Excel Visual Basic Editor (Windows + MAC) – The Ultimate Guide

Written by Puneet for Excel 2007, Excel 2010, Excel 2013, Excel 2016, Excel 2019, Excel for Mac

KEY POINTS

  • Visual Basic Editor is a code editor for VBA.
  • It’s a separate application but you can only use it with Excel.
  • You need to have the developer tab on the ribbon to access it.
  • You can also use the keyboard shortcut (Alt + F11).
  • It also stores the macros that you recode with the macro recorder.
  • It has multiple tools to help you to write and manage all the codes.

The world of VBA starts with the Visual Basic Editor (VBE).

It’s the place where you write and manage all the macro codes and if you ask me about VBE, I’d say if you are serious about learning VBA you need to understand all the components of VBE.

That’s why it’s part of our VBA tutorial and in this guide, we have covered every single aspect of Visual Basic Editor to make you understand it’s functionality.

So, let’s get started.

I will be using different words (VBA editor, VB editor, or VBE) in this guide for referring to the Visual Basic Editor, so don’t be confused with it.

What is the Visual Basic Editor?

Visual Basic Editor is an application (a separate) in which you can write and save all the VBA codes. In simple words, it’s a code editor for Excel in which you can write all the macros and store them. Even though it is a sperate application (VB Editor) you can only use it with Excel.

Yes, that’s right. You can’t run VBE separately; there must be an Excel workbook open for using VBE.

Visual Basic Editor is the only way to write a VBA code in Excel. In fact, all Microsoft applications that host VBA use the Visual Basic Editor for script writing (writing a code).

Below is the VBE:

Microsoft Windows

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Mac

VBA is one of the ADVANCED EXCEL SKILLS and to master the VBA; you need to learn all the aspects of Visual Basic Editor.

Open the Visual Basic Editor

From the developer tab

To open the visual basic editor, you need to have the developer tab on the ribbon and to activate the developer tab (steps to add).

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Now on the developer tab, in the code group, there is a button called “Visual Basic” and when you click on this button it opens the VB editor.

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Shortcut Key (Window)

You can also use the keyboard shortcut key Alt + F11 to open the VBE in windows and Opt + F11 or Fn + Opt + F11 for MAC.

Even if you don’t have the developer tab on the ribbon, this shortcut key will still work and open the editor.

Edit a Macro from the List

If you want to open the VBA editor to edit a specific macro, then you can open the macros list from the developer tab.

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And click on the edit button to open the VB editor to edit that specific macro.

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On Quick Access Toolbar

You can also add a button on the quick access toolbar to open the VBA editor.

For this, you need to click on the drop-down on the quick access toolbar and open the more commands.

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And then select the developer tab from “Choose Commands From” and then add the visual basic editor to the quick access toolbar by clicking on the add button.

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Now you can open the visual basic editor from the button that you have on the QAT.

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From the Worksheet Tab

You can also open the VBA editor by right-clicking on the worksheet tab and click on the view code.

It will instantly take you to the code window of that worksheet.

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Components of Visual Basic Editor

When you open the VBA editor first time it looks like an old application and to understand how it works you need to go component by component.

The user interface is the same (almost) for all the Excel versions in the last more than 15 years, so no matter which Excel version you are using, you can learn about Visual basic Editor from this guide.

Yes, VBE has different components which can help you in different ways, so let’s explore them one by one.

  1. Menu Bar
  2. Tool Bar
  3. Project Window
  4. Properties Window
  5. Code Window
  6. Immediate Window
  7. Watch Window
  8. Object Browser
  9. Find and Replace
  10. Locals Window

1. Menu Bar

Just like any other application VBA editor has a menu bar where you can find all the options that are available to the user.

Now in the menu bar, each tab is a category of options that are available to use.

Let’s suppose, in the edit menu, you can see all the options from cut-copy-paste, find and replace, and adding indent and outdent. 

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Along with all the options (most of them), you can find the shortcut keys to use those options.

2. Tool Bar

Just below the menu bar, you have the toolbar which is a collection of some of the options that a normal user needs to use more frequently.

When you open the visual basic editor first time you will only have the standard toolbar, just like the image below.

