How To Make Excel File Read OnlyDifferent methods explained in a Step by Step Guide with Screenshots

Lisa Borga

Excel spreadsheets are great for sharing data with others, but sometimes you just want the recipient to view the file, not alter it.

Normally when you send an Excel file, the viewer is free to make edits, whether they are intentional or not.

This can result in confusion and inaccurate data should the sender be unaware of the changes.

Fortunately, there is a solution, and this is to make an Excel file read-only.

This can be done in multiple ways, including changing the properties of the file to read-only, as well as restricting formatting and editing.

These changes can also be easily removed when you wish to allow viewers to make changes.

Here is how to make these changes.

How To Make an Excel File Read Only

You can make an Excel spreadsheet read only so that others can view the file’s contents without being able to edit them.

You may also set other content restrictions that will allow you to control what others can do with the document.

In order to do this, when you are ready to save your file, click on “File” on the top-left of the ribbon.

From here, look to the menu on the left side and select “Save As.”

In the window that opens, look to the left of the “Save” button and select “More Options.”

This will open a small menu in which you can select “General Options” and checkmark the “Read-only recommended” box.

You can also set a password to open the file and/or a password to modify the file.

These can be set to anything you choose, as there are no criteria for what can be chosen.

Once you are finished, select “OK,” and then you can save the file.

Now your file will be saved as a read-only file.

Now no one can exit read-only mode and edit your file without entering the correct password.

Can You Make an Excel File Read Only Without a Password?

If you would like to simply notify users that your Excel file is read-only instead of requiring them to enter a password in order to make edits, this is possible as well.

When saving the file as read-only, under the “General Options” screen, simply set the checkmark in the “Read-only recommended box” and click “OK” without setting a password to open or modify.

When saved this way, users will receive a notification that informs them that the author would like them to only open the file as read-only unless they need to make any changes.

This can be extremely handy for preventing changes unless a user intentionally wishes to make alterations.

Though this will not actually protect a file from user alterations, it will ensure that they are intentional.

If you would like to prevent unauthorized changes altogether, you can always set a password.

How To Protect a Document Using the Protect Workbook Feature

Instead of setting a document to read only through the “Save As” function, you can instead control how users alter your file using the “Protect Workbook” feature.

Not only can you set a document to read-only using this feature, but you can also place other restrictions on how your file can be changed as well.

To use this feature, select the “File” tab on the left side of the ribbon and then “Info” from the menu on the left-hand side.

From here, click on “Protect Document.”

This will bring up a list of options that control how users can change your file.

The first option, “Always Open Read Only,” will set your document to read-only.

Keep in mind that without a password, users will simply be asked to opt-in before being allowed to make edits to the file.

Other options include encrypting the file with a password protecting the current worksheet, and protecting the workbook’s structure.

With these functions, you can protect an entire workbook which is another way of referring to an Excel file or an individual worksheet which is a single spreadsheet within a file.

This means that you could protect a single spreadsheet of important data while allowing users to otherwise freely alter a file.

With the “Protect Current Sheet” function, you can choose to restrict editing on the active worksheet.

With the “Protect Workbook Structure,” you can apply restrictions on editing that will apply to the entire file instead of just a worksheet.

This will generally require setting a password in order to make edits in the future.

As a result, it is important to make sure that the password is memorable or that it is safely saved, such as in a password manager.

Converting an Excel File To PDF

A final way to protect an Excel spreadsheet is to convert it into a PDF file.

These files can be opened by many commonly available programs.

However, they are often far more difficult to edit.

This means that users are far less likely to accidentally alter a PDF than an Excel spreadsheet.

In order to convert an Excel spreadsheet to a PDF, click the “File” tab on the left side of the ribbon.

Look on the left-hand menu and select “Export” and “Create PDF/XPS.”

Simply select to save as a PDF file, and now you can share the file through email or other messengers.

It is also possible to convert the file to PDF through the print function.

This will prevent users from easily making alterations to the file.

However, the downside of this is that users will have a far harder time working with the data.

However, it still is possible to copy the data into another spreadsheet if it is needed.


Making an Excel file read-only can greatly help to prevent unwanted changes to your files, both intentionally and accidentally.

By setting the file to read only without a password, you can provide users a warning that will let them know to avoid making changes except when it is necessary.

Further, by choosing to add a password to open or modify files, you can make far stronger protection against unwanted changes whenever necessary.

Finally, by exporting your Excel file as a PDF, you can make it extremely difficult for others to make changes while leaving it easy to share with others.