Problem Breaking Links in Excel

In the screen shot below, there are two files. Cell B4 in the worksheet at the right is linked to cell B7 in the sheet at the left.


In the file with the link, I can go to the Ribbon’s Data tab, and click the Edit Links command,


That opens the Edit Links dialog box, and shows a list of the links in the workbook.

To break the link to the other file, you can click the Break Links button.

When the confirmation message appears, read the dire warnings, and make a backup, if you haven’t already done that.

Then come back to the Edit Links command, and click OK.


Break Link Button Dimmed Out

I use this technique in Excel programming sometimes, when creating copies of workbooks. By breaking the links, the formula results change to values, and the file can be sent to someone who doesn’t have the original source file.

Recently, I ran into a problem – the Break Link command wasn’t working in the macro, even though it had worked nicely for several months.

So, to troubleshoot the problem, I tried to break the link manually. When the Edit Links window opened, the Break Link button was dimmed out. The link was still showing in the list, but I couldn’t change it or break it.


After several head scratching moments (or hours, I can’t remember), I finally noticed that someone (probably me) had protected the sheet that was currently active.

The sheet with the link wasn’t protected, but that didn’t matter. If the active sheet is protected, you can’t break a link in the file.

Unprotect the Sheet

So, if you’re having a problem breaking a link, check the active sheet for protection. You can do this manually, or in your VBA code.

For example, if you’re doing this in a macro, activate a specific sheet, unprotect it, then break the link, and protect the sheet again. The code below breaks the first link in the file.

Dim astrLinks As Variant
astrLinks = wbNew.LinkSources(Type:=xlLinkTypeExcelLinks)

' Break the first link in the active workbook.
On Error Resume Next
With wbNew.Sheets(1)
   .BreakLink Name:=astrLinks(1), _
On Error GoTo 0
End With


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17 Responses

  1. Vitalie says:

    It is probably worth mentioning here that as long as at least one sheet is protected ANYWHERE in the workbook, one cannot modify or edit any of the styles. New ones can be created and edited by using the “duplicate style” command, but then it remains fixed and cannot be edited or deleted. Had this frustrating problem a while ago. Makes no sense, but go figure.

  2. Hi Debra,

    Definitely tucking this macro away. Thank you!

    Is there any way to find out the cells/workbook elements that contain the links? I just ran into this a couple days ago. I kept looking for the links and couldn’t find them, and the error message didn’t give any specifics. Turns out they were in my named ranges.

  3. Andrew Pearce says:

    I just thought I would mention here in case it helps someone down the road…

    I had an issue breaking a link to a file which I ended up being able to fix. Excel 2010 by the way.

    I had put a considerable amount of effort into one sheet of a workbook, but I decided I wanted it in another file entirely. I couldn’t “copy” everything from one worksheet to the other and keep the formulas intact (I could only get the values themselves, which wasn’t good enough) but I could use Excel’s built-in functionality to move the whole worksheet to a different workbook. This worked great except that I had a reference to a different sheet on the first book which got carried over as a reference to the file, hence the link.

    The problem was that the linked cell had data validation; it was a drop-down menu which forced me to select specific values. Selecting that cell and “deleting” the contents did not destroy the data validation as it would destroy a link in a formula. To destroy the data validation cell, I had to either delete the row or column it was in or find the specific cell and edit the data validation to allow all values (or select from a different list). I had suspected it was a data validation cell but I still had to find it.

    By saving new copies of the worksheet and slowly deleting entire columns or sheets I narrowed it down to the first six columns of my second sheet, but the columns still had 10002 rows! Remembering that the specific values were integer numbers, I selected the entire range, typed in AAA and hit ctrl-enter to put AAA in every cell. Under data validation, I hit circle invalid data and the culprit was exposed.

    • Gerrit says:


      Andrew put me on the right track.

      The problem lies in validations that it tries to pull in from other files.
      My solution is not to try and fix the validations (because that can become a daunting task). My solution was to edit the Named ranges of the Excel document:
      Office 2013: Formulas -> Name Manager.

      There I could see all the names that Excel has created but were either not using or was invalid. (In my case I have used the template for 5 years and had many stray links in there by copping over and over)
      I just deleted all the named ranges that referred to files I knew were not applicable and voila!

      Broken link problem solved!

