Break a link to an external reference in Excel
When you break a link to the source workbook of an external reference, all formulas that use the value in the source workbook are converted to their current values. For example, if you break the link to the external reference =SUM([Budget.xls]Annual!C10:C25), the SUM formula is replaced by the calculated value—whatever that may be. Also, because this action cannot be undone, you may want to save a version of the destination workbook as a backup.
If you use an external data range, a parameter in the query may be using data from another workbook. You may want to check for and remove any of these type of links.
Break a link
On the Data tab, in the Connections group, click Edit Links.
Note: The Edit Links command is unavailable if your file does not contain linked information.
In the Source list, click the link that you want to break.
To select multiple linked objects, hold down the CTRL key, and click each linked object.
To select all links, press Ctrl+A.
Click Break Link.
Delete the name of a defined link
If the link used a defined name, the name is not automatically removed. You may want to delete the name as well, by following these steps:
On the Formulas tab, in the Defined Names group, click Name Manager.
In the Name Manager dialog box, click the name that you want to change.
Click the name to select it.
Need more help?
You can always ask an expert in the Excel Tech Community, get support in the Answers community, or suggest a new feature or improvement on Excel User Voice.
Excel Dashboards VBA and more
Your Custom Text Here
Excel Dashboards VBA and more
Break Workbook Links VBA
Breaking the links in an Excel workbook can be a cumbersome task. The error message which appears when you open a workbook can be annoying especially if you do not wish your file to have any links. Finding the links can often be difficult too. A trick I usually use is to press Ctrl F (shortcut for Find) and look for the square bracket [. This will appear in all linked cells. Here is an example =’C:\Users\HYMC\Desktop\[XL File.xls]SaveFile’!$B$10
The above will find any links within a sheet. Change the Within: dropdown to Workbook to find the links in cells of the whole workbook. The following VBA procedure will do the same thing with the advantage of replacing all of the links at once with the hard coded text.
Sub RemLink() ‘Excel VBA remove links from workbook.
Dim ar As Variant
Dim i As Integer
On Error Resume Next ‘Trap error
On Error GoTo 0
It becomes a little more difficult if the links are in the named ranges or the links are in charts or even harder in conditional formating or in data validation lists. However, the above is a good starting point to remove the links from a workbook.
We may wish to break external links which are hidden in data validation lists. This is a tricky problem to face as it is not at first apparent that this could conceivably happen. However if you can’t find links either in cells, in chart, in named ranges then the pesky link may be in a hard to find data validation list. Here is the code to deal with that problem. It will make a list of all of the links on a new sheet then you simply have to go and eradicate the data validation links.
Sub ValidExtLinks() ‘Excel VBA remove validation links from workbook.
Dim r As Range
Dim str As String
Dim sh As Worksheet
Dim ws As Worksheet
Break Links in Excel
Break Links in Excel (Table of Contents)
Introduction to Break Links in Excel
You may come across using data from one workbook to another. We can find many situations where we can see link from one to another workbook. This is called external links. These invisible links are mostly unnoticeable and may trouble you on your calculations. Excel consists of options to remove these external links. Most probably we use to break these links while going with any calculations. For different calculations, you will be referring cells from one worksheet to another. In this case, there exist links from one to another. If we are deleting a workbook which linked with another workbook for any type of calculation, this will lead to an error on your calculations. In a similar way, if you make any changes on your referred workbook, your calculations keep changing.
Excel functions, formula, charts, formatting creating excel dashboard & others
You may have to break the links associated with:
- Normal workbook formulas
- Links from charts
- Links from pivot table etc.
How to Break Links in Excel?
- We have two workbooks named Example 1 and Example 2. In workbook Example 2 we have used data belongs to the workbook Example 1. Workbook Example 1 consists of a List of Products, Qty sold and price of individual products.
- We need to get the sum of sales done for individual products in workbook Example 2 to find some other data like the rate of sales and movement of individual products for a period or to make a sales chart etc.
- After using formula the output shown below.
- To get the data on sales column we have applied the formula “='[Example 1.xlsx]Sheet1′!$C$2*'[Example 1.xlsx]Sheet1′!$D$2” in column C2 of Example2 workbook here the referred columns are from Example1.
- Once the entire column applied with the same formula to find sales done for all listed products you will get the result as below.
- From this, it is clear that the sum of sales done for each product in workbook Example2 is completely dependent on the values are given in the workbook Example1. So the Example2 consists of reference from workbook Example1.
- Please go through the formula bar you can see the source file used and the reference links.
- If you want to make any changes in the applied formula, no need to go again with workbook Example1.
- You can change the referred links using edit links. To edit this external links select “Data” from the ribbon.
- From the connection option along with Refresh All, Connections you can find Edit Links. Select the edit link option. You can see the pop-up shows the connection to another workbook where you can update or remove the external links.
