Find links (external references) in a workbook

Linking to other workbooks is a regular task in Excel, but often you may find yourself with a workbook containing links you struggle to locate despite Excel saying the contrary. There is no instant way to track down every external reference that is used in a workbook, although there are multiple manual methods you can use to uncover them. You must check in formulas, defined names, objects (like text boxes or shapes), chart titles, and chart data series to find workbook links.

Applies to: Excel for Microsoft 365, Excel 2019, Excel 2016, Excel 2013, Excel 2010 Excel 2007.

Any Excel workbook you’ve linked to will include that workbook’s filename in the link with its .xl* file extension (like .xls, .xlsx, .xlsm), so a recommended method is to search for all references to the .xl partial file extension. If you’re linking to another source, you’ll have to decide the optimal search term to use.

Find links used in formulas

  1. Press Ctrl+F to reveal the Find and Replace dialogue.
  2. Select Options.
  3. In the Find what box, type .xl.
  4. Inside the Within box, pick Workbook.
  5. In the Look in box, choose Formulas.
  6. Press Find All.
  7. In the list box that is presented, search in the Formula column for formulas that include .xl. In this case, Excel found several instances of Budget Master.xlsx.
Find and Replace dialogue to find workbook links.
  1. To select the cell with an external reference, click the cell address link for that row in the list box.

Tip: Click any column header to sort the column, and group all of the external references together.

Find links used in defined names

  1. On the Formulas tab, in the Defined Names group, select Name Manager.
  2. Check each entry in the list, and look in the Refers To column for external references. External references include a reference to another workbook, such as [Budget.xlsx].
Name Manager dialogue to find workbook links.

Tips: 

  • Choose any column header to sort the column, and group all of the external references together.
  • You can group several items with the Shift or Ctrl keys and Left-click if you want to delete numerous items at once.

Find links used in objects, like text boxes or shapes

  1. Press Ctrl+G, the shortcut for the Go To dialogue, then pick Special > Objects > OK. This will choose all objects on the active worksheet.
Go To > Special dialogue to find workbook links.
  1. Press the Tab key to toggle between each of the chosen objects, and then scan the formula bar Button image for a reference to another workbook, like [Budget.xlsx].
Shape selected to show link name in the Formula bar to find workbook links.

Find links used in chart titles

  1. Select the chart title on your desired chart to check.
  2. In the formula bar Button image , check for a reference to another workbook, such as [Budget.xls].

Find links used in chart data series

  1. Click your preferred chart to check.
  2. On the Layout tab, in the Current Selection group, select the arrow beside the Chart Elements box, and then choose your sought data series to check.Select a Series option in Chart options > Format > Current Selection
  3. In the formula bar Button image , search for a reference to another workbook, like [Budget.xls] in the SERIES function.

Need more help?

You can always ask an expert in the Excel Tech Community, get support in the Answers community, or suggest a new feature or improvement on Excel User Voice.

See Also

Fix broken links

Break a link to an external reference in Excel

Control when external references (links) are updated

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: