Before importing a large database to Microsoft Excel you must find out how many rows can Excel handle.
Microsoft Excel is a dominant player in the spreadsheet software market. It’s one of the leading data analytics and visualization tools that different business organizations, educational institutions, non-profits, governments, and individuals regularly use.
You’ll find tons of features in Excel ranging from static databases to make-shift animation of data visualization as input data updates. Not to mention hundreds of mathematical, statistical, and finance formulas you can apply to your datasets for analysis. Furthermore, Excel VBA and Office Scripts enhance Excel’s functionalities to accomplish complex tasks.
However, Excel isn’t free from limitations. One commonly searched question is “How many rows of data can Excel handle?” Read on as I explain the different row capacities of different Excel editions. Also, I’ll discuss how you can go past the limits of Excel rows by using Power Pivots and Power Query. Let’s dive in!
What Is a Row in Excel?
In Excel, a row is a horizontal arrangement of cells identified by numbers along the left side of the spreadsheet. Each row is labeled with a unique number, such as 1, 2,3, etc. A row in Excel represents a single line of data. One row shall contain a finite number of cells and the number of columns in the worksheet determines this number.
For example, if your Excel worksheet has 200 columns then Excel will divide the row into 200 cells. In Excel 2003 and earlier you can create a maximum of 256 columns. So, your row will contain 256 cells. The number of columns greatly increases when you upgrade to Excel 2007 and later editions. On those versions, you can have up to 16,384 columns so that each row will contain 16,384 cells.
Rows are fundamental for organizing and structuring data in a spreadsheet, enabling you to input, manipulate, and analyze information effectively.
📚 Related readings:
- Row vs Column in Microsoft Excel
- How To Insert Every Nth Row
- Keyboard Shortcuts for Working with Rows and Columns
Reasons to Understand Excel’s Row Limitations
Find below why you might want to learn about the row limitations of Excel:
- If you’re under the impression that you can import unlimited numbers of rows in Excel, you could risk importing partial databases from external data sources like business intelligence apps, POS machines, and business data collection servers.
- By knowing how many rows can Excel handle, you can appropriately plan database imports to Excel. For example, Excel can handle up to 1 million rows per worksheet. However, your importing database contains 2 million rows of data fields. So, you can create two worksheets and split the database into two parts.
- If you switch from Excel 2003 to Excel 2007 and newer editions, you’ll see a significant increase in the number of rows you can create in your Excel worksheet. However, you can’t effectively share newer Excel workbooks with a user using Excel 2003 or earlier editions because they won’t be able to open the whole worksheet in one sheet. If you know this upfront, you won’t make the mistake.
- Awareness of Excel row limitations also helps prevent errors and unexpected issues when working with extensive datasets.
- Knowing row constraints facilitates proper planning and design of Excel workbooks for efficient data handling.
- By knowing the differences in row limitations of Excel’s older and newer editions, you can decide if you want to upgrade or not.
- You can make informed decisions by choosing a different data analytics tool like Power BI if you know that Excel isn’t suitable to handle more than 1 million rows per worksheet.
Excel Versions and Row Limits
Over time, Microsoft upgraded Excel to store enough rows of data for efficient data analytics and visualization at a large scale. Find below the row limits of different Excel editions:
Excel 2003 and Earlier
In the earlier iterations of Excel, such as Excel 2003 and its predecessors, you often find yourself navigating within a constrained environment of rows and columns. These versions support a maximum of 65,536 rows. Therefore, you often need to create different sheets within the workbook to accommodate a large dataset.
Excel 2007 to Excel 2016 (32-bit)
With the rollout of Excel 2007, you witness a revolutionary change in Excel row limits. The row count surged dramatically to 1,048,576, providing a much-needed boost for handling extensive datasets.
This improvement continued in subsequent versions up to Excel 2016 for 32-bit systems. However, even with this progress, you might experience Excel performing poorly when you fill all the rows with data.
Due to the 32-bit software instruction set, your Excel desktop app might not be able to fully utilize the robust CPU, RAM, and GPU resources of your PC.
Excel 2016 to Excel for Microsoft 365 (64-bit)
From Excel 2016 64-bit and onwards, Excel is still limited to 1,048,576 rows, a little over 1 million rows of data. However, the software instruction set now works in 64-bit. Therefore, it can utilize more CPU, RAM, and GPU resources available on the PC.
Even if you fill an Excel worksheet with 1,048,57 rows and 16,384 columns of data, the tool will seamlessly perform all the data analytics and visualization functions.
Excel for the Web App
Excel for the web app that comes with your Microsoft 365 subscription can also accommodate up to 1,048,576 rows of data. However, you may experience a significant decrease in data processing performance as the software is based on a cloud computing server.
Further, app performance decreases drastically because of the disparity in processing capability of Edge, Chrome, and Firefox and the cloud computing layer of the Excel server. For an Excel worksheet of 1 million rows, it’s recommended you use the desktop software.
Excel File Formats and Row Limits
The file formats in which you store your Excel workbook have also evolved as Excel software upgraded over the years. Find below how the row limit changes with different Excel workbook container files:
Excel 97-2003 Workbook (XLS)
The Excel 97-2003 Workbook, commonly known as the XLS file format, has a row limit of 65,536 rows. In these versions of Excel, each worksheet within an XLS file is limited to this maximum number of rows. Each row is identified by a number (row number), starting from 1 at the top of the worksheet.
This limitation means that if you were to populate every cell in each row of an XLS worksheet, you could have data in cells ranging from A1 to IV65536. If you try to add data beyond rows 65,536, you won’t see any option to add rows.
