How to make an Excel file read only: step-by-step guide

There are plenty of good reasons for saving an Excel file as read only. Excel spreadsheets often contain sensitive information such as numbers, formulas, and calculations. An accidental click in the wrong field or an incorrect entry can quickly lead to false results and mess up entire tables. When you make Excel read only, the file’s contents cannot be manipulated or accidentally edited.

Note

Excel read only should not be confused with the encryption of Excel files: encrypted Excel files offer additional password protection to prevent unauthorized access.

In the following sections, we’ll show you the advantages of activating read only in Microsoft's spreadsheet program and how you can make an Excel file read only in just a few steps.

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Why and how can you make an Excel file read only?

Complex Excel spreadsheets usually contain a lot of important data linked by formulas and calculations. By saving an Excel table as read only, you automatically prevent unwanted changes to the content. Saving a spreadsheet in this manner is useful for sharing it with colleagues or external clients because at that stage you’ll probably want to avoid it being manipulated or accidentally edited. But even for your own purposes (e.g., for final calculations) making files in Excel read only can be useful.

By adding password protection to your read only Excel file, you control whether changes to your Excel table are permitted and who gets to make them (by sharing the password). It’s just as easy to remove Excel read only if you want to enable editing of your table again. The process is similar to removing read only for individual Excel worksheets or unlocking a Word document for editing.

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How to make an Excel sheet read only (using a password): a step-by-step guide

Saving an Excel file as read only is quick and simple. Just follow the steps below to activate it.

Note

The instructions are valid for Windows 10 and Excel 2019, 2016, 2013, and the Excel edition of Microsoft 365.

Step 1: Launch the Excel file you want to make read only. Go to the “File” tab and select the “Save As” menu item to open the options window.

Step 2: In the “Save As” window, click the “Tools” button to the left of the Save button. A small context menu will launch from which you can select the item “General Options”.

Step 3: Enter the password of your choice in the “Password to modify” field. This can be any word or key combination; it doesn’t need to meet any specific criteria. Check the box next to “Read-only recommended” to inform other users that the file is now read only when they open it. Beware: you’ll need the password to make changes to your Excel file in the future, so keep it safe!

Step 4: Excel will prompt you to reenter your password (“Confirm Password”). Repeating a password ensures that you haven’t made a mistake in the previous entry. Click “OK” to close the window.

Step 5: Click “Save” to activate read only in Excel.

Tip

Simplify working in Excel by using Excel shortcuts.

How to make an Excel document read only (without a password)

Prefer to add a note to your Excel spreadsheet that recommends users view it in read only rather than normal mode? You can recommend read only mode without setting a password. Simply follow steps 1 to 3 above without specifying “Password to modify” and add a checkmark next to “Read-only recommended”. Users will now receive a notification when opening the file.

How to open a read only Excel file with a password?

When you open a read only Excel file, the program may prompt you to enter the correct password. The following dialog window will pop up in which you can enter your password:

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You’ve now got two more options:

  1. You know the password: Enter the password and click “OK”. If “Read-only recommended” has been activated, a second dialog window appears in which you can choose to open the file in read only mode or not. Click “Yes” and the file will open in read only mode. You’ll need to enter the password again to make changes to the document. If you click on “No”, the file will open in standard editing mode, and you can modify the file as per usual and save it without entering another password.
  2. You don’t know the password: Leave the password field empty and click on “Read only”. You can now view the file in read only mode but won’t be able to modify it.
Note

Having trouble running Excel? Our guide tells you what you can do when Excel isn’t working.