But there are total four toolbars that you can add and use.

  1. Debug
  2. Edit
  3. Standard
  4. User Form

If you go to the view tab in the menu bar you have the option to add or remove these toolbars.

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And you can also add or remove buttons from the toolbar if you want.

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You can also move a toolbar just by drag and drop from the small dots on the right side.

3. Project Window/ Project Explorer

The project window is the place where you can see all the ongoing projects.

Whenever you open a file and then open the visual basic editor you can see the hierarchy of that file in the project window.

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Every project further has a collection of objects:

  • Worksheet: Each worksheet in a workbook lists as an object.
  • The Workbook: It represents the workbook itself as an object.
  • Module: It’s the place where you write code or recorded macros stores.
  • Chart Sheet: Chart sheet in the workbook will also be listed there.

When you open the VB editor, you’ll find the project window there by default.

But if it’s not there somehow you can add it from the View (Menu Bar) or you can use the shortcut key Control + R.

Each object that is listed on the project window has its own code window which you can open by the double click on it or you can right click and select the view code option.

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The project window is the best way to navigate through all the ongoing projects and when you start working with the editor you will get to know more about it.

4. Properties Window

As the name suggests the properties window gives you access to the properties of the selected object.

Each object, for example, a worksheet has its own properties that you can see and make changes in it.

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For each property, there is a drop-down on the right side from where you can change or edit that property.

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Quick Tip: You can change the name of a project from the properties window.

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And, if the properties window is not there by default you can activate it from the view (menu bar), or you can also use the shortcut key F4.

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5. Code Window

The code window is the place where you write codes and do most of your work (editing, writing, and testing).

In simple words, the code window is the place where you do all the programming.

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When you first see it, it looks like a simple text editor, but it has Intellisense that can help you while programming.

There is no way I have found to add line number in the code window as other code editors have but still, VB editor indicates you the line number of the code.

Note
There’s no way I have found to add line number in the code window as other code editors have but still, VB editor indicates you the line number of the code.

6. Immediate Window

Immediate Window is the place where you can debug your code. You can type a line of code and test how it works.

Let’s say if you want to test the following code:

Range("A1").Value = 9999

All you need to do is enter type a question mark and then paste the code there and HIT enter. It will immediately show the result of the code.

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The other way is to add Debug.Print before the code and get its result value in the immediate window.

Sub Macro1()
Debug.Print Range("A1").Value = "Yes"
End Sub

By default, the immediate window won’t be there when you open the visual basic editor, so you need to activate it from the view tab in the menu bar.

You can also use the shortcut key Control + G.

7. Watch Window

Just like Excel Watch Window, the visual basic editor also has a watch window where you can add expressions to track them.

You simply need to select the expression and then right-click and go to add a watch.

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In the below example, I have added the Selection.Value to the add watch.

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Now, to activate the watch window, go to the view menu and click on the watch window option.

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And here you have the watch window tracking the added expression.

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8. Object Browser

VBA has its own object browser which can help you to work with all the objects by finding all the properties and which you can use.

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Imagine if you want to use the range object, object browser will tell you about all the properties and method that comes with it.

Look at the below example.

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To open the object browser, use the shortcut key F2 or you can also go to the view tab and click on the object browser to open it.

9. Find and Replace

Just like the find and replace in Excel, VBA editor has its own find and replace option that you can use to find and replace values from procedures.

To open the FIND option, you can use the shortcut key Control + F, and to open the replace you can use the shortcut key Control + H.

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Otherwise, you can open both options from the edit menu.

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The find and replace option in VBE gives you different search patterns, like, if you want to find and replace something from the current procedure, from the current module, or from the current project.

You can also use the CASE SENSITIVE search and decide the direction of the search as well.

10. Locals Window

You can use the Locals window in VBE to displays all declared variables in the current procedure and their present values.

Using VB Editor to Write a Code

At this point, you know all the major components of VBA editor, so now let’s learn how to add a code in it.

Module Code Window Vs Object Code Window

There are two different types of code windows and both look just the same but there is a difference that you need to know.

  1. Module Code Window: Code in the normal module can be executed manually or you can also call it from a separate procedure.
  2. Object Code Window: Code in the object code window can be executed by using an event. Let’s suppose if you want to run code when you double click on a cell, in that case, you need to use the double click event and you need to add code to that worksheet.

