HomeWinBuzzer TipsHow to Enable Macros in Excel for Single or All Workbooks

How to Enable Macros in Excel for Single or All Workbooks

We show you how to allow macros in Excel for specific or all spreadsheets and how you can lock and password protect Excel spreadsheets.


Enabling macros in Excel can significantly streamline your workflow, especially if you find yourself repeatedly performing the same tasks. Macros are powerful tools in Excel, allowing you to automate repetitive operations, thus saving time and reducing the potential for errors. However, while they are incredibly useful, it’s crucial to approach the use of macros with an understanding of their functionality and potential risks. This tutorial aims to provide an in-depth look at macros in Excel, helping you understand what they are, why they are useful, and the considerations you should have in mind before enabling them.

Understanding Macros in Excel

A macro in Excel is a sequence of commands or actions recorded to automate repetitive tasks. When you run a macro, Excel replicates the recorded clicks and keystrokes, performing the tasks automatically. This feature can be a significant time-saver, especially for complex or repetitive tasks. For example, if you frequently generate the same type of report, a macro can do the heavy lifting for you, executing a series of commands with a single click.

The Risks of Excel Macros

While macros offer considerable benefits in terms of productivity and efficiency, they also come with risks. Macros can modify your workbooks, and if not properly secured, they can be used to execute harmful code on your computer. This risk is particularly prevalent when dealing with macros from external sources, which is why Excel, by default, disables them, offering protection against unauthorized or malicious code.

Understanding Excel’s security features is key to safely using macros. Excel offers several settings to control how macros are handled. These settings, accessible through the Trust Center, allow you to choose whether to disable all macros, disable them with notifications, or enable only those that are digitally signed by a trusted publisher. The choice of setting will depend on your specific needs and the level of security you require.

How to Unblock an Excel File to Allow Macro Execution

Unblocking an Excel file to allow macro execution is often the first step you need to take to utilize macros from external Excel files not created by yourself. When you receive an Excel file from an external source or download it from the internet, it may be blocked as a security measure to prevent potentially harmful macros from running.

This is a common scenario in organizations where email filters or web downloads mark files as potentially unsafe. The unblocking process is crucial to enable the execution of macros in such files, particularly if you are confident about the file’s safety and the trustworthiness of its source.

  1. Check the message on top to see if you need to unblock the Excel file
    If the Excel file needs to be unblocked to use macros you will see the following message on top:

    “SECURITY RISK – Microsoft has blocked macros from running because the source of this file is untrusted.”
    Windows 11 - XLSM File - Security Risc Notification
  2. Close Excel, right-click the file and select “Properties”
    Windows 11 - File Explorer - Excel File - Context Menu - Properties
  3. Unblock the Excel file
    At the bottom of the General tab will be a security message saying, “This file came from another computer and might be blocked to help protect this computer”. Check “Unblock” and click “OK”. Then open the Excel file again and use one of the two following methods to enable macros.
    Windows 11 - File Explorer - Excel File - Context Menu - Properties - General - Unblock Protection - Accept

How to Turn On Macros for a Specific Excel Spreadsheet

This method is particularly useful when you need to enable macros in individual files rather than applying a blanket setting across all Excel documents. It’s the ideal approach for situations where you frequently work with a specific spreadsheet that requires macros to function correctly, yet you want to maintain stricter macro security settings for other documents. This selective enabling of macros helps to balance between operational efficiency and security.

If the file contains macros, Excel typically displays a security warning bar beneath the ribbon. This bar usually states “Security Warning: Macros have been disabled” with an option to “Enable Content”.

Click on the “Enable Content” button in the security warning bar

In some cases, the warning bar may offer additional options or instructions, such as allowing you to enable only specific macros or view more details about the macro’s source. Follow these instructions as needed, based on your security preferences and trust in the macro’s source.

Windows 11 - Excel - Security Warning - Enable Content

How to Enable Macros for All Excel Spreadsheets

This method involves adjusting the global macro settings in Excel to permit the running of macros in any opened workbook. This approach is suitable if you regularly work with a large number of trusted Excel files that all require macro functionality, and you prefer not to enable macros each time individually.

While this method can greatly enhance workflow efficiency, it’s important to be aware of the security implications, as it reduces the barriers against potentially malicious macros. This setting should be used with caution and ideally only in a trusted and secure computing environment.

