Alternatively referred to as a cell pointer, current cell, or selected cell, an active cell is a rectangular box, highlighting the cell in a spreadsheet. An active cell helps identify what cell is being worked with and where data will be entered.
Active cell overview
In the picture below of Microsoft Excel, you can see that the active cell is D8 and is shown in the top left corner.
Tip: When you first start Excel the active cell is the first cell, which is always A1. You can move the cell pointer by pressing the arrow keys or Enter on your keyboard, or you can click on any cell using your computer mouse. If you're using the keyboard, you can also press the F2 key to edit the active cell.
How is an active cell identified?
An active cell or selected cell can be identified many ways. First, as shown in the above picture of Microsoft Excel the active cell has a bold black box around the cell. Also, the column and row are highlighted, in our example picture the column header "D" and row header "8" are highlighted in yellow. Next, the active cell is also shown in the top-left portion of the window in the Name box, which in our above example shows "D8."
Where is the content of the active cell is displayed?
The content of the active cell is shown in the formula bar. In our above picture, the formula bar is showing that the content of the D8 cell is the formula "=SUM(D2:D5)" which is adding the cells D2 to D5 to get the total of $162.00. It is important to realize from this example that the value generated by the formula is not shown in the formula bar. If however, you have other text that is not a formula that text would be shown in the formula bar.
How do you change the active cell?
You can change the active cell by clicking any other cell with your left mouse button or by using the arrow keys on your keyboard to move the selected cell to another location. If the cell contains no data, you can begin typing to insert new data into that cell. If the cell already contains data, you can click up on the formula bar to change that data or press the F2 key on the keyboard.
Which cell is active when Excel is first opened?
When you open a new Excel spreadsheet for the first time the first cell is selected by default, which is A1 (the first cell of row A and column one). If you've worked on an Excel spreadsheet in the past, the active cell will be the last active cell position. For example, if you last left the spreadsheet on cell C65, when it is saved and re-opened it should be returned to cell C65.