Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel: Understanding the Difference

Workbook and Worksheet are two of the most basic terms in Excel. While many users know the distinction between these two things, most still use the terms interchangeably. With this article on Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel, we want to put the confusion to bed once and for all.

While working with data, people usually use spreadsheet programs. Excel is perhaps the most popular spreadsheet program in the world. And when users need to analyze data or prepare reports, they use workbooks and worksheet(s) for this purpose. Hence, we understand why getting confused about these two terms is possible.

For this article, we aim to discuss what workbooks and worksheets are and how they differ fundamentally. We will also talk about the process of creating a workbook and a worksheet. Following the discussion, we will present a nifty little comparison chart on the workbook vs worksheet in Excel for a robust understanding of the differences.

Let’s get going!

Excel Workbook and Worksheet: A Quick Rundown

Despite being Excel’s basic terms, new and many intermediate-level users cannot tell the difference between workbooks and worksheets. We have seen many people consider these two things to be the same. It creates huge misunderstandings at times.

In short, workbooks are Excel files. And inside a workbook, there are worksheets. Excel users store, calculate and analyze data in a worksheet. From a different angle, the data are also saved and analyzed in a workbook. This is why we feel the need to clarify these two terms.

Knowing where the difference lies between a workbook and a worksheet is essential for any user. For instance, many users still create multiple workbooks for separate storage and analysis pages. If they had known the connection between a worksheet and a workbook, they would have been able to keep their data organized in one place.

The practice of having multiple files for data with the same association also adds another level of inconvenience regarding sharing the files with others. In Excel, working smarter and faster is necessary. But having cluttered files defeats this purpose.

In the following two sections, we will talk about Workbook and Worksheet in detail. Then we will add a head-to-head table to strengthen your understanding of the differences.

Stick around to find more information about this Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel comparison.

Everything About Workbook in Excel

A workbook is the most basic Excel file. It contains one or more than one sheet or worksheets. For storing, organizing, and presenting data, a workbook is mandatory. The term has existed since the beginning of Excel. However, the support for the number of sheets in a workbook changed over time.

Before Excel 2010, a newly created workbook consisted of three blank worksheets. Versions that came afterward have only one sheet by default. And when users need to add more sheets to the file, they add it using one of the three methods. We will talk about these methods in the next section.

The image below shows five workbooks in Windows Explorer. Each Excel file is a workbook. And a workbook can have more than 20 types of file formats. Irrespective of their format, they are always considered a workbook in Excel.

Everything About Workbook in Excel

A workbook in Excel must have at least one worksheet in it. Otherwise, the workbook or Excel file will not exist. And there can be up to 255 worksheets in a typical workbook. A workbook can be identified by its file name plus the extension (e.g. .xls, .xlsx, .xlsb, .xlsm, etc.).

In terms of formatting, an Excel workbook can have its own formatting styles. The workbook formatting affects all the worksheets in a workbook. Likewise, Excel Macros and VBA codes apply to a workbook and are saved in the file. In this case, the default file extension for the workbook with Macros is .xlsm.

External data sources and links are always established with the workbook. Therefore, any changes in the workbook regarding external linking may cause changes to all the worksheets in that workbook.

How to Create an Excel Workbook?

Let’s say you just opened Excel. You will find an unsaved workbook with a single worksheet in front of you. You may do your data-related work in it and then save the file. However, when you need to get a new workbook (not a worksheet), what do you do?

That’s where this section solves your problem. Knowing how to create workbooks in Excel is necessary for a new user. There are three most popular ways to create a workbook. Expert users use all three methods depending on the situation. We will demonstrate each of them below.

1. The New File Method: This method is by far the oldest in Excel history. Since the beginning of this spreadsheet program, users have followed this technique for creating new workbooks.

To do it, when your Excel program is open, click on the File tab. Then on the left, click the New option. Afterward, you will see a Blank Workbook showing on the right. Click on it.

How to Create an Excel Workbook 1

Instantly, you will find a new workbook opened up in your Excel! Don’t forget to save the new workbook before closing your Excel program. Otherwise, you will lose the file.

2. The Windows Context Menu Method: This method is followed when a user does not want to open Excel to create and save a new workbook. This is also a highly used technique for creating a workbook. The most helpful thing about this method is that the new file is saved instantaneously in the folder it is being created!

To follow this method, go to the folder where you want to create your workbook. Then right-click on your mouse. In the opened context menu, click on the New option. A new menu will slide open. In it, find the Microsoft Excel Worksheet option and click on it.

How to Create an Excel Workbook 2

Subsequently, you will see a file with the name “New Microsoft Excel Worksheet” created. Don’t get confused by the word “Worksheet” in its name. It is a workbook since this is an Excel file. You can rename the file to your preference.

You will find an empty worksheet inside when you open the file.

3. The Shortcut Method: You will need your Excel program opened when executing this technique, like the first method. The shortcut method is the fastest way you can create a new workbook. However, you will need to manually save your newly created workbook if you don’t want to lose it!

Open your Excel program or go to it if it is already open. Then on your keyboard, press the Ctrl+N buttons. You will see a new workbook opened right away. Save the file from the File menu or use the shortcut Ctrl+S to save it in your storage.

Everything About Worksheet in Excel

A worksheet is a working area in a workbook or Excel file. It has many rows and columns, creating little boxes called cells where data and different elements are stored and analyzed. Oftentimes, a worksheet is also known as simply “sheet”. When you open an Excel program, you see a worksheet named “Sheet1”.

In an Excel worksheet, each cell has a name. It consists of the column name and the row number. For instance, if a cell is in row 8 of column C, the cell name would be C8. Understanding everything about cells is equally important while knowing about worksheets in Excel.