  1. Click “File”
    Windows 11 - Excel - File
  2. Select “Options” at the bottom to open Excel Options
    Windows 11 - Excel - File - More - Options
  3. Click on “Trust Center” and then “Trust Center Settings…”
    Windows 11 - Excel - File - More - Options - Trust Center - Settings
  4. Enable Excel macros for all workbooks using the preferred option

    Disable all macros except digitally signed macros: When you open a workbook with unsigned macros, Excel will notify you that the macros have been disabled. If the macros are signed, and the publisher is not yet trusted, Excel will prompt you to trust the publisher. Once trusted, their signed macros will run in the future without prompts.
    Enable all macros (not recommended, potentially dangerous code can run):
    This setting enables all macros to run without any restrictions or warnings. It’s the least secure option and is generally not recommended, as it leaves your computer vulnerable to potentially malicious macros. You should only use it if you are certain of the safety of all macros that will run on your system, typically in a controlled or highly secure environment.
    Trust access to the VBA project object model: This setting allows or denies external applications (like other Office applications or third-party software) to access the VBA code within Excel. Essentially, it governs programmatic access to the VBA project. When this option is enabled, it allows external applications to interact with the VBA code. This can be useful for certain advanced automation tasks where another program needs to modify or read your VBA scripts. However, enabling this access can pose a security risk, as it could potentially allow malicious software to manipulate or harm your VBA projects.
    Windows 11 - Excel - File - More - Options - Trust Center - Settings - Macro - Enable - Accept

  5. Close with “OK to save the new macro execution setting
    Windows 11 - Excel - File - More - Options - Trust Center - Settings - Macro - Enable - Accept

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions About Excel Macros

How do I create a macro in Excel?

To create a macro in Excel, first ensure the “Developer” tab is enabled in your ribbon. If it’s not visible, go to “File” > “Options” > “Customize Ribbon” and check the “Developer” checkbox. Then, in the “Developer” tab, click on “Record Macro“. A dialog box will appear, prompting you to name your macro, assign a shortcut key (if desired), and choose where to store it. After setting it up, perform the tasks you want to automate. Excel records your actions as the macro’s commands. Once you’re done, click “Stop Recording“. You can find your recorded macro under “Macros” in the “Developer” tab, ready to be run or edited.

What is the difference between enabling macros for a single workbook and for all workbooks?

Enabling macros for a single workbook allows you to run macros only in that specific file, providing a targeted approach that keeps the macro functionality restricted to where it’s needed, thereby enhancing security for other documents. In contrast, enabling macros for all workbooks in Excel’s Trust Center settings allows any macro to run in any workbook you open, which can streamline workflows if you frequently use trusted macros but significantly increases the risk of inadvertently running malicious code. It’s a balance between convenience and security, with the former option offering more control and the latter requiring a higher level of trust in your sources of Excel files.

How can I see the code of a macro I’ve recorded?

To view a macro’s code, open Excel and go to the “Developer” tab. Click “Macros“, select the macro you wish to inspect, and then click “Edit“. This action opens the Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) editor, displaying the code of your selected macro. The VBA editor provides a comprehensive environment for editing your macro, allowing you to modify the code directly. This is useful for refining the actions of your macro or troubleshooting any issues that arise during its execution.

Can I run a macro in Excel without enabling all macros?

Yes, you can run specific macros without lowering the security settings for all macros by utilizing the “Enable Content” option for individual workbooks. When you open a workbook that contains macros, Excel may display a security warning bar beneath the ribbon with an “Enable Content” button. By clicking this button, you allow the macros in that specific workbook to run without changing the global macro settings. This approach maintains a higher level of security while still permitting the use of macros on a case-by-case basis.

What should I do if my macros are not working even after enabling them?

If your macros are not functioning despite being enabled, first check Excel’s macro security settings in the Trust Center to ensure they’re set to allow macros to run. If the settings are correct, the issue might be with the macro code itself. Open the VBA editor to review the macro for any errors or issues that might prevent it from running correctly. Common issues include syntax errors, references to cells or ranges that don’t exist, or commands that Excel cannot execute. Debugging tools in the VBA editor, such as “Step Into” and “Breakpoints“, can help identify and resolve these issues.

How do I share a workbook with macros safely?

When sharing a workbook with macros, ensure the recipients understand what the macros do and why they’re necessary. Consider digitally signing your macros to authenticate their source, which adds a layer of trust and security. Before sharing, review the macro code to ensure it contains no sensitive information or operations that could unintentionally compromise security. Additionally, provide clear instructions on how to enable the macros if needed, and recommend that recipients scan the file with updated antivirus software before opening.

Is it safe to enable macros in a workbook received via email?

Caution is paramount when dealing with macros in workbooks received via email, especially from unfamiliar sources. Malicious macros can pose significant security risks. Before enabling macros, verify the sender’s trustworthiness and the necessity of the macro functionality in the document. It’s advisable to scan the file with up-to-date antivirus software and, if possible, confirm the file’s authenticity with the sender through a separate communication channel before proceeding.