- You will get the option to edit the corresponding external link.
- You have different options to make changes on the reference. Let’s see how the “Open Source” works. Click on “Open Source” button.
- You will get the source workbook opened and can make any changes with it. Here Example 1 will be opened. If you made any changes it will ask whether you want to save the changes made or not. Once you click on save the changes made will be saved and this will reflect on the reference workbook.
Change the Source Workbook of External References Used
You can make changes to the external workbooks used within an excel workbook. In any of the situations, if you are changing the referred data from one workbook to another, you can change the reference where the same workbooks are referred.
- Select the cell go to data -> Edit Links.
- Click On the “Change Source” button.
- You will get access to the system files to select another source workbook.
- Here I am selecting another workbook “ Sales Report” and then clicks “OK” button.
- Since the same data contains within the workbook “Sales Report” you will get the same result as before but the source will change as it shows in the formula bar.
Break the External Links in Excel
In a large calculation, you may repeatedly use different sourcebooks as a reference. In any situation there happen a chance to lost or delete the external workbook there have chances to affect the current workbook data or calculations. If you make any changes in the source workbook the calculations will keep changing. In these situations, you may use the “Break Link” option from Edit Link.
- By using Example 2 workbook we are making a chart representation to easily understand the sales done for each product.
- By selecting the entire data go to insert menu and select insert bar chart.
- From the chart, it is visible sales are done for each product. Now we are making any changes to the data in the workbook Example 1, which is the reference for Example 2. In the chart you can see for product 9 sales done is near to 6000.
- Now I have changed the Qty as “0” for product 9, you can see the data and the chart keep changing.
- Now I have deleted the Qty details from Example 1. Now if you open the Example 2 it will show the error as below.
- To avoid this type of errors it is better to break the external links after making the calculations. To do this select the edit link from data.
- Select the Break Link button.
- You will get a confirmation if you want to break the external links. Select on the “Break Links” button. You will get the previous window without any external link.
- Now whatever changes you made with workbook Example 1 the Example 2 won’t get affected.
Things to Remember About Break Links in Excel
- Break links are the easy way to edit the source or references.
- To avoid any kind of data loss or minimize errors on calculation break links are preferred.
- It is possible to change or update the source using edit links.
- Once applied any chart or graphical representation with the calculated data, “Break Links” are the best option to avoid changes on graphs according to the change happens to the data.
This is a guide to Break Links in Excel. Here we discuss How to Break Links in Excel along with practical examples and downloadable excel template. You can also go through our other suggested articles –
Spreadsheet Tips and Tools for Finance Professionals
If you cannot break links in Excel® then follow these steps (backup your file first):
- Unprotect each sheet in your problem file: HOME RIBBON – (CELLS) FORMAT – PROTECT SHEETS
- Break links: DATA RIBBON – (CONNECTIONS) EDIT LINKS – Select sheet then BREAK LINK
- Delete all named ranges to external files: FORMULA RIBBON – (DEFINED NAMES) NAME MANAGER
- Check all chart series ranges: Right click chart – SELECT DATA – (SERIES) EDIT. Check each series, if any ranges are in external files then cut the range from the external file and paste in to problem file. Also check chart titles and data label ranges.
- Check Conditional Formats and Data Validation for similar phantom links.
- Save a copy of the problem file then:
- Rename it in file explorer: changing the extension from .xlsx to .zip.
- Navigate to the folder ‘FILENAME.zip>xl’ file and delete the folder named ‘externalLinks’.
- Rename the ZIP file from extension .zip to .xlsx
- Save the file as file type ‘xls’ then back to ‘xlsx’ (or whatever the original file type was). Create a backup before trying this.
Some of these problems can be fixed with our add-in: fix and speed up Excel® files tools FREE ADD-IN .
Lets go through each of those steps in more detail to make sure you can break links.
1. Unprotect Sheets in your Problem File
a) When the active sheet is protected and you try to edit links the BREAK LINK button will be grayed out. You will need to unprotect this sheet or go to another sheet before you try and break links.
b) If a cell within a protected sheet is linked to an external file then you won’t be able to break links. Excel® will give you a warning that the external link cannot be broken due to the sheet being protected.
Excel® won’t be helpful enough to tell you which sheet contains the external link so you may need to go searching for it. You can use our free audit tools to find all cells with external links .
If you are using Excel® 2010 or later you can go to FILE – INFO. Under PROTECT WORKBOOK at the top you will see a list of any protected sheets.
Once all the sheet are unprotected you can go on the next step.
2. Attempt to Break Links
This step will succeed in breaking links unless there are “phantom links” with the workbook. We will come to these later.
The Break Link function replaces the external links in any formulas with constant values.
