Drive in a web browser, clicking the New button, and selecting File upload. Once the file is uploaded, you can open it in Google Sheets by right-clicking it in Google Drive and selecting Open with Google Sheets.

How to open XLS files in LibreOffice Calc?

To open an XLS file in LibreOffice Calc, double-click the file in Windows Explorer or drag and drop the file into an open instance of LibreOffice Calc. Alternatively, you can open an XLS file from within LibreOffice Calc by clicking the File menu and selecting Open.

How to open XLS files using online viewers?

There are several online viewers that allow you to open XLS files without the need for a spreadsheet application. Some popular options include Zoho Sheet, Microsoft Office Online, and Google Sheets. To open an XLS file using an online viewer, upload it to the website and then view it in your web browser.

Creating XLS Files

Requirements for creating XLS files

To create XLS files, you will need a software program capable of generating this file format. Some popular options include Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and LibreOffice Calc. It's important to note that while these programs are free to use, they do have certain system requirements that must be met in order to use them effectively.

Some common requirements include a computer with an Intel or AMD processor, at least 512 MB of RAM, and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 or higher.

How to create a new XLS file?

Creating a new XLS file is easy, regardless of which software program you choose to use.

  1. 1. Open the program and select the "File" menu.
  2. 2. From there, select "New" to open a new spreadsheet.
  3. 3. You can then start entering your data and formatting your cells to your liking.
  4. 4. Once you are ready to save your work, click the "File" menu and select "Save As".
  5. 5. In the "Save As" dialog box, select "Microsoft Excel" as the file format, and then give your file a name and save it to your desired location.

How to save an XLS file?

Saving an XLS file is a simple process that can be completed in just a few steps.

  1. 1. Click the "File" menu in your spreadsheet application and select "Save As".
  2. 2. In the "Save As" dialog box, select "Microsoft Excel" as the file format, and then give your file a name and save it to your desired location.

It's crucial to save your work regularly to ensure that you don't lose any data in case of a software or hardware malfunction.

Creating XLS Files Using Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application that allows you to easily create and manage XLS files. To create a new XLS file in Excel:

  1. 1. Click the "File" menu and select "New".
  2. 2. From there, you can choose to create a blank workbook or select from a variety of templates to get started.
  3. 3. To save your work as an XLS file, click the "File" menu and select "Save As".
  4. 4. In the "Save As" dialog box, select "Excel Workbook" as the file format, and then give your file a name and save it to your desired location.

Creating XLS Files Using Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a cloud-based spreadsheet application that allows you to create, edit, and share XLS files online. To create a new XLS file in Google Sheets:

  1. 1. Log in to your Google Drive account and click the "New" button.
  2. 2. From there, select "Google Sheets" to open a new spreadsheet.
  3. 3. To save your work as an XLS file, click the "File" menu and select "Download".
  4. 4. In the "Download" dialog box, select "Microsoft Excel" as the file format and then save your file to your desired location.

Creating XLS Files Using LibreOffice Calc

LibreOffice Calc is a free, open-source spreadsheet application that allows you to create, edit, and save XLS files. To create a new XLS file in LibreOffice Calc:

  1. 1. Click the "File" menu and select "New".
  2. 2. From there, select "Calc" to open a new spreadsheet.
  3. 3. To save your work as an XLS file, click the "File" menu and select "Save As".
  4. 4. In the "Save As" dialog box, select "Microsoft Excel" as the file format, and then give your file a name and save it to your desired location.
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Editing XLS Files

Basic Editing Techniques

  • Adding and deleting data in XLS files: To add new data in XLS files, you can simply click on a cell and start typing in the data. To delete data, you can select the cell(s) or row(s) containing the data you want to remove and press the "Delete" key.
  • Formatting cells and data in XLS files: To format cells and data in XLS files, you can use the "Format Cells" dialog box in Microsoft Excel. This allows you to change font type, size, color, background color, and other formatting options. In Google Sheets and LibreOffice Calc, similar options can be found under the "Format" menu.

Advanced Editing Techniques

  • Using formulas and functions in XLS files: Formulas and functions are used to perform calculations in XLS files. For example, you can use the SUM function to add up a range of cells or the AVERAGE function to find the average of a range of cells. To use a formula or function in XLS, start by typing an equal sign (=) in a cell and then follow the syntax for the specific formula or function you want to use.
  • Using charts and graphs in XLS files: Charts and graphs can be used to visualize data in XLS files. In Microsoft Excel, you can create charts and graphs by selecting the data you want to include, then going to the "Insert" menu and choosing the type of chart or graph you want to create. In Google Sheets and LibreOffice Calc, similar options can be found under the "Insert" menu.
  • Using conditional formatting in XLS files: Conditional formatting allows you to format cells based on certain conditions. For example, you could format cells to turn red if their values are above a certain threshold. To use conditional formatting in XLS, you need to go to the "Format" menu and choose "Conditional formatting". From there, you can specify the conditions for the formatting and the specific formatting you want to apply.

