The Future of VBA Development

Remember nine years ago when I posted about the future of vba? Neither did I, but I just re-read it. I think if we keep talking about how VBA is dead, it might actually die someday. Nah, probably not.

John at Global Electronic Trading has the latest VBA eulogy. He asked several VBA community members (including me) to answer four questions about the future of VBA. Here is my response to what killed VBA

[DK] Time killed it. Nothing last forever. Cobol developers were once in high demand. Now Cobol developers are in very high demand – both of them. Microsoft killed it by not updating the IDE or supporting VBA as a viable development platform. Had they invested in VBA, say by integrating .Net into Office the way they did with VB, then it still may have been a viable platform today. But even if that were true, time would kill it eventually.
The internet killed it by adopting Ajax. A lot of developer resources went to web apps and away from COM based development.

Apple killed it by inventing the App Store. None of those developer resources came back to COM, they’re all developing mobile apps now.
So a bunch of stuff killed VBA, but all that means is that evolution killed it. MS evolved their development platform away from VBA just like they evolved away from ANSI C before that.

Go read the rest of the answers. You won’t be surprised by any of the answers, I’ll bet.

I draw two conclusions from this experience:

  1. I need to proof read my emails before I send them.
  2. I don’t care if VBA is dead. It still works for me now, I’m very effective with it, and I’m still solving real problems using it every day. If it’s dead, it’s the best damn corpse in the office.

A Better AutoFilter

Jeff recently wrote about how you can type your filter criterion in a Pivot Table’s page field and it will filter it automagically. That’s awesome. I want the same thing when I filter Tables, so I started doing some experiments. To filter a table, you select the header, press Alt+{DOWN}, e to get to the search box, and type the search term.

Press Enter

I want to type ‘Colorado’ right in the header and have it filter.


How did I accomplish that magic? First I created a class module call CApp. It will be used to house my application level events. Up in the declarations section of CApp, I have this

Private WithEvents mclsApp As Application
Private msOldValue As String

Public Property Let OldValue(ByVal sOldValue As String): msOldValue = sOldValue: End Property
Public Property Get OldValue() As String: OldValue = msOldValue: End Property
Public Property Set App(ByVal clsApp As Application): Set mclsApp = clsApp: End Property
Public Property Get App() As Application: Set App = mclsApp: End Property

The mclsApp variable is declared WithEvents so that VBA exposes all the events of the Application object to me in this module. I’ll be using two of those events, SelectionChange and Change, to determine when to filter. The OldValue variable will hold the header that I’m overtyping so I can put it back. For instance, when I replace State (the column heading) with Colorado (the search term), I need to put the heading back to State.

To capture that old header value, I use the SheetSelectionChange event. Whenever the selection changes, this procedure is run.

Private Sub mclsApp_SheetSelectionChange(ByVal Sh As Object, ByVal Target As Range)

Dim rLoHeader As Range

'See if the target is in the header of a listobject
On Error Resume Next
Set rLoHeader = Intersect(Target, Target.ListObject.HeaderRowRange)
On Error GoTo 0

'If it's in a header, save the header's column heading
If Not rLoHeader Is Nothing Then
Me.OldValue = Target.Value
'Otherwise, clear the old value
Me.OldValue = vbNullString
End If

End Sub

If I’ve select a cell that’s in the header of a ListObject (that’s what VBA calls a Table), then save the value. This is just some test code. It needs far more error proofing, such as making sure only one cell is selected.

Next I use the SheetChange event to monitor if I type a new value in that header. First I disable events so that when I put the old header value back, it doesn’t think I’m trying to filter again.

Private Sub mclsApp_SheetChange(ByVal Sh As Object, ByVal Target As Range)

Dim sFilter As String

Application.EnableEvents = False

If Len(Me.OldValue) > 0 Then
'Save the search term for later filtering
sFilter = Target.Value
'Change the header value back
Target.Value = Me.OldValue
'This shouldn't be necessary, but read on
Me.OldValue = vbNullString

'Filter based on the value typed
Target.ListObject.Range.AutoFilter Target.ListObject.ListColumns(Target.Value).Index, sFilter

End If

Application.EnableEvents = True

End Sub

I really don’t mind using the built-in autofilter string of keystrokes when I’m filtering on a string or a number. But dates? That’s another story. I hate autofiltering on dates. If I want to filter the above list on June 22nd, the keystrokes are: Alt+{DOWN}, e, {TAB}{TAB}, {SPACE} to uncheck Select All, {DOWN}{DOWN}{RIGHT} to expand June, 2 2 {SPACE} to get to the second entry that starts with a ‘2’ and check it, {ENTER}.

