How to Compare Two Excel Files: A Step-by-Step Guide

Comparing two Excel files can be a daunting task, especially when dealing with large datasets. However, it’s a necessary evil for many professionals who need to analyze data, check for discrepancies, or simply ensure that two versions of a file are identical. Luckily, there are several methods to simplify this process. After reading this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to compare two Excel files with ease.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Compare Two Excel Files

When you have two Excel files that you need to compare, you’re probably looking for differences in the data, formatting, or formulas. The steps below will guide you through the process of comparing these elements to find any discrepancies.

Step 1: Open both Excel files

Opening both Excel files you want to compare is the first step in the process.

Once you have both files open, you can begin to visually compare the data. However, this method is not efficient for large datasets and can lead to missed differences.

Step 2: Use the ‘View Side by Side’ feature

Excel’s ‘View Side by Side’ feature allows you to see both files simultaneously.

This feature is useful for comparing two sheets quickly. You can scroll through both sheets at the same time, which makes it easier to spot differences.

Step 3: Use the ‘Inquire’ add-in to compare

The ‘Inquire’ add-in is an Excel feature that helps compare two files in detail.

After enabling the ‘Inquire’ add-in from Excel options, you can use it to compare two files. It will highlight differences in values, formulas, and formatting.

Step 4: Use third-party software

If Excel’s features don’t meet your needs, consider using third-party software designed for comparing files.

There are many software options available that offer advanced features for comparing Excel files. They can quickly highlight differences and generate reports, making the comparison process much more efficient.

After completing these steps, you’ll have a clear understanding of the differences between the two Excel files. This information can be valuable for data analysis, error checking, or maintaining version control.

Tips for Comparing Two Excel Files

Keep these tips in mind when comparing two Excel files to ensure an accurate and efficient process.

  • Always backup your Excel files before comparison, in case any data is altered during the process.
  • Use the ‘Highlight Cell Rules’ feature in Excel’s Conditional Formatting to visually flag differences.
  • If you’re comparing data, ensure that the files are structured the same way, with the same columns, rows, and data types.
  • Consider using Excel’s ‘Track Changes’ feature for ongoing comparisons.
  • Keep in mind that some third-party tools may offer more advanced comparison features than Excel.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I enable the ‘Inquire’ add-in in Excel?

To enable the ‘Inquire’ add-in, go to File > Options > Add-ins, select ‘Inquire’, and click ‘Go’. Check the box next to ‘Inquire’ and click ‘OK’.

Can I compare two sheets within the same Excel file?

Yes, you can use the ‘View Side by Side’ feature or Conditional Formatting to compare two sheets within the same Excel file.

Does Excel highlight the differences automatically?

Excel does not automatically highlight differences, but you can use Conditional Formatting or the ‘Inquire’ add-in to identify discrepancies.

Are third-party comparison tools safe to use?

Most reputable third-party tools are safe, but always ensure you download from a trusted source and have proper security measures in place.

What if the two Excel files have different structures?

Comparing files with different structures can be challenging. It’s best to reformat one file to match the other before comparison or use a tool that can handle structural differences.


  1. Open both Excel files
  2. Use ‘View Side by Side’ feature
  3. Use the ‘Inquire’ add-in for detailed comparison
  4. Consider third-party software for advanced comparison


Comparing two Excel files doesn’t have to be a headache. Whether you’re a data analyst, accountant, or just someone trying to find the differences between two budget spreadsheets, the methods outlined above can help streamline the process. From using built-in Excel features like ‘View Side by Side’ and the ‘Inquire’ add-in to leveraging third-party tools for more complex tasks, there’s a solution for every level of comparison. Remember, attention to detail is key, and sometimes the smallest discrepancy can lead to significant insights or prevent costly mistakes. So next time you’re faced with two Excel files that need to be compared, take a deep breath, follow the steps, and know that you have the tools and knowledge needed to tackle the task at hand.

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