Sharing XLS Files

  • Share XLS files with others: You can share XLS files with others by emailing the file as an attachment, uploading the file to a shared cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox, or using a file-sharing service like OneDrive or SharePoint.
  • Collaborating on XLS files in real-time: To collaborate on XLS files in real-time, you can use a service like Google Sheets, which allows multiple people to access and edit the same file simultaneously. In Microsoft Excel, you can also share a file and allow multiple people to edit it using the "Share" feature.
  • Password-protecting XLS files: To password-protect XLS files, you can use the built-in encryption feature in Microsoft Excel. In Google Sheets and LibreOffice Calc, you can also password-protect a file by converting it to a PDF and setting a password for the PDF file. Check out our guide on How to Password-Protect a Google Sheet for more info.
  • Setting up automatic backups of XLS files: To set up automatic backups of XLS files, you can use a cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox, which automatically backs up files in the cloud. You can also set up an automatic backup in Microsoft Excel by using the "Save As" feature and selecting the option to automatically save the file to a different location.
  • Tracking changes in XLS files: One way to track changes in XLS files is by using the "Track Changes" feature in Microsoft Excel. To enable this feature, go to the "Review" tab in the ribbon and click "Track Changes." You can also accept or reject changes made by others and add comments to cells. In Microsoft Excel, you can also use the "Compare and Merge Workbooks" feature to compare two versions of an XLS file and see the differences between them.

Organizing XLS Files

How to organize and structure XLS files?

To organize and structure XLS files, it's important to have a clear and consistent system in place. Start by defining the purpose of the file and the data you want to include in it. Then, organize the data into columns and rows and label the columns with clear and descriptive headers. Additionally, you can use filters and sort data to help you find what you're looking for quickly and easily.

How to use templates in XLS files?

Templates in XLS files can help you save time and ensure consistency in your spreadsheets. You can find templates for various purposes, such as budgeting, project management, and invoicing, by searching for them online or in Microsoft Excel. To use a template, open it and customize it to fit your needs. You can also create your own custom templates in Microsoft Excel by saving a new file as a template with the ".xltx" file extension.

To get started right away with a free template, check out this list of the Top Free Excel Finance Templates and Financial Statements.

How to create and use pivot tables in XLS files?

A pivot table is a powerful tool that allows you to summarize and analyze large amounts of data in XLS files. To create a pivot table, you first need to select the data you want to include and then go to the "Insert" tab in the ribbon and click "PivotTable." From there, you can select the fields you want to include in the pivot table and customize it to suit your needs. Once you have created a pivot table, you can use it to analyze your data in different ways and quickly get answers to your questions.

For more information, check out our guide on How to Create a Pivot Table in Excel.

How to use macros in XLS files?

Macros are scripts that can automate repetitive tasks in XLS files. To use a macro, you first need to record it by performing the steps you want to automate. Once you have recorded the macro, you can play it back to automate the same actions in the future. Macros can save you a lot of time and effort, especially if you have to perform the same task repeatedly. To create a macro in Microsoft Excel, go to the "View" tab in the ribbon and click "Macros." From there, you can record and manage your macros.

For a more in-depth look, check out our guide on How To Use Macros In Excel To Automate Tasks.

Converting XLS Files

How to convert XLS files to other file formats?

XLS files can be converted to other file formats, such as CSV, PDF, or XLSX, to make it easier to share or use the data with different programs. You can use Microsoft Excel or a third-party file conversion tool to convert an XLS file to another format. Open the XLS file in the program you're using and select the "Save As" or "Export" option. From there, you can choose the file format you want to convert to and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the conversion.

For more information on converting your XLS files, check out:

How to Convert Other File Formats to XLS Files?

Converting other file formats to XLS is relatively straightforward and can be done using several different methods. The easiest way to convert a file to XLS is to open it in a spreadsheet application such as Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or LibreOffice Calc and then save it as an XLS file. Many online file converters can help you convert files to XLS if you don't have access to a spreadsheet application. Simply upload your file to the website, select XLS as the output format, and then download the converted file.

