7 reasons why you should get cozy with INDEX()

Posted on September 18th, 2013 in Learn Excel - 58 comments

Today lets get cozy. Lets start a fling (a very long one). Lets do something that will make you smart, happy and relaxed.

Don’t get any naughty ideas. I am talking about INDEX() formula.

INDEX formula - Usage, examples & Tips

INDEX?!?

Of all the hundreds of formulas & thousands of features in Excel, INDEX() would rank somewhere in the top 5 for me. It is a versatile, powerful, simple & smart formula. Although it looks plain, it can make huge changes to the way you analyze data, calculate numbers and present them. It is so important that, whenever I teach (live or online), I usually dedicate 25% of teaching time to INDEX().

Enough build up. Lets get cozy with INDEX.

Understanding INDEX formula

In simple terms, INDEX formula gives us value or the reference to a value from within a table or range.

While this may sound trivial, once you realize what INDEX can do, you would be madly in love with it.

Few sample uses of INDEX

1. Lets say you are the star fleet commander of planet zorg. And you are looking at a list of your fleet in Excel (even in other planets they use Excel to manage data). And you want to get the name of 8th item in the list.

INDEX to rescue. Write =INDEX(list, 8)

2. Now, you want to know the captain of this 8th ship, which is in 3rd column. You guessed right, again we can use INDEX,

=INDEX(list, 8,3)

Syntax of INDEX formula

INDEX has 2 syntaxes.

1. INDEX(range or table, row number, column number)

This will give you the value or reference from given range at given row & column numbers.

2. INDEX(range, row number, column number, area number)

This will give you the value or reference from specified area at given row & column numbers.

It may be difficult to understand how these work from the syntax definition. Read on and everything will be clear.

7 reasons why INDEX is an awesome companion

Whether you are in planet zorg managing dozens of star fleet or you are in planet earth managing a list of vendors, chances are you are wrestling everyday with data, pleasing a handful of managers (and clients), delivering like a rock star all while having fun. That is why you should partner with INDEX. It can make you look smart, resourceful and fast, without compromising your existing relationship with another human being.

Data used in these examples

For all these examples (except #6), we will use below data. It is in the table named sf.

Data used in INDEX formula examples

Reason 1: Get nth item from a list

You already saw this in action. INDEX formula is great for getting nth item from a list of values. You simply write =INDEX(list, n)

Reason 2: Get the value at intersection of given row & column

Again, you saw this example. INDEX formula can take a table (or range) and give you the value at nth row, mth column. Like this =INDEX(table, n, m)

Reason 3: Get entire row or column from a table

For some reason you want to have the entire or column from a table. A good example is you are analyzing star fleet ages and you want to calculate average age of all ships.

You can write =AVERAGE(age column)

or you can also use INDEX to generate the age column for you. Assuming the fleet table is named sf and age is in column 7

write =AVERAGE(INDEX(sf, ,7))

Notice empty value for ROW number. When you pass empty or 0 value to either row or column, INDEX will return entire row or column.

Likewise, if you want an entire row, you can pass either empty or 0 value for column parameter.

Reason 4: Use it to lookup left

By now you know that VLOOKUP() cannot fetch values from columns to left. It does not matter if the person looking up is the star fleet commander.

But INDEX along with MATCH can fix this problem.

Lets say you want to know which ship has maximum capacity.

  1. First you find what is the maximum capacity =MAX(sf[Capacity (000s tons)])
  2. Then you find position of of this capacity in all values =MATCH(max_capacity, sf[Capacity (000s tons)],0)
  3. Now, extract the corresponding ship name =INDEX(sf[Ship Name], max_capacity_position)

Or in one line, the formula becomes

=INDEX(sf[Ship Name], MATCH( MAX(sf[Capacity (000s tons)]), sf[Capacity (000s tons)], 0))

For more tips read using INDEX + MATCH combination

Reason 5: Create dynamic ranges

So far, your reaction to INDEX’s prowess might be ‘meh!’. And that is understandable. You are of course star fleet commander and it is difficult to please you. But don’t break-up with INDEX yet.