2. Module Code Window

You will be writing most of the VBA code in a module. To add code in a module you need to use the SUB procedure or the FUNCTION procedure.

  • Sub procedure
  • Function procedure

The difference between a sub and a function procedure is sub procedure can’t return a value, on the other hand, function procedure can return a value.

When you record a macro that code goes straight into a module that VBA inserts automatically when you use the macro recorder.

Insert a Module

When you need to write code, you have to insert a module and for this, you simply need to go to the project window and right-click on the project name and from that menu go to insert and select module.

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Remove a Module

You can also remove a module if it doesn’t require anymore so you just simply need to right-click on the module and select remove.

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And when you click on remove, it asks you if you want to back up that module before removing it. There is also an option where you can export a module to save it as a file in your system.

3. Object Code Window

Open the code window for the object you simply need to double click on it and in its the code window, there is a dropdown from where you can select the event that you want to use to execute the code.

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Imagine if you want to write the code and want to execute on the double click then you need to select “BeforeDoubleClick” from the dropdown.

Understanding Design Mode, Run Mode, and Debug Mode

You can use the visual basic editor in three different modes depending on the face of programming, writing the code, locating an error, and fixing an error.

  • Design Mode: Normally, when you are working in VB editor on a code you are in the design mode. Even then you just writing the code instead of designing a user form or a form you are in the design mode, like typing a code. This is also called design time.
  • Run Mode: When you run a code to test a code that how it works you are in the run mode. The best example to define this mode is when you execute a code using the Run button from the toolbar. This is also called runtime.
  • Break Mode: When a code is running and in between the execution is suspended, at that time you are in break mode. In this mode, you can run a code step by step. This is also called debugging.

Tips to work with VB editor like a PRO

Adding Comments to a Code

Just like any other programming language in VBA you can also use comments to define how that code works.

Using comments is a good habit and it can help you in so many ways.

  • Track Changes
  • Contact Details of the Programmer
  • How to Troubleshoot the Code
  • And much more

To add a comment, you need to type an apostrophe and then the line of code.

Related Tip: VBA Comment Block

Quick Info

Now, look at the below example where I am adding add a VBA function (VBA LEFT Function) and the moment I type the name of the function, it shows me tooltip for all the arguments which I need to define.

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You can also use the shortcut key Control + I or use the quick info option from the EDIT menu.

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Auto List Members

Each object in VBA comes with some properties and methods and when you insert an object or a command in the code window and then you enter (.) it shows you the complete list of properties and methods which come with that object.

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In the above example, when I added a (.) after the borders property of the range, it showed me all the available properties that are available to access.

List Constants

While defining expressions for a property or a method you can use the list of constants available.

In the below example, while using the Border Around method it showed me all the constants which are available for the weight argument.

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You can use the shortcut key Control + Shift + J to get the list of constants or you can also go to the edit menu and use the option from there.

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Activate Option Explicit

While writing VBA codes you will need to use variables and one of the most important things while using variables is to declare their data type.

And there’s a chance that you could forget to declare it.

But when you use the option explicit statement, then you have to declare the data type for every single variable which you are using, and if you fail to do so VBA will show an error message.

It’s like forcing yourself to declare every single variable with its data type. For this, you can go to the tools menu and open the options.

And from the options, tick mark “Require Variable Declaration” and click OK.

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Now every module will have Option Explicit statement at the beginning, and you have to declare every single variable.

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Change the Code Window View

When you can write multiple codes in a single code window and VBA separate them with a divider, but if you want to have a more focused view, you can change the view of the code window.

Below I have the codes in a single module.

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But I can change this view from the view buttons from the bottom left of the window.

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Now I have only active code visible.

Run a Code Step by Step

When you write a VBA code there could be a chance that that code has a bug or an error that can come while executing that it.

In that case, the best way is to execute that code step by step and validate each line of code.

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For this, you can use shortcut key F8 to execute a code line by line or use step into option from the debug menu.

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And there is also a button on the debug toolbar that you can use.