  4. Luke says:

    Just thought I would comment on Andrew’s last comment. I had a similar problem – copying in a spreadsheet into a new workbook, and then trying to remove all links, and spent many hours trying to find a solution, only to find that no solution worked.
    And then I found it, thanks to Andrew’s post. The problem was data validation!
    Some of the formulas with links I was trying to break were attached to a drop down validation list, which was causing the issue.
    Once I found a workaround, I no longer had a problem!
    Thanks for the help.

  5. Todor says:

    Just wanted to add how I managed to solve a similar problem with those pesky links. My solution – i move (as it keeps the links) the sheet into another workbook and saved both. This way the file was split into two and links miraculously disappeared. Then I just MOVED backed the sheet in the original workbook and saved. Hopefully this might work for someone else as well.

  6. Erasmus says:

    Thank you, Andrew Pearce!

    Turns out a value on my sheet had the same drop down data validation and it was never deleted. Solved my prob. I just checked all my cells with drop down’s and found the culprit. Thank you!

  7. Jake says:

    Can I add a twist to the problem? I have a protected workbook to which I don’t know the password, however I have several tabs’ worth of links I would like to break before I send the file to someone else. I couldn’t get the macro above to work as it didn’t recognize the “xlLinkTypeExcelLinks”. I’ve dabbled in VBA, but don’t know enough about how to fix it.

  8. Hey Romey says:

    To manually break links in Microsoft Excel 2013:
    1. Go to Data >> Connections: Edit Links.
    2. Take a screenshot of the links you want to break. Close the Edit Links dialog box.
    3. Save a copy of your Excel file and close all Excel windows.
    4. Rename the extension to .zip (“Excel Workbook.xlsx” will become “Excel”).
    5. Open the zip file to explore the contents.
    6. Go to xl >> worksheets. You should see an xml file for each of the sheets in your workbook.
    7. Copy all the worksheets to a temporary folder on your hard drive.
    8. Open the folder with windows explorer.
    9. Press Ctrl + E and search for the file name you took a screenshot of in the Edit Links dialog box. You could also just search for “.xlsx”
    10. Open the files that the string is found in. I’m using Notepad ++.
    11. Search for the string from within the file editor.
    12. Modify the filepath by adding a random letter in the middle of it.
    13. Save and close the .xml file.
    14. Copy and replace the file into the .zip folder.
    15. Close the .zip application you’re using to view the files.
    16. Rename the “.zip” file to “.xlsx”.
    17. Open the file.
    18. Excel will tell you about a problem it found and ask you if you want to recover it. Click Yes.
    19. Excel will tell you about the repairs it made. Click Close.
    20. Check your Data >> Connections: Edit Links.

  9. Alex says:

    This one is great – I have tried 20 other options but this one is brilliant!

  10. Another related issue I thought I would share.

    I had a file that where I had copied a sheet over to a fresh workbook. None of the formulas had links back to the old workbook, but somehow the workbooks were linked with a data connection. The Break link button was not greyed out, but it didn’t actually do anything.

    I found that I had links that were embedded in conditional formatting. I had to open up conditional formatting and delete all of the existing rules. Then I was able to break the link.

    • DanskyLansky says:

      Thanks for this message!! You saved me. Spent 2 hours trying to find a link that didn’t seem to exist anywhere and finally found it under conditional formatting.

  11. IronGumby says:

    Another sneaky reason is because of hidden TABS. People tend to forget this option is even there (as there’s no indication any are hidden until you right-click one and select Unhide… and it gives you a list). The above recommendations gave me that idea to continue to look elsewhere and I was able to delete to tabs to break the links (in fact, it removed them! Breaking links wouldn’t do anything :/).

  12. Excel DJ says:


    Your solution solved my problem, but my issue was not with a Link on a specific tab in my file. My issue stemmed from the Connections feature in the program not fully removing a connection reference to another users desktop do to a pivot table link. I had a coworker do an update for a specific tab in one of my files and she added a pivot table to the file at one point. Little did I know, she linked this pivot table to another file and I broke that link when I transferred her update to my template file. Mind you, the pivot table is no longer in the file. I then got a pop-up asking me to Enable Content for all external data. Again, all external data links were removed and this should not have been happening, not to mention annoying when this pops up every time you open the file and it does nothing anyway.

    So using your method of zipping the file I was able to find that Excel did not remove all references to this pivot table that was now long past. The folders were named: “pivotCache” and “pivotTables”. Found the link in the “_rels” folder in the “pivotCache” folder. I went ahead and just deleted the Cache and Tables folders from the zip file and that worked like a charm!

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