Excel Workbook (XLSX)
The Excel Workbook XLSX file format, introduced in Excel 2007 and supported in later versions, has a significantly increased row limit compared to the older XLS format. The XLSX format allows for a maximum of 1,048,576 rows per worksheet.
Each worksheet within an XLSX file can have data in cells ranging from A1 to XFD1048576. This increased row limit provides users with a substantial capacity to work with larger datasets compared to the older XLS format.
It’s worth noting that this row limit applies to each individual worksheet within the XLSX workbook. If you have a workbook with multiple sheets, each sheet can have up to 1,048,576 rows.
The adoption of the XLSX format also brought other advantages, including better data compression, improved data recovery features, and compatibility with newer Excel features and functionalities.
Excel Binary Workbook (XLSB)
Similar to the XLSX format, the Excel Binary Workbook (XLSB) has a maximum row limit of 1,048,576 rows per worksheet. Each worksheet within an XLSB file can contain data in cells ranging from A1 to XFD1048576.
The XLSB format offers some advantages over the XML-based XLSX format, including smaller file sizes and potentially faster performance.
Comma Separated Values (CSV)
Comma Separated Values (CSV) is a plain-text file format used to store tabular data, where each line represents a row, and column values are separated by commas or other delimiters. Unlike Excel workbooks, CSV files don’t have a predefined structure for rows and columns; they are essentially text files.
The row limit for CSV files, in theory, is not predefined, and you can continue adding rows as long as your system’s memory and storage permit.
For example, you’ve got a PC with 32 GB of memory (RAM). Let’s consider all other system processes will consume 16 GB of memory. You’ve got 16 GB of free RAM space. In this memory, you can create a CSV file containing 116.64 million rows of data spread in 16,384 columns.
However, you can’t practically create such a large CSV file in Excel. You can’t create a CSV file containing more than 1,048,576 rows due to the XLSX file’s row constraints. Still, CSV comes in handy to store more than 1 million rows in a different context. I’ll explain that below.
Extend Excel Row Limit Using These Tools
Though the latest Excel desktop app can’t handle beyond 1 million rows, you can still use its framework to run the following tools. These tools allow you to load infinite numbers of rows for temporary data transformation and analytics purposes.
You don’t always need to import raw datasets or databases directly into an Excel worksheet. When the database you want to import is gigantic and contains more than 1,048,576 rows, first you can import the dataset to Power Query.
In Power Query, there isn’t any limit on the number of rows and columns you can create. It totally depends on the database you’re importing and your PC’s hardware resources to process big data.
After importing your data to Power Query, you can do the following data processing on it to bring the database within the worksheet’s limit of up to 1 million rows:
- Data Transformation
- Advanced Data Cleansing
- Merging and Appending Queries
- Filtering and Sorting
- Grouping and Aggregation
Once you’re done with the dataset transformation in Power Query, you can send the dataset to Data Model for further analysis.
Power Pivot is another data modeling and analysis tool available on Excel for large data handling. Just like Power Query, Power Pivot enables you to create unlimited rows and columns.
Also, you can import big datasets from external sources like Microsoft Access, SQL servers, Oracle, Teradata, Sybase, IBM DB2, text files, CSV, and more. Once done with data analysis, you can export the big dataset as CSV.
Power Pivot’s capacity to handle a large dataset is directly proportionate to your computer’s resources like CPU clock speed, system memory, and GPU.
The Data Model engine in Excel is an advanced tool you can use to create relationships between multiple tables of the imported or local datasets on worksheets. When you’re working with datasets that surpass Excel’s row limit, using the Data Model in conjunction with Power Pivot or Power Query can be beneficial.
Both Power Query and Power Pivot allow you to send big datasets directly to the Data Model engine without importing data to worksheets. Suppose, the data you need to analyze from a third-party server consists of 3 million rows. You don’t have the option to import it to a single worksheet. Here, you import the data to Power Query or Power Pivot and send the datasets to the Data Model.
Now, from any worksheet or workbook, you can reference the data models to create PivotTables, PivotCharts, develop interactive dashboards, hierarchies and aggregations, and more.
How a CSV File Can Help
Since you can store a database containing more than 1 million rows in an XLSX file, you can use CSV. A CSV file can contain unlimited numbers of rows and columns.
Also, you can seamlessly import CSV files to Power Query, Power Pivot, and Data Model tools. Thus, after importing a big database in any of these tools using a CSV file, you can perform data analysis, and finally save the resulting database in a new or existing CSV file.
Here, you’re using the Excel desktop infrastructure to analyze CSV files using advanced data analytics tools like Power Query and Power Pivot.
So, you’ve got a pretty straightforward answer to your question, “How many rows can Excel handle?” Now, you can decide whether you must upgrade to the latest Excel desktop app from Excel 2003 or older.
Also, you can decide if you want to buy a different data analytics tool that can handle more than 1 million rows. However, there aren’t many such apps. Google Sheets can handle only 547 rows. All other desktop spreadsheet apps, like LibreOffice, Apple Numbers, Apache OpenOffice, etc., also can create up to 1 million rows of data.
One option for unlimited rows of data in Power BI. However, you’ll miss features and functionalities that you can enjoy on Excel. Not to mention, you must learn Power BI from the ground up.
1 million rows of data is mostly sufficient for gigantic data science and data analytics projects. Because, you can initially load the raw data in Power Query, Power Pivot, and Data Model to transform the data. Your input database might contain 2 million rows but you can often reduce it to within 1 million by cleaning the raw data.
Did the article help? Do you know a secret method to accommodate more than 1 million rows in Excel? You can write your thoughts in the comment box.