If you want to identify all cells with references to external workbooks before you carry out this process you can do so:
- Press CTRL+F
- Type “xl*]” in the ‘Find what:’ box (don’t include the inverted commas in the box)
- Select ‘Within:’ Workbook
- Select ‘Look in:’ Formulas
- Click ‘Find All’
You can now check the list of links before you proceed.
To break links click DATA RIBBON – (CONNECTIONS sub menu) EDIT LINKS
You will see a list of external links that your current file is linking to.You can click each of the files and then click BREAK LINK.
If BREAK LINK is grayed out then go back to step 1 as you must still have a protected sheet in your workbook.
Hopefully you have now broken links successfully. However, if you still cannot break the Excel® link then you need to proceed to the next step.
3. Delete Named Ranges to External Files
This is the most common type of phantom link. It is possible that named ranges used by a file are defined as a range of cells in an external workbook.
You can check these easily and delete any that refer to external files.
Click on FORMULA RIBBON – (DEFINED NAMES) NAME MANAGER
Select each named range that refers to an external workbook and click DELETE. If there are many named ranges then you may want to sort them by ‘Refers To’. This will group links to the same external file.
You can delete more than one named range at a time. Select one, hold shift then select the one at the end of the range you want to delete.
Note: you could use the free file fix and speed up tools to delete named ranges to external files . With the tool you can choose to omit open files when deleting links to external files.
Go back to check EDIT LINKS to see if this has resolved your phantom link problem. If you still cannot break link then go on the next step.
4. Delete Chart External Links
It is possible that some of the series data used by an Excel® chart has been moved to an external file. This will create a phantom link.
Check if your file has any charts. It is possible that your workbook has hidden sheets so you may need to unhide them and check these for charts as well.
If FILE-INFO is saying there are still hidden sheets then your file may have sheets that are ‘Very Hidden’. This is unlikely unless you or someone else has set the sheet ‘Visible’ property to xlVeryHidden in the Visual Basic Editor. Click FILE – CHECK FOR ISSUES – INSPECT DOCUMENT to find any hidden sheets. You can either click to remove the sheets. Or you can unhide them in the Visual Basic Editor (click ALT+F11). In the VBE you can click on the hidden sheet then change its visible property to xlVisible.
In each chart. Right click the chart then ‘SELECT DATA’. Click on each series then ‘EDIT’.
If you see a link to an external file in the name or values then you have found some phantom links. Go to this data in the external file, cut it and paste it in your problem workbook next to the chart.
If you’ve already tried to BREAK LINKS to this file then instead of the file and range (above), all you will is a list of values (below).
If this is the case then you’ll still need to cut the cells from the external file and paste in your problem workbook.The difficulty is going to be finding the cells. You don’t have a range reference in this case.
Also check the chart titles and other chart elements for external links such as this:
Other Non-Chart Objects
Other objects such as form controls or linked images may reference external files. You can check these as well before you go to the next step.
4a. Delete any external links in Conditional Formats.
UPDATE: Some links to external files can be hidden in any Excel feature that can reference sheet ranges. These features include Conditional Formats. (Thanks to Roger, Yuri and others in the comments for these additions)
Go througheach sheet and select every cell. Click CTRL+A
For each of those rules: click on it then
You can follow a similar process for Data Validation if you still have external links. To find data validation in a sheet you need to go to the
If you still cannot break links then try this:
5. Save a copy of the problem file.
This is the last resort if you cannot break links in Excel®. But this will resolve any remaining phantom link problems.
The downside is that this method is breaking external links without actually finding them. There is a chance this will impact the functionality of your workbook.
This method goes in to the file structure within the workbook to remove the link data.
- Create a copy of the file in which you are trying to remove the links
- In file explorer: right click this new file and RENAME
- Change the extension from .xlsx to .zip.
- Open this ZIP folder and navigate to the folder ‘FILENAME.zip > xl’
- Delete the folder named ‘externalLinks’.
- Back out of the ZIP folder
- Rename the ZIP folder from extension .zip back to .xlsx
- Open this file
When the file opens in Excel® you should not be asked to update links. The EDIT LINKS option should be grayed out.
Compare this new file with the original to ensure it is working correctly.
6. Change the file type to ‘xls’ then back to ‘xlsx’.
Update: this is added courtesy of the comment from Jack below.Thanks Jack.
This is the “last last” resort. Downgrade the file.
- Create a backup of your file.
- ‘Save As’ your workbook.
- Change the file type to ‘xls’ (Microsoft Excel 5.0/95 Workbook’
- Click ‘Save’
That may well fix any remaining problems.
There can be a downside to this method. Saving a file as ‘xls’ that was created as ‘xlsx’ may result in some features being removed from the file. You will receive a warning if there are any features that are incompatible with the ‘xls’ format so check that first. If there are any issues then your backup should bail you out.
