Active Cell/Active Sheet

What are the 'Active Cell' and 'Active Sheet' in Excel and Where Can I Find It?

The Active Cell and Active Sheet HIghlights in Excel
The Active Cell and Active Sheet HIghlights in Excel. © Ted French

Active Cell/Active Sheet Overview

In spreadsheet programs such as Excel or Google Spreadsheets, the active cell is identified by a colored border or outline surrounding the cell, as shown in the image.

The active cell is also known as the current cell or the cell that has the focus.

Even if multiple cells have been highlighted, only one normally has focus, which, by default, is selected to receive input.

 

For example, data entered with the keyboard or pasted from a clipboard is sent to the cell which has focus.

Similarly, the active sheet or current sheet is the worksheet containing the active cell.

As shown in the image above, the active sheet name in Excel at the bottom of the screen is a different color and underlined to make it easier to identify.

Like the active cell, the active sheet is considered to have focus when it comes to performing actions that affect one or more cells - such as formatting - and the changes occur to the active sheet by default.

The active cell and sheet can easily be changed. In the case of the active cell, clicking on another cell with the mouse pointer or pressing the arrow keys on the keyboard will both result in a new active cell being selected.

Changing the active sheet can be done by clicking on a different sheet tab with the mouse pointer or by using a keyboard shortcut.

Multiple Cells Selected - Still Only One Active Cell

If the mouse pointer or keyboard keys are used to  highlight or select two or more adjacent cells in a worksheet so that the black outline surrounds several cells, there is still only one active cell - the cell with the white background color.

Normally, if data is entered when more than one cell is highlighted, the data is only entered into the active cell.

An exception to this would be when an array formula is entered into multiple cells at the same time.

Active Cell and the Name Box

The cell reference for the active cell is also displayed in the Name Box, located above Column A in a worksheet.

Exceptions to this situation occur if the active cell has been given a name - either on its own or as part of a range of cells. In these occurrences, the range name is displayed in the Name Box.

Changing the Active Cell within a Group of Highlighted Cells

If a group or range of cells have been selected the active cell can be changed without re-selecting the range using the following keys on the keyboard:

  • Enter key: moves the active cell highlight down one cell within the selected range;
  • Shift + Enter: moves the active cell highlight up one cell within the selected range;
  • Tab key: moves the active cell one cell to the right within the selected range;
  • Shift + Enter: moves the active cell one cell to the left within the selected range;
  • Ctrl + . (period): moves the active cell clockwise to the next corner of the selected range.

Moving the Active Cell to Different Group of Selected Cells

If more than one group or range of non-adjacent cells is highlighted in the same worksheet, the active cell highlight can be moved between these groups of selected cells using the following keys on the keyboard:

  • Ctrl  + Alt + Right Arrow key: moves the active cell highlight to the next non-adjacent range to the right of the current location
  • Ctrl  + Alt + Left Arrow key: moves the active cell highlight to the next non-adjacent range to the left of the current location

Selecting Multiple Sheets and the Active Sheet

Even though it is possible to select or highlight more than one worksheet at one time, only the active sheet name is in bold and most changes made when multiple sheets are selected will still only affect the active sheet.

Changing the Active Sheet with Shortcut Keys

The active sheet can be changed by clicking on the tab of another sheet with the mouse pointer.

Changing between worksheets can also be done with shortcut keys.

In Excel:

  • Moving to the sheet to the left: Ctrl + PgUp (page up key)
  • Moving to the sheet to the right: Ctrl + PgDn (page down key)

    In Google Spreadsheets:

    • Moving to the sheet to the left: Ctrl + Shift + PgUp (page up key)
    • Moving to the sheet to the right: Ctrl key + Shift + PgDn (page down key)