Stupid. I should be able to get to the search box and type 6/22 and have it filter. But it doesn’t. I though this method would make filtering on dates much better. And I was right.

Did you happen to see the comment in the above code about a particular line not being necessary? I didn’t want to remove OldValue in the SheetChange event because that’s the job of the SheetSelectionChange event. I shouldn’t need to do it. I didn’t need to do it for filtering on strings, but without it, I can’t filter on numbers or dates. For some reason that I couldn’t figure out, the SheetChange event was being called twice. The first time it would filter on ‘6/22/2014’ as expected. Then it would run again (even though I clearly have turned off events) and would filter on ‘Date’ (the column header), which, of course, it can’t find in a column of actual dates.

I even tried to make my own event enabler/disabler, but it didn’t matter. Once I set OldValue to vbNullString, filtering on numbers and dates started working. The event procedure still gets called twice, but it doesn’t try to filter because OldValue isn’t there anymore.

That leaves a potential problem. If I type, say, “Montana” in B1 and enter using Ctrl+Enter rather than just Enter, the selection doesn’t change and OldValue is blank. Now, before selecting any other cells, if I type ‘Colorado’, nothing happens. That’s not a big problem for me because I have my options set to go down on enter and wouldn’t really use Ctrl+Enter in that case. But that doesn’t mean I like it. I don’t.

This hasn’t made it into my PMW yet, but I’d like to see where it can go.

You can download

Pimpin’ My Site

When Doug posted about Data Comparison Tricks, I saw Dick tell him to “pimp his site” in the comments.

Having a vivid imagination, this is what went through my head.

Yo Dawg!

Anyway, that’s what I’ll now proceed to do. (Having obtained Dick’s permission first of course!)

Here’s some stuff I’ve been working on recently.

A multi-field Find and Select/Replace tool.

AET Find and Replace

Although a bit old, (like me), some of the code came from this.

AET Cell Watch Form

Here’s the old post about it from back in 2009. (From my former blog, which I’ll also pimp!)

An alternative Status Bar that recognizes numbers even if the format is text. Woohoo!

AET Status Bar

And some games. (For the kids, but you can play too)
That’s enough pimpin’ for now. (I’m making new stuff as I write this) See you next time?

Data Comparison Tricks

Hey Dick, thanks for having me over. Wow, it’s even nicer in here than I imagined. Look at all those posts! Hey, is that an Office XP beer stein… where’d you get that? Gosh, do you really wear all these baseball caps?

Okay, well great to be here. I hope I don’t blow it. I’m going to talk about a fairly pedestrian topic, but one I deal with daily as a data analyst and report writer: comparing versions of output data.

At my work we have a report modification and publication process to verify that they’re outputting reasonable results. A lot of times this means comparing a report to its previous published version and confirming that the outputs are identical before moving on with the process.

I’ll show some tricks I use to do these comparisons. Please note these examples all assume the data you’re comparing is easily re-creatable, e.g., it comes from a data connection or was exported from another tool. In other words, don’t do these tests on the only copy of your output!

The Most Basic of Tricks – Comparing Sums

One quick trick you’ve probably used is to grab an entire column of output and check its SUM in the status bar. Aside from comparing row counts, this is about as simple as it gets.

Status bar sum

I usually just look at the first three or so digits and the last three or so, mumble them to myself, switch to the other column and mumble those to myself. If my mumblings match, I call it good.

Mind you, I only do this as an informal check. Still, writing this got me to wondering how reliable it is, and about the likelihood of a false positive, a coincidental match. So I did a little test and filled two columns with RandBetween formulas then wrote a bit of VBA to recalculate them repeatedly and record the number of times their sums matched. With two columns of 1000 numbers, each filled with whole numbers between 1 and 1000, I averaged around three matches per 100,000 runs, or a .003% chance of a coincidental match. That’s a pretty small range of numbers though, equivalent to a span from one cent to ten dollars. So I upped it to whole numbers between one and a million, similar to one cent to 10,000 dollars. With a million calculations of 1000 rows there were no coincidental matching totals.

