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Home > English site > Articles > Import textfiles
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Importing text files in an Excel sheet

In this article I'll explain how to ease importing of .txt, .prn and/or .csv files into an existing sheet in Excel.

This article has been published on one of the Microsoft blogs: Importing Text Files in an Excel Sheet


If you've ever tried to open a text file, you have probably used the Text import wizard.

If you have ever opened a CSV file, you have probably noted you can't set up how it gets imported. The text import wizard does not start for these file types.

What if you have the situation where you get files with similar structure, which need the same text import settings over and over?

How do you import the data from those files into the same worksheet each time, without having to re-define the import settings over and over again?

I'll tell you.

Setting up which file (type) to import

First select the sheet where your data needs to appear. Note that the following steps differ for the various Excel versions.

Excel 2013/2010/2007

On the ribbon, click the data tab and then click the "From Text" button on the "Get External data" group.

 Import data from text files on Excel 2007/2010 ribbon.

The "From Text" button, located on the Data tab of the ribbon.

Select your file from the next dialog:

Import text file dialog

The import text file dialog.

Click Import. (continue to read after the section on Excel 2003 and older)

Excel 2003 and older

From the menu, select Data, Get External Data, Import Data. The following dialog opens:

The select data source dialog of Excel 2003

The select data source dialog of Excel 2003, selecting source type.

In this dialog, choose the "Text files" option and then navigate to your file:

Select data source dialog, selecting a file

Select data source dialog, selecting a file

All versions: defining the import settings

So far we've selected what to import. Now it is time to define what settings we need for the import. This section applies to all Excel versions as of Excel XP (and maybe even older). The screenshots shown here may look slightly different from yours, but the principle is the same.

Click the Open button. The text import wizard opens up:

Step 1 of the Text Import Wizard, define file type

Step 1 of the Text Import Wizard, define file type.

In this example I have selected to import a delimited file and set the file origin to Windows (ANSI). Click Next when you're happy with the settings.

Step 2 of the wizard allows us to define the delimiters. I selected Comma:

 Step 2 of the Text Import Wizard: define delimiters

Step 2 of the Text Import Wizard: define delimiters

Click Next again to go into the third step, where you can select a format for each column of your file. I changed the date format of the first column to dmy order. Click a column to set up its formatting.

Step 3 of the wizard, Define column formats

Step 3 of the wizard, Define column formats

You can click the advanced button to set up details like the decimal and thousands separators (note I switched them here):

The Advanced text Import Settings dialog

The Advanced text Import Settings dialog

Note that any changes made in this dialog apply to all columns.

After you finished defining all columns, click the Finish button. Excel opens the Import Data dialog, asking where to put the results. Select the proper location.

The Import Data dialog

The Import Data dialog

Hold your horses, don't click OK yet! Click the properties button instead. The External Data Range Properties dialog opens up. There are some very important settings to be made here!

The External Data Range Properties dialog

The External Data Range Properties dialog

Note that I have highlighted some important features in this dialog. I'll discuss them below.

Save Query Definition

We wouldn't want to redo the settings each time, so lets keep this one checked!

Prompt for the file name on refresh

Checking this box forces Excel to prompt you for a file name each time you hit the refresh button. Leave this box unchecked if you are importing the same file over and over.

Overwrite existing cells with new data, clear unused cells

What selection is best here depends on your needs entirely. The first two will force Excel to push existing data down and pull existing data up, depending on the size of your file.

I recommend NOT to put anything below an area where you are importing data;
use a dedicated worksheet for this purpose.

Fill down formulas in columns adjacent to data

A very useful option. If you are planning to do calculations on each row, this option ensures each row of data will have your formulas.

Hit OK if you're happy with the settings.

Import your data

Finally, click OK to have your data imported. My sheet looks like this:

Results after importing the textfile

Results after importing the textfile

Now that you have properly set up your import, save your file!

Refresh your data

All of this was meant to predefine an import routine you have to do over and over again. So how do you import a new file? Easy. Click any cell within your sheet that holds data of a previous import.

Next, we'll need to split this up in two sections again, because the various Excel versions differ in how it is done.

Excel 2013/2010/2007

On the Data tab, find the group called "Connections". Click the dropdown "Refresh All" and select "Refresh:

The Refresh All button on the ribbon

The Refresh All button on the ribbon

If you have set the option to prompt for a file, Excel will open the appropriate dialog. Select your file and click Import.

Excel 2003 and older

In Excel 2003, the refresh button can be found in two places.

1. On the Data menu (you need have a cell selected within an imported table):

The refresh button on the data menu

The refresh button on the data menu

2. On the External data toolbar:

The refresh button on the External data toolbar

The refresh button on the External data toolbar

So there you go, all set!


Importing text files into Excel can be a labor-intensive process if you're going through the same steps over and over again. With proper use of the data import options Excel offers, you can save yourself quite some work and at the same time improve consistency.

This article has given you an overview of how this should  be set up.

Feel free to add comments and/or questions below.



Showing last 8 comments of 240 in total (Show All Comments):


Comment by: Peter Cohen (2/15/2016 12:58:22 PM)

Actually, one more question.
Is there a way to open the text file "Read Only".
I want to make sure that the users don't accidentally overwrite it.


Comment by: Jan Karel Pieterse (2/15/2016 2:40:54 PM)

Hi Peter,

The text file itself is imported into Excel. Hence you wouldn't overwrite it when you save the Excel file because you would save an excel file, not a text file.


Comment by: Stacy Moss (3/31/2016 8:59:18 PM)

I have been trying to use the Get External Data feature to import a text file with 4 million rows of data. I am using Excel 2010. I can get the first 1,048,576 rows to come in. I am struggling with going beyond that. Whenever I enter row 1,048,577 as my starting point for the next data set, the wizard only pulls over that exact row of data instead of filling in the rest of the sheet. Can you offer a suggestion of how I could get the rest of the data to come over?


Comment by: Jan Karel Pieterse (4/1/2016 11:06:07 AM)

Hi Stacy,

I think you'll be better off using PowerQuery for that purpose (Get and Transform in Excel 2016) and have it add the data to the datamodel (but not to Excel since there are too many rows). Then you can create a pivottable from the datamodel.
Alternatively, import that data into MSAccess and create a query from Excel as the source of a pivottable.


Comment by: Bridget (6/8/2016 4:10:45 PM)


I need some help in regards to importing text data into excel by using macro function and other people being able to use the macro where I change the layout and print. From excel I go data, get data, use delimited, tab, date and press finish. When I run the macro from my end it works. When I get someone else to run the macro, it doesnt work for them because of 'source unknown'. My data source is saved in my mac in all 'my files'. Should it be saved somewhere else? I just have no idea how other people can run my macro on their system. Please help.


Comment by: Jan Karel Pieterse (6/9/2016 7:33:30 AM)

Hi Bridget,

Do the other people have access to that file? Are they also using a Mac?


Comment by: Anwar (6/20/2016 8:21:18 AM)

Hi, This is Anwar

I have a large .txt file which contains data in thousands of rows with 20 entries in one row. Due to nature of data i want excel to import it such that sixth, eleventh, sixteenth, twenty first rows etc... are all imported in one row. How can i do that? Anybody please....


Comment by: Jan Karel Pieterse (6/21/2016 4:06:22 PM)

Hi Anwar,

Probably it is easier to use a little macro for that. Alterntively, perhaps Powerquery can do this too.


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