You see, the true power of INDEX lies in its nature. While you may think INDEX is returning a value, the reality is, INDEX returns a reference to the cell containing value.

So this means, a formula like =INDEX(list, 8) looks like it is giving 8th value in list.

But it is really giving a reference to 8th cell.

Since the result of INDEX is a reference, we can use INDEX in any place where we need to have a reference.

Sounds confusing?

For example, to sum up a list of values in range A1:A10, we write =SUM(A1:A10)

Now, in that formula, both A1 and A10 are references.

Since INDEX gives a reference, we can replace either (or both) A1 & A10 with INDEX formula and it still works.

so =SUM(A1 : INDEX(A1:A50,10))

will give the same result as =SUM(A1:A10)

Although the INDEX route appears overly complicated, it has other applications.

Example 1: SUM of staff in first x ships

Lets say you want to sum up staff in first ‘x’ ships in the sf table.

Since ‘x’ changes from time to time, you want a dynamic range that starts from first ship and goes up to xth ship.

Assuming ‘x’ value is in cell M1 and first ship’s staff is in cell G3,

=SUM(G3:INDEX(sf[Staff count], M1))

will give the desired result.

Example 2: A named range that refers to all ship names in column A

Many times you do not know how much data you have. Even star fleet commanders are left in dark. Lets say you are building a new ship tracking spreadsheet. Since your fleet is ever growing, you do not want to constantly update all formulas to refer to correct ranges.

For example, the ship names are in column A, from A1 to An. And you want to create a named range that points to all ships so that you can use this name elsewhere.

If you define the lstShips =A1:A10, then after you add 11th ship, you must edit this name. And you hate repetitive work.

One solution is to use OFFSET formula to define the dynamic range,

like =OFFSET(A1, 0,0, COUNTA(A:A),1)

While this works ok, since OFFSET is volatile function, it will recalculate every time something changes in your workbook. Even when someone replaces a bolt on landing gear of USS Enterprise.

This will eventually make your workbook slow.

That is where INDEX comes.

You see, INDEX is a non-volatile function*.

So you can create lstShips that points to,

=A1: INDEX(A:A, COUNTA(A:A))

*Even though INDEX is non-volatile, since we are using it in defining a range reference, Excel recalculates the lstShips every time you open the file. (reference).

Reason 6: Get any 1 range from a list of ranges

INDEX has another powerful use. You can get any one range from many ranges using INDEX.

Since you are a successful, smart & resourceful star fleet commander, you got promoted. Now you manage fleet of several planets.

And you have similar ship detail tables for each planet in a workbook. And you want to calculate average age of any planet’s ships with just one formula.

Again INDEX to rescue.

Using INDEX formula to get one of many ranges

Assuming you have 3 different tables – planet1, planet2, planet3

and selected planet number is in cell C1,

write =AVERAGE(INDEX((planet1,planet2,planet3),,,C1))

The reference (planet1,planet2,planet3) will point to all data and C1 will tell INDEX which planet’s data to use.

Pretty nifty eh?!?

Reason 7: INDEX can process arrays

INDEX can naturally process arrays of data (without entering CTRL+Shift+Enter).

For example you want to find out how much staff is in the ships whose captain’s name starts with “R”.

write =SUM(INDEX((LEFT(sf[Captain],1)=“r”)*(sf[Staff count]),0))

Although LEFT(sf[Captain],1)=”r” and sf[Staff count] produce arrays, since INDEX can process arrays automatically, the result comes without CTRL+Shift+Enter

Where as if you use SUM alone =SUM((LEFT(sf[Captain],1)=”r”)*(sf[Staff count])) you have to press CTRL+Shift+Enter to get correct results.