A More Thorough Trick – Compare All Cells

When I really want to make sure two sets of data with the same number of rows and columns match cell for cell, I do the obvious and … compare every cell. That could look something like this (but eventually won’t, so stick with me):

AND compare 1

The two sets of data (a modified version of the indispensable table from are on the left, with the comparison formulas for each cell on the right. In this case they all match and return TRUE:

If you’ve got more than a few columns and rows, you probably don’t want to scan all the comparison cells for FALSEs. Instead, you can wrap up all these comparisons in a single AND, like this. It will return FALSE if any of the referenced cells are FALSE:

AND compare 2

Or just eliminate the middleperson altogether with a single AND in an array formula:

AND compare 3

What If They Don’t All Match?

If they don’t all match you can add conditional formatting to highlight the FALSEs…

Conditional Formatting for FALSEs

… or just add it directly to the two tables. However, rather than conditional formatting I’d use a per-row AND array formula and filter to FALSE:

per-row ANDs

Same Data, Different Order

Sometimes my rows of data are the same, but they’re out of order. I try not to yell at them like Al Pacino. Instead I might test them with a COUNTIF(S) formula, like so, which just counts how many times the name in a the second table appears in the first table:


To compare whole rows, you’re stuck (I think) with longer COUNTIFS formulas than I care to deal with. I’d rather concatenate the rows and compare the results with a COUNTIF. I don’t have many worksheet UDFs in my tools addin, but one exception is Rick Rothstein’s CONCAT function, which I found on Debra’s blog. It’s great because, unlike Excel’s Concatenate function, it allows you to specify a whole range, rather than listing each cell individually.

COUNTIFs can get slow though once you’ve got a few thousand rows of them. So, another approach is just to sort the outputs identically and then use an AND to compare them. Here’s a function I wrote to sort all the columns in a table:

Sub BlindlySortTable()
Dim lo As Excel.ListObject
Dim loCol As Excel.ListColumn

Set lo = ActiveCell.ListObject
With lo
For Each loCol In .ListColumns
.Sort.SortFields.Add _
Key:=loCol.DataBodyRange, SortOn:=xlSortOnValues, Order:=xlAscending, DataOption:=xlSortNormal
Next loCol
With .Sort
.Header = xlYes
.MatchCase = False
End With
End With
End Sub

At this point I should mention that I almost always work with Tables (VBA ListObjects) when doing these comparisons. A lot of the time I’ve stuffed the SQL right into the Table’s data connection. If the data is imported from something like Crystal Reports, I’ll convert it to a table before working with it.

Using Pivot Tables For Comparing Data – Fun!

As I get farther along in a report’s development, odds are I might just want to compare a subset of the old version to the whole new version, or vice-versa. Using pivot tables is great for this. Say for instance my new report is only for people whose weight is under 48 kilograms. I’d like to compare the output of the new report to a filtered list from the older version and confirm that I’m returning the same weights for the people in the new subset. A pivot table makes this easy:

Pivot compare

The pivot on the left, based on the original data, has been filtered by weight and compared to the pivot on the right, based on the new, less-than-48 data. An AND formula confirms whether the data in the new one matches the original.

I was doing this the other day with multiple subsets, causing the pivots to resize. I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to have a function that returns a range equal to a pivot table’s data area?” The answer was “yes,” so I wrote one. It returns either the used range or the data area of a table or pivot table associated with the cell passed to it. Here’s the code:

Public Enum GetRangeType
UsedRange '0
'CurrentRegion - can't get to work in UDF in worksheet, just returns passed cell
PivotTable '1
ListObject '2
End Enum

Public Function GetRange(StartingPoint As Excel.Range, RangeType As GetRangeType) As Excel.Range
Dim GotRange As Excel.Range

With StartingPoint
Select Case RangeType
Case GetRangeType.UsedRange
Set GotRange = .Worksheet.UsedRange
Case GetRangeType.PivotTable
Set GotRange = .PivotTable.TableRange1
Case GetRangeType.ListObject
Set GotRange = .ListObject.Range
End Select
End With
Set GetRange = GotRange
End Function

The array-entered formula in H1 in the picture above becomes…

=GetRange(A3,1)= GetRange(E3,1)

… where 1 is a pivot table. You’ll note that the code itself uses the enum variable, which would be great if you could use the enums in a UDF. Also, you’ll see that I tried to have a cell’s CurrentRegion as an option but that doesn’t work. When returned to a UDF called from a worksheet, CurrentRegion just returns the cell the formula is in.