How can I disable macros after previously enabling them?

If you need to disable macros after having previously enabled them for a workbook, you can change the macro settings in the Trust Center to a more restrictive option, such as “Disable all macros with notification“. This change will prompt Excel to disable macros by default and notify you each time a macro-enabled workbook is opened. Remember, this action won’t affect the current session if macros were already enabled; you’ll need to close and reopen Excel for the new settings to take effect.

Can I automate tasks across different Excel files using macros?

Automating tasks across different Excel files is possible with more advanced VBA programming. You can write macros that open, modify, and save other workbooks, allowing for automation that spans multiple files. This requires a good understanding of VBA, including how to reference different workbooks and worksheets within your code. When writing such macros, consider the potential security implications and ensure your code robustly handles errors, such as missing files or unsaved changes.

What are the security risks of enabling macros, and how can I mitigate them?

Macros can contain harmful code that, when executed, can compromise your system’s security or corrupt your data. To mitigate these risks, only enable macros from trusted sources, maintain up-to-date antivirus software, and consider keeping Excel’s macro security settings at a restrictive level that prompts for or disables macros by default. Be especially wary of macros in files from unknown or untrusted sources, and educate yourself on common signs of malicious macros, such as requests for unnecessary permissions or actions unrelated to the file’s stated purpose.

Why might Excel warn me about macros from a trusted source?

Excel’s default security settings are designed to protect you from potentially harmful code, so it warns about macros even from known or trusted sources as a precaution. If a macro isn’t digitally signed or if the signature comes from a source not yet trusted by your system, Excel will still display a warning. To avoid these warnings for trusted sources, you can add the publisher to your list of trusted publishers via the Trust Center, provided you’re confident in the safety of their macros.

How do I update or modify an existing macro?

To update or modify an existing macro, open the VBA editor by navigating to the “Developer” tab and clicking on “Macros”. Select the macro you want to edit and click “Edit”. In the VBA editor, you can modify the macro code as needed. Be cautious when making changes, as incorrect code can lead to errors or unintended behavior in the macro. After making your updates, save the changes and test the macro to ensure it works as expected.

Can macros in Excel access data from the internet?

Yes, advanced macros can be programmed to fetch data from the internet using VBA’s web query capabilities or by integrating with external APIs. This requires a deeper understanding of VBA and web protocols. When writing such macros, ensure you’re handling data securely, especially if sensitive information is involved, and be aware of the potential security risks associated with connecting to external data sources.

How do I ensure my macros only run when I want them to?

To control when your macros run, you can assign them to specific events within Excel, such as opening a workbook, changing a sheet, or clicking a button. This is done through the VBA editor, where you can write event-handler procedures that trigger your macros. For manual control, you can create buttons on your worksheets linked to your macros, allowing you to run them with a click. Ensure your macro code is well-organized and includes checks to prevent unintended execution.

What is the impact of Excel’s macro settings on other Office applications?

Excel’s macro settings are specific to Excel and do not directly affect the macro settings of other Office applications like Word or PowerPoint. However, the overarching security principles and configurations are similar across the Office suite. Each application has its own Trust Center where you can adjust macro settings according to your security preferences and needs. It’s important to review and configure these settings individually to maintain a consistent security posture across your Office applications.

Extra: How to Lock or Unlock Cells in Excel

Even if you aren’t sharing a spreadsheet, learning how to lock and unlock specific cells in Excel can save you a lot of trouble. You should know, however, that Excel’s worksheet protection isn’t designed to stop a determined attack. In our other guide, we show you how to lock cells in Excel, ranging from every cell in the spreadsheet to specific cells or just formula cells.
Featured - How to lock cells in excel

Extra: How to Password Protect Excel Files

As well as password-protecting a worksheet in Excel, you can protect the file as a whole so nobody can even open it. To do so, follow our how to protect Excel files with Microsoft Office tutorial.

Extra: How to Exclude a File or Folder from Microsoft Defender Scans

Microsoft Defender, formerly known as Windows Defender is incredibly useful for a free tool, providing Windows 10 users with competitive anti-virus technology and protecting against rootkits, ransomware, unwanted programs, and more. However, occasionally the program will keep flagging a file or folder that you know is safe. In these cases, it’s useful to know how to exclude a folder from Microsoft Defender scans.
Featured - How to exclude files and folders from Windows Defender Antivirus scans

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 9:50 pm CEST

Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus Kasanmascheff
Markus is the founder of WinBuzzer and has been playing with Windows and technology for more than 25 years. He is holding a Master´s degree in International Economics and previously worked as Lead Windows Expert for Softonic.com.
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