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Code Indenting

When you write lengthy and complex codes then it’s important to structure them in the right way so that you can understand them later.

For this, there’s one thing which comes handy, INDENTING. Indenting is basically structuring the code using tabs, below is an example.

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To add indenting in a line you can use the TAB key from the keyboard, or you can also use the indent/outdent buttons from the toolbar.

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Get Code from a Text File

The visual basic editor allows you to import VBA codes from a text file without copy-pasting.

Once you insert a module you can go to the insert menu and select the file option from there.

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It opens the dialog box where you can locate the text file and import all the codes from it to the current module.

R1C1 Reference Style

If you ever worked with the R1C1 reference style, then I’m sure you can agree on this point that way easier to write codes with it.

R1C1 Reference Style

Line Break

Even though you can adjust the width of the code window and make it wide but there could be a situation when you will be dealing with long lines of code that makes it hard to read.

The best way to deal with this problem is to add a line break.

Basically, a line break is something when you break a line into two lines using the line break character.

Use a SPACE & UNDERSCORE and hit enter to add a line break.

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Formatting

When it comes to user interface visual basic editor is not that good looking.

But there are few formatting options that you can use to customize it or change its look the way you want.

From the Tools Menu Options Editor Format, you can access the formatting option where you can change the font style size or background color as well

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Check out this video on customizing VBA editor for a dark theme.

Personal Macro Workbook

There could be some macros that you need to access within all the workbooks that you use.

In that case, you can use the Personal Macro Workbook that can help you to store all the important codes in one place and you can access them from all the workbooks.

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Using Bookmarks

The visual basic editor allows you to add bookmarks to a line from Right Click Toggle Bookmark.

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And then you can also navigate between bookmarks from the option from the edit menu.

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Syntax Checking

When you write codes in the code window VBA check for the syntax error and notify you when you make a syntax error.

This option is activated by default, but you can also turn it off if you don’t want VBA to notify you every time you make an error.

Tools Menu ➤ Options ➤ Editor Tab ➤ Auto Syntax Check.

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But I would recommend you not to deactivate it because it can help you to identify all the syntax errors that you make while writing codes.

List of Macros

If you have a lot of macros in a module, there is an option that you can use to see all the macros (Tools ➤ Macro).

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There’s one big benefit of using this list option is that you can run a macro, delete it, and edit it without navigating to that procedure.

Locking a Project with a Password

Visual Basic Editor also gives you an option to lock a module with a password.

So, if you don’t want the users to know the code and don’t want them to make a change in the code, you can use this option.

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Tools Menu ➤ VBAProject Properties ➤ Protection Tab

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Important Shortcut Keys

  • Shift + F7: Object browser.
  • F5: Run macro.
  • Tab: Add an indent.
  • Alt + Q: Close.
  • F8: Step into.
  • Control + H: Find and replace.
  • Control + G: Immediate Window.
  • Control + R: Project Explorer.
  • F4: Properties window.

Learn some AMAZING Keyboard Shortcuts: Excel Keyboard Shortcuts Cheat Sheet

Alternative to Visual Basic Editor

Well, I have tried quite a few other editors to write a macro but the problem which I have found that without the Intellisense it’s really hard to use anything other than the visual basic editor itself.

VBA editor works along with Excel, you can test your codes instantly and you can save them into the workbook.

But are a few names to try.

Visual Studio Code | Ultra Edit

Points to Remember

  • You can maximize or minimize the code window.
  • You can change a project’s name anytime.
  • The project window is the best way to navigate through the editor.
  • It will make a line red if there’s an error in it while writing the code.
  • You can also add a bookmark to a line of code from the Right-Click Menu Toggle Bookmark.
  • You cannot use the visual basic editor without opening an Excel workbook.

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More on VBA

VBA is one of the Advanced Excel Skills

Should I need to install the Visual Basic Editor?

No. You don’t need to install the visual basic editor. It comes pre-installed with the Microsoft Office applications.

What if I don’t have Developer Tab on the Ribbon?

If you don’t have the developer tab on the Excel ribbon, you can activate it from the Excel ribbon.

Is there an alternative to the Visual Basic Editor?

Not really. The IntelliSense that you have in the VBE makes it perfect to use to write VBA codes.