How to make an Excel Document “Read Only”

There are times that you don’t want anyone to make any changes to your Excel files. Whether you’ve got a lot of formulas that you don’t want changed, or you have sensitive data that should not be tampered with, it’s important to have a layer of security. Today, I’ll be writing about how to make your Excel Document Read Only. That is, no changes can be made on the original file. It’s great to have this feature in your spreadsheets, to prevent any unwanted changes, especially if you share your document with your workmates.

Making your Excel Document Read Only

There are several methods to make your document read only. You can use a method that only affects one cell, one column or row, one sheet, or even the entire spreadsheet file as a whole. Basically, we’ll be using an Excel feature called Protect Sheet to lock certain parts of the sheet. Let’s talk about each one.

Making One Cell Read Only

If you want to make one just a single cell in your document unchangeable, then here’s how you can do it:

  1. You’ll need to open the file first and identify which cell you would like to modify. In this case, I’ve got a total number of sales with a formula and I don’t want anyone to modify it.
  2. Right-click on the cell you want to make read-only. Click on Format Cells.
  3. In the Format Cells menu, navigate to Protection. Make sure that the Locked checkbox is ticked on.
  4. We’re not done yet! We still have to put protection on the sheet.
  5. On the top menu bar, navigate to Review. Click on Protect Sheet.
  6. Here you can select which settings you want to protect. Select the settings that you want, but make sure to select Select Locked Cells. With this option, users will still be able to highlight Locked cells but they cannot modify it.
  7. You can also put a password if you want, then click on OK to finalize.
  8. You’ve successfully made one cell Locked!

However, please note that all cells are locked by default. Prior to locking single cells, you must unlock all cells first. You can do so by clicking on the select all button, pictured below.

After that, just simply right click and un-tick the Locked checkbox and click OK. Note that even if the spreadsheet is locked, macros will still be able to run. However, the macros will not be able to make changes on the locked cells and will return an error.

How to make a Row or Column Read Only

You probably don’t want to have just a single cell locked. For some, it’s important to lock entire rows or columns. Well, if you’ve followed the instructions above, then locking rows and columns will be easy. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Select the entire row or column. You can either click on the Row Number (Numbers on the left side) or the Column Letter (Letters at the top). 
  2. Once you’ve selected the row or column, right click to pull up the menu. Just like in single cell locking, we’ll be clicking on Format Cells.
  3. Navigate to protection and make sure there’s a check mark on Locked. Click on OK to save.
  4. On the main Excel Screen, navigate to Review and click on Protect Sheet.
  5. Click on the options that you want to apply to the Protected Sheet. Click on OK once done.
  6. The entire row or column should now be Locked!

If you use Google Sheets, it’s nice to know that these protections carry over to there. So there’s no need to redo this process if you’re importing to Google Sheets.

Making the Entire Sheet Read Only

If you desire to make the Sheet Read Only, then it’s the same process as locking single cells and rows/columns. Here’s an outline:

  1. Just like in unlocking the entire sheet, you need to click on Select All
  2. Right-click anywhere on the spreadsheet and click on Format Cells
  3. Navigate to Protection, and make sure that Locked is checked
  4. Click on OK
  5. Protect the sheet by going to Review, then Protect Sheet.
  6. Select the options you want to apply to the protected sheet. Click on OK
  7. You’re done!

With this method, you’ll be able to lock just one sheet. If you have other data in Sheet 2 for example, it will not be affected. But what if you want to make the entire file read-only? Here’s how to do it.

Making the Entire File Read Only

If you want to put the ultimate lock on the file so no one can make changes to your spreadsheet, we’ll have to save the file again as Read Only. Here’s an outline of what you need to do.

For this guide, I’m using Excel 2013 but the process would generally be the same.

  1. Click on File, and navigate to Save As
  2. Select the folder you wish to save the Read Only file
  3. Click on Tools, then click on General Options
  4. On General Options, you can put a Password to Modify, and you can click on Read-only recommended.
  5. Click on OK and Save

To further explain the General Options, if you input a Password to modify, anyone that wants to make changes has to input the password. Otherwise, the document will simply be read-only for them. If you put a check mark on Read-only recommended, then Excel will suggest to the user that the file should not be modified.

What I do is I put only a Password to Modify. It’s enough to protect the file from any unwanted changes.

Final Words

And that sums up the methods that you can use to protect your Excel Spreadsheet. Microsoft has made Excel really easy to protect and secure, especially with the newest Microsoft Excel versions. If you’ve got a Google Sheet rather than an Excel sheet, then the process will be similar, but I’ll be tackling that on another day.

Did this article help you? Let me know in the comments!

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