Active cell

Updated: 10/07/2019 by Computer Hope
Active cell in a spreadsheet.

Alternatively called a cell pointer, current cell, or selected cell, an active cell is a rectangular box that highlights 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.

Overview of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.


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 click any cell using your computer mouse. If you're using the keyboard, you can also press the F2 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 picture above 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. The active cell is also shown in the top-left portion of the window (Name box), which is "D8" in our example.

Where is the content of the active cell is displayed?

The content of the active cell is shown in the formula bar. In the screenshot above, the formula bar displays the formula in cell D8. The formula, "=SUM(D2:D5)", adds the values of cells D2 through D5 to compute their total value, $162.00. When cell D8 is selected, both the cell and the formula bar display the formula. When any other cell is selected, cell D8 shows the result of its formula, the total $162.00.

How do you change the active cell?

You can change the active cell by clicking any other cell with your left mouse button or with the arrow keys on your keyboard to move the selected cell. If the cell contains no data, you can begin typing to insert new data into that cell. If the cell already contains data, click the formula bar to change that data or press the F2 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 is 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 return to cell C65.

Absolute cell reference, Active, Cell, Name box, Spreadsheet terms