So Long

Okay then, see you later Dick. Thanks again for the invite. It means a lot to me.

No, no, don’t get up… I can show myself out and it looks like you’re working on something there. Wait a minute… no it couldn’t be… for a second there it looked like you were using a mouse… Must have been a trick of the light.


Listing Conditional Formatting Redux

Back in the day, I posted some code to list conditional formatting. It didn’t contemplate having multiple conditional formats for the same range. Because who would ever do that right? Of course that happens all the time and was very short-sighted of me. I aim to atone.

I used a Collection object because Collection objects can’t have two Keys that are the same. It’s a good way to get a unique list out of a list that contains duplicates. I used the range to which the FormatCondition applies as the key (and that was my downfall). My thought was this: I’m checking each cell individually and a FormatCondition that spans two cell would be counted twice. A FormatCondition that applied to L9:M9 would be counted for L9 and M9. By using the address as my unique key, it would only be counted once – the first time for L9 and it would error out and not be counted for M9.

Except you can have two FormatConditions that apply to L9:M9 and only the first would every be counted. I needed a way to identify what was a duplicate and what was a legitimate second FormatCondition. I cleverly devised (read stole from Bob Phillips) that I would add the count to the end of the address. But I got lucky in that it failed for my particular setup. The way my FormatConditions were created, they weren’t in the same order for all the cells. So even though an FC was the same for a later cell, it was the 3rd FC instead of the 2nd, and that made it seem unique.

I set out to find a better way to uniquely identify FCs, and here it is

It’s still no guarantee of uniqueness, but if you have two FCs with the same range, the same type, and the same formula, well, you gets what you deserves. Now I can use the ‘signature’ instead of the address.

And in case you forgot, here’s how I got the type.

Now this

gets you this

Converting Numbers to Words Part V

See Converting Numbers to Words Part IV

No need to bite this one off in small chunks. Just need to make sure the triplets processing works at the next level.

I’m just going to add a new If block for millions that looks a lot like the thousands If block. Of course I’ll be using exponents so I don’t have to type all those zeros.

All tests passed. The rest should be easy. I’m going to go a little sparse on the next tests.

I could create a new If block for each triplet, but I already know I’ll be refactoring, so what’s the point. I need to loop through however many triplets are there and process them.

Error: Overflow. I originally passed in a Double so I could do decimals, but never did the decimals. Anyway, it’s the integer division operator (\) that’s causing the problem. When you use a floating point number, like a Double, in an integer division expression, VBA casts it as a Long first. So anything more than 2.4 billion won’t work. Fortunately, MS has a fix.

All tests passed. And that’s it. I could add decimals, I suppose. Or even larger numbers.

The test-first methodology was pretty enjoyable, I have to say. This isn’t especially complicated code, but biting it off in small chunks made things flow nicely.

Converting Numbers to Words Part III

See Converting Numbers to Words Part II

My tests work from 0-99. The next test will test numbers between 100-199.

A haphazard selection of numbers including the edge cases.

And all tests pass. Back in the first post of this series I said that I hoped it would be obvious when I need to refactor. Well if this isn’t a frying pan to the face, I don’t know what is. Way too much repetition, for one. I need to introduce a “remainder” variable, so that once I process the hundred part, I can send the remainder to process the tens, and the remainder from that to the less than 19 part.

That looks much better, but it doesn’t pass the zero test. I don’t like special cases, but zero might just be one, so I’m going to force it. My conditional on whether to include a hyphen checks to see if the answer so far ends in “y”. That seems a little hokey, but it works. I could test for mod10 and set a Boolean variable in the If block above, but I’m not sure what I gain, so there it stays.

Refactoring in this way also makes the next bit of testing code painfully obvious. I’m hardcoding “one hundred”, but with vaSingles sitting right there, I don’t know why I can’t go above 199 pretty easily. So I’ll write that next test.

Instead of hardcoding “one hundred”, I’ll pull the property number from vaSingles. This also shows my brute force zero fix.

All tests pass. And the code doesn’t look too bad. Only infinity numbers left to test. Here’s what my main testing procedure looks like now, as if you couldn’t guess.