March 31st Update
XLOOKUP is now available to all Office 365 Subscribers in the Monthly Channel and will be available to users in the Semi-Annual Channel starting in July. It will be available to users in Semi-Annual (Targeted) channel starting mid April 2020.
We are excited to announce XLOOKUP, successor to the iconic VLOOKUP function. Before I describe XLOOKUP, I want to take a moment to reflect on VLOOKUP's incredible history and impact on spreadsheeting.
VLOOKUP has been with Excel from the beginning; it was included in Excel 1 for Macintosh released in 1985. For 35 years, VLOOKUP has been the first lookup function learned by Excel users and our 3rd most used function (after SUM and AVERAGE). In fact, it’s so fundamental to spreadsheeting that most users can recall the sense of achievement they felt when they first mastered VLOOKUP, myself included.
XLOOKUP is named for its ability to look both vertically and horizontally (yes it replaces HLOOKUP too!). In its simplest form, XLOOKUP needs just 3 arguments to perform the most common exact lookup (one fewer than VLOOKUP). Let’s consider its signature in the simplest form:
- lookup_value: What you are looking for
- lookup_array: Where to find it
- return_array: What to return
Let's see it in action:
Advanced XLOOKUP variations
To perform advanced lookups, you can use XLOOKUP’s optional 4th and 5th mode arguments: match_mode and search_mode.
if_not_found allows you to specify what should be returned if no match is found
match_mode allows you to set the type of match you’d like to perform. The options are:
Use zero to perform an exact match. This is the default.
Use 1 or -1 to allow a match against the nearest smaller (or larger) item when there is no exact match.
Use 2 to do a simple wildcard match where ? means match any character and * means match any run of characters.
search_mode lets you configure the type and direction of search. The options are:
Use 1 or -1 to search from first-to-last or last-to-first.
Use 2 or -2 to do a binary search on sorted data. This is included for expert users only.
Why release a new lookup function?
While VLOOKUP was widely used, it has several well-known limitations which XLOOKUP overcomes:
- Defaults to an “approximate” match: Most often users want an exact match, but this is not VLOOKUP’s default behavior. To perform an exact match, you need to set the 4th argument to FALSE. If you forget (which is easy to do), you’ll probably get the wrong answer.
- Does not support column insertions/deletions: VLOOKUP’s 3rd argument is the column number you’d like returned. Because this is a number, if you insert or delete a column you need to increment or decrement the column number inside the VLOOKUP.
- Cannot look to the left: VLOOKUP always searches the 1st column, then returns a column to the right. There is no way to return values from a column to the left, forcing users to rearrange their data.
- Cannot search from the back: If you want to find the last occurrence, you need to reverse the order of your data.
- Cannot search for next larger item: When performing an “approximate” match, only the next smaller item can be returned and only if correctly sorted.
- References more cells than necessary: VLOOKUP 2nd argument, table_array, needs to stretch from the lookup column to the results column. As a result, it typically references more cells than it truly depends on. This could result in unnecessary calculations, reducing the performance of your spreadsheets.
What’s the future for VLOOKUP & HLOOKUP?
VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP will both continue to be supported by Excel. That said, we strongly recommend using XLOOKUP in favor of VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP because XLOOKUP is simpler to use and has none of the limitations listed above.
In addition to XLOOKUP we are also launching XMATCH which has a similar signature to XLOOKUP but returns the index of the matching item. XMATCH is both easier to use and more capable than its predecessor MATCH.
You can learn more about XLOOKUP and XMATCH from these resources:
XLOOKUP and XMATCH are now available to Office 365 Subscribers in the Monthly Channel and will be available to users in the Semi-Annual Channel later this year.
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Joe McDaid (@jjmcdaid)
Program Manager, Excel