INDIRECT function

The INDIRECT function returns the reference specified by a text string.

The INDIRECT function syntax is as follows:

= INDIRECT ( reference_text ; reference_style )

Reference text can be any text that the function can “convert” to a cell reference.

Reference style represents the style of referencing cells in Excel. If omitted or TRUE, the reference text is interpreted as an A1 style reference, i.e., the default style of referencing cells in Excel. If FALSE, the reference text is interpreted as an R1C1 style reference. Unless you specifically want to use R1C1 style references, feel free to omit the reference style part of the argument.

 

Consider the following example:

INDIRECT function

In column B, we have a series of values.

In column F, we have a series of formulas. All of those formulas are referring to the B5 cell, i.e., they are all returning the value from the B5 cell.

Multiple ways of writing the INDIRECT formula in the cell range F4:F7 make no difference; the basic principle is the same: we are writing and/or generating text that could be a valid cell reference, and the INDIRECT formula is converting that text to a cell reference.

 

While that is valid, it is not obviously useful. It does become so, however, if we combine the INDIRECT function with other functions:

INDIRECT function combined with other functions

We see that with the help of the COUNTA function, we can count the non-empty cells in column B. Assuming that there are no blanks, we can always easily return the value from the last row or from the row before the last row.

We can also MATCH any given value in our column. If there is a match, we will return the row number of the first match to the INDIRECT formula; in this case, we are using the INDIRECT MATCH combination in the same way we would use the INDEX MATCH combination.

In principle, we can use any function to generate a text that could be a valid cell reference, both the column and row parts of the address, and the INDIRECT formula to convert that text to a cell reference.

 

We can also use the INDIRECT function to generate links to different sheets and workbooks.

Consider the following example:

INDIRECT function sheet from a menu

We can return the value from Sheet1 cell F4 by directly linking to it.

If we want, we can also refer to it by writing the text “Sheet1!F4” and converting that text to a reference with the help of the INDIRECT function.

However, if we create an input cell, such as cell B8 in this example, we can refer to that input cell in our INDIRECT formulas and change our data based on our inputs.

 

We can do the same with the Excel workbooks we are linking to:

INDIRECT function another workbook

In cell D11, we are linking directly to the workbook “link me.xlsx”, but in cell D14, we are again using inputs from cells B13 and B14 and generating a cell address located in the workbook “link me.xlsx”.

 

A few notes:

  • a #REF! error will be returned if our text to be converted to a reference is not a valid reference,
  • in order for our reference to be valid, we will have to include all the needed special characters, such as the exclamation mark !, apostrophe and even square brackets [] in our text string,
  • we can’t use the INDIRECT function in order to refer to a closed workbook. Even with a valid address, combinations such as =INDIRECT(“‘C:\files\[link me.xlsx]Sheet1’!$F$4”) will also return a #REF! error.

 

Another thing to note is that deleting or inserting rows and columns does not affect the references in the INDIRECT function. Remember, inside the parentheses of the INDIRECT function is text converted to a reference when the function is calculated. For example, if we insert a new cell F4 in Sheet2 and shift cells down, the following will happen:

INDIRECT function when insert delete cells

D1 cell formula is now referring to cell Sheet2!F5, while D6 cell formula is still referring to (now empty) cell Sheet2!F4, and will continue to do so!

 

This kind of behavior is sometimes desired when dealing with cell ranges.

Assuming that you want to always, no matter what, SUM the first ten rows of a given column, the INDIRECT function is the easiest solution for that job.

We can see in the following example how the INDIRECT function behaves when cell ranges are reference text:

INDIRECT function cell ranges

Returning cell ranges with the INDIRECT function makes sense only if we do something with that return!

 

Dig deeper:

Combining INDIRECT with ADDRESS

Text in Excel

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