Make sure to check out our guide on How to Convert Google Sheets To Excel (Manually & Automatically).

Benefits of Converting XLS Files

There are several benefits to converting files to XLS format. For example, converting a file to XLS can make it easier to organize and manipulate data, as XLS is a powerful and versatile file format that provides many different tools and features for working with data. Additionally, converting a file to XLS can ensure that the data remains intact, as XLS files are more robust and less prone to corruption than many other file formats.

Common Use Cases for Converting XLS Files

Converting files to XLS is often used in a variety of different scenarios, including:

  • When you need to import data from another file format into a spreadsheet application for further analysis and manipulation.
  • When you need to share data with others who don't have access to the original file format, as XLS is a widely used and supported file format.
  • When you need to back up sensitive data, as XLS files are more secure and reliable than many other file formats.
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Best Practices for XLS Files

How to Ensure Data Accuracy in XLS Files?

To ensure the accuracy of your data in XLS files, there are several best practices you can follow, including:

  • Regularly checking your data for errors and correcting them as needed.
  • Using formulas and functions to automate data calculations and reduce the risk of human error.
  • Double-checking your data before you save your XLS file to make sure that all changes have been saved and that the data is accurate.

How to Prevent Data Corruption in XLS Files?

To prevent data corruption in XLS files:

  • Regularly backing up your XLS files to ensure that you can recover the data if it becomes corrupted.
  • Not making changes to your XLS file while it is open in multiple applications or when it is being used by another user.
  • Regularly checking for and repairing any corrupted files as soon as you notice that there is an issue.

How to Keep XLS Files Secure?

To keep XLS files secure:

  • Using strong and unique passwords to protect your XLS files from unauthorized access.
  • Encrypting your XLS files to protect sensitive information.
  • Regularly backing up your XLS files to ensure that you can recover the data if lost or damaged.

How to Optimize XLS Files for Performance?

To optimize XLS files for performance:

  • Regularly cleaning up your data to remove any unused or redundant information.
  • Compacting your XLS files to reduce their size and improve performance.
  • Regularly checking for and repairing any corrupted files to prevent performance issues.

Troubleshooting XLS Files

Common Issues with XLS Files

  • Corrupted files: XLS files can become corrupt due to various reasons, such as power failure, software crashes, or hardware failure.
  • Incompatibility issues: XLS files created with an older version of Microsoft Excel may not be compatible with the latest software version.
  • Incorrect formulas or data: XLS files may contain inaccurate data or formulas due to human error or software bugs.

How to Repair Damaged XLS Files?

  • Use the built-in "Open and Repair" feature in Microsoft Excel: Open Microsoft Excel and select the damaged XLS file. Go to the File menu and select "Open." In the Open dialog box, select the damaged XLS file and then click the drop-down arrow next to the Open button. Select "Open and Repair" from the drop-down menu.
  • Use a third-party data recovery tool: There are various data recovery tools available online that can help you repair damaged XLS files. Some popular ones include Stellar Phoenix Excel Repair, Recuva, and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.

How to Recover Lost or Deleted XLS Files?

  • Check the Recycle Bin: If you have accidentally deleted an XLS file, the first place to look is the Recycle Bin. If the file is still there, you can restore it.
  • Use a file recovery tool: If the file is not in the Recycle Bin, you can try using a file recovery tool to recover it. Some popular file recovery tools include Recuva, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, and Disk Drill.

How to Prevent XLS File Corruption?

  • Save regularly: Make sure to save your XLS file frequently to minimize the risk of data loss in case of a software crash or other unexpected interruption.
  • Use a backup solution: Regularly back up your XLS files to ensure that you have a copy of your data in case of a system failure or other disaster.
  • Keep your software and hardware up-to-date: Ensure that you have the latest updates for Microsoft Excel and any other software you use, as well as the latest drivers for your hardware.
  • Avoid opening XLS files from untrusted sources: XLS files from unknown sources can contain malicious code that can corrupt your files or harm your computer.

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Conclusion

This guide provided an overview of the XLS file format, how to open and create XLS files, editing techniques, sharing and organizing XLS files, converting XLS files to other formats, best practices for using XLS files, and troubleshooting XLS files.

XLS files continue to be a popular format for storing and organizing data due to their simplicity and compatibility with many software applications. By following the best practices and troubleshooting tips outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your XLS files are accurate, secure, and free from corruption.

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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 Feb 16 2023, Updated Mar 22 2023