27 Comments on “Excel Cannot Break Link – The Ultimate Guide”
Thank you so much!
I’d generated a bunch of filtered pivots from my main pivot and I kept getting a link error when I saved them separately. I can’t distribute them like that, and I couldn’t figure out where the connection was.
Followed your instructions, and clearing the named ranges worked like charm.
You sir are Awesome – thanks for posting this!
no. 5 is really awesome…
Thanks for all the tips.
However, I still had that “phantom” link.
Finally I saved the file with the downgraded extension from .xlsx to .xls.
Then with reopening the links had disappeared.
Maybe this can be helpful.
Thank you, Jack! It worked when nothing else posted here did!
I second this approach. All the above tricks work in most cases but for that extra sticky link, this is the only other approach, besides some possible VBA trick.
This is the only thing that fixed it, thanks!!
Thanks Jack. I included this tip in the post.
and one more issue – Conditional formatting, which can contain formulas linked to another workbook.
YES” This was my exact problem. It had been driving me up the wall. Thank you!
AMAZING!! Thank you so much for working this out!!
thanks the zip tip did the trick you are the Yoda of excel hacks
Thanks. I had tried all of your suggestions except for the ZIP file trick. That looked like it had real possibilities. But even that failed. I discovered the solution to my problem, which turned out to be a hidden link in a Data Validation rule. While the procedure described by user benalt at https://www.excelforum.com/excel-general/1024929-excel-file-wont-break-links.html did not exactly work, using the Find link in the Compatibility checker took me to the Data Validation cells that were problematic. I simply removed all the data validation on that worksheet and that solved my problem.
This is great. I knew to do everything but rename to zip file and delete external links folder. Thanks so much!
I had a link that would not break no matter what. I tried all the tips, even that suggested by the last commenter (Roger). None of this has worked to remove the link. Going back to historical versions, I was able to isolate it to two tabs in the file that had Data Validation.
In the end, I had to delete Data Validation in both tabs and then go to the end of the data in each tab, start with the first empty row after the data, highlight the next several using SHIFT+DOWN and then deleting those rows.
When I did that, the link magically disappeared forever!
So, somehow it was the combination of deleting all data validation and empty rows under the data that made the link disappear.
Through trial and error, I learned the link would not go away unless you FIRST removed the data validation in both tabs and then delete the empty rows of data each tab. The link did not disappear until I deleted the empty rows in the 2nd tab.
None of the above worked for me. It ended up being hidden in the data validation. Probably the same can happen with conditional formatting but that is easier to find. For validation you start by: Go To Special Data validation All. to see if any exist on that sheet. if it does you’ll have to check each cell by selecting it and selecting Data-> Data Validation and seeing rather the validation references an external cell. Many cells can also be selected and then Data->Data Validation it will let you know if one has different settings than the rest of the data validation which can be useful in finding the culprit.
Thank you yuri – everything failed for me – including (surprisingly) the zip file trick. Your comment about conditional formatting was correct – a couple of tabs had conditional formatting linking elsewhere……
click on [Home Tab], [Conditional Formatting], [Manage Rules], in the dropdown at the top [Show Formatting Rules For:] select each of your tabs in turn and look for anything that references an external sheet in either the rule or “applies to” columns.
Once I had done that and removed the external links, I was able to delete the link in the normal way from the [Data] tab and [Edit links] button.
Thank you. Best forum for solving this problem. I’ve been looking for a solution for months now.
Thanks very much! I had tried literally everything, including removing any problematic conditional formatting / data validation issues, but nothing worked… until I tried the renaming to .zip trick. No more annoying and inexplicable messages!
Jack – your suggestion was the right solution – non of the 5 points worked – but saving the file as .XLS worked – perfect.
For me, none of the article’s tips worked (however they do seem often useful!).
But thank you Jack, downgrading the file to .xls and back to .xlsx did the trick to me!
That is … just … awesome! OMG. Who knew that zipping a file exposed some of the guts of the file. I am forever humbled.
Massive thanks for that – I too was forced to use the rename-to-zip method (I’d heard of renaming files to zips, but never aware it was any use…). Got me out of a Deeep hole, so big thankyou!!
Thank you for this! I have been going batty over a link I couldn’t break. It never occured to me that it could be referenced in Conditional Formatting.
Awesome. You really helped me out here.
This is awesome. I had links to external workbooks in conditional formatting. All is fixed now.
I tried a few of these things – finally tried #6 – that worked…:-)
Leave a ReplyCancel reply
I’ve been building Excel financial models, dashboards and automating with macros since 1993.
On this site you’ll find tips, tutorials and tools for accountants and finance professionals.
Excel ® is a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation.
Airt Ltd is registered in Scotland (company number SC429278)