The cell name can reference a specific cell in three ways: referencing in the same worksheet, referencing in a different worksheet in the same workbook (also known as “Internal Linking”), and referencing in a worksheet in a different workbook (also known as “External Linking”).

The image below shows the tab area where worksheets can be accessed. In the previous section, we saw how workbooks were located in Windows Explorer as files. Each file was considered a workbook. But here, each tab within a workbook is a worksheet.

Everything About Worksheet in Excel

An analogy might help you further understand the workbook and worksheet’s connection. You can imagine an Excel workbook as a regular book where multiple worksheets exist (just as sheets in a book do). A book must have at least a sheet of paper. Likewise, a workbook has at least one sheet in it. The marked tabs can be compared with individual sheets of paper in a book.

Every worksheet in Excel can have 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns in it. It gives you more than enough space to do your data storage, manipulation, calculation, and formatting work. And if you need more space, you can add a new worksheet in the same workbook.

Functions and formulas are also used in worksheets. Charts and visual elements can be used to present the results of data analysis here. Moreover, you can copy or move a worksheet within the same workbook or to a new and existing workbook. This freedom helps organize the data and enables users to share only the necessary sheet with others.

Whenever any changes are made in a worksheet, it affects only that specific worksheet. Other sheets in the same workbook are safe from the committed changes. However, if the worksheet is linked internally or externally, the data in the linked files will change instantly. If you want to know how to detect links in Excel files, don’t forget to check our extensive article on this topic.

How to Create an Excel Worksheet?

In earlier versions of Excel, there was no support for multiple sheets in a workbook. If a user needed more than one worksheet for their work, they needed to create an entirely different workbook. However, with time, Microsoft added support for more than one worksheet in the same workbook.

There are two ways to add a new blank worksheet to a workbook. We will demonstrate both techniques below.

1. Using the Adjacent Plus Button: You already know that worksheets are shown in tabs in the bottom part of an Excel worksheet. You will see a little plus button to the right of the existing worksheet tabs. Click on that button to add a new black worksheet to your workbook.

How to Create an Excel Worksheet 1

2. Using the Shortcut: You can also add a new worksheet in your workbook by using the shortcut buttons for this action. Press the Shift+F11 buttons on your keyboard, and you will see that a new worksheet has been added to your workbook.

After following either method, you will find the newly added worksheet alongside the existing ones in the bottom part of the viewing area.

The image below shows the outcome of adding a second worksheet to a workbook.

How to Create an Excel Worksheet 2

That’s it!

Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel: The Comparison Table

So far, we have discussed everything about workbooks and worksheets in Excel. Now we will present a direct comparison table on this topic. Here, we are doing a quick workbook vs worksheet in Excel comparison. If you still feel confused even after reading all the details, this comparison table will help eliminate the last bit of doubt.

Workbook Specification Worksheet
An Excel file with one or more worksheets Condition A single sheet within a workbook
A worksheet Most Basic Working Area A cell
255 worksheets Capacity 1,048,576 rows

16,384 columns

17.18 billion cells

File Explorer Location Tabs in the lower area of the Excel window
Applies to the whole workbook Formatting Applies to the specific worksheet
Changes affect the whole workbook Applicability of Changes Changes affect only that particular worksheet
Saved in the workbook Macros & VBA Worksheet does not save any Macros or VBA
External linking Linking Capacity Internal linking
Can be moved and shared instantly Portability Must be in a workbook while being shared
Ctrl+N Shortcut for New Addition Shift+F11

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Now we will answer some of the most asked questions on the topic of Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel. The answers will give you even further information on this topic.

Q: Can I use formulas or functions across multiple worksheets in a workbook without a problem?

Ans: Yes, you can do it. You need to reference cells or arrays carefully while doing it. In respective worksheets, make sure to write formulas and use functions properly.

Q: Can I format each worksheet differently within the same workbook?

Ans: Yes, you can format each worksheet individually. Worksheets can have independent formulas, formatting, and data without any problem.

Q: If I delete a worksheet from a workbook, will it affect other worksheets in the same workbook?

Ans: No, other worksheets will be intact. Nevertheless, when you decide to delete a worksheet, be careful with the process and execution. Once you delete a worksheet, it is gone forever. Everything, including data and formatting, will be lost once you delete the worksheet. Hence, it is always a good practice to create a backup of your workbook before you delete a worksheet.

Q: How many worksheets can I have in a workbook in Excel?

Ans: You can have 255 worksheets in a workbook in Excel. However, remember that you will need a powerful computer if you intend to use 255 worksheets for your single workbook. Due to the heavy data load and other things, the file may take a while to open before you can operate it.

Q: Can I move or copy a worksheet from one workbook to another?

Ans: Yes, you can do it. The process is simple. Right-click on your worksheet tab and then click the Move or Copy option. Then under the To book menu, select (new book) from the drop-down list. If you want to copy the worksheet to a new workbook, put a checkmark on the Create a copy option. Contrarily, if you want to move the worksheet, make sure that the Create a copy option is not checked, and finally, click the OK button.

Closing Remarks

The difference between an Excel workbook and a worksheet can confuse new users. Even many regular Excel users think these are interchangeable terms. But the case is different. In this Workbook vs Worksheet in Excel article, we thoroughly explored and explained both the terms with their differences and applications.

To reiterate, a workbook in Excel is just a regular Excel file. Inside a workbook, there is at least one worksheet. A workbook or Excel file can have up to 255 worksheets. Each sheet is used for storing and analyzing data, and they can have their own formatting styles. Contrarily, a workbook is a collection of multiple worksheets that can also have its own formatting.

We intended to clear all the confusion about the workbook and worksheet dilemma in this article. As you have finished it, we hope you know now what makes a workbook and a worksheet different, along with the characteristics. And if you still have questions regarding the issue, don’t forget to let us know.

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