Other formulas: SUMPRODUCT & MATCH too can process arrays automatically.

Download Example Workbook & Get close with INDEX

Since you are going to ask, “I want to spend sometime alone with INDEX in my cubicle right now!”, I made an example workbook. It explains all these powerful uses of INDEX. Go ahead and download it.

Get busy with INDEX.

Why do you love INDEX?

I love INDEX(). If we get a dog, I am going to call her INDEX. That is how much I love the formula. Almost all my dashboards, complex workbooks and anything that seems magical will have a fair dose of INDEX formulas.

What about you? Do you use INDEX formula often? What are the reasons you love it? Please share your tips, usages and ideas on INDEX using comments.

Learn more about INDEX & other such lovely things in Excel

If you are whistling uncontrollably after reading so far, you are in for a real treat. Check out below articles to become awesome.

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58 Responses to “7 reasons why you should get cozy with INDEX()”

  1. JD Hen says:

    Reason 7 it says ‘ships whose captain’s name starts with “S”’ but then the formula has ‘LEFT(sf[Captain],1)=”r”’

  2. kuldeep says:

    Because it save me every time

  3. kazdima says:

    For some reason I cannot download your file. It shows that format or data is corrupted.
    Would you please repost it?
    Thank you,

    Dan

  4. Hui... says:

    Reason 4: Use it to lookup left
    By now you know that VLOOKUP() cannot fetch values from columns to left.

    What, It can’t?

    Excel can lookup to the left and you can read about it right here:
    http://chandoo.org/wp/2012/09/06/formula-forensics-no-028/

    • Chandoo says:

      Now that would make INDEX look less sexy :P
      But you are right…

      • Artem says:

        BUT Vlookup & Hlookup are much less auditable because you need to go and count so many columns (lines) within certain area, while for most lookups with INDEX&MATCH you can directly see the area it pulls the data from.
        Maybe exception would be 2D-lookups, but then Vlookup wouldn’t do the trick at all.

  5. Hui... says:

    Get two dogs and call the second one “Match”!

  6. Eric says:

    What would be the advantage of using offset over index? They seem to be interchangeable functions and index seems to always be better. I use index constantly and can never think of a situation I would use offset over index.

    just curious if you had any thoughts….thanks

    • Chandoo says:

      I agree. Once you are very comfortable with INDEX, there is little incentive to go back to OFFSET.

      • MF says:

        Offset gives the flexibility of the starting position of the dynamic range… not sure how INDEX can achieve it??

        • Neale says:

          Two indexes one for the start ref and one the end ref. Separated by colon.
          =SUM(INDEX(A:A,5):INDEX(A:A,10))

          Sums A5 to A10

          The values 5 and 10 could be replaced by cell refs to provide flexibility.

          • MF says:

            Hi Neale,
            Thanks for that formula. It works fine. However the formula will look really long and “complicated” if i further to change the hard-code number to cell refs…
            In this sense, I think OFFSET is a not bad alternative. :)

  7. Jim Watson says:

    In INDEX example 7 on the spreadsheet, the displayed formulas in N25:N26 show a cell reference for L23; it should be L24 (the letter “r”) for both instances. Interesting column!

  8. Rudra says:

    I use it for left lookup only.But after reading this post…seems I should try others too.

  9. Jordan G says:

    I am nothing without the INDEX formula.

  10. Deramin says:

    I have a workbook that has a bunch of tables in it being crossreferenced every which way. Since the row I want is determined dynamically, I started using Index() with Match(). For my purposes the columns had to be be sorted alphabetically by header, and I knew that more columns would need to be added over time, which would break any formula where you specified a column number. Then I realized I just needed another match formula in there where I specify which header I’m looking for and the formula figures out which column number that is currently. Better than aspirin for curing that headache, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Index() or Match().

  11. Desire says:

    I am in love with INDEX Formula because of reason # 7 and Reason # 5. I like it so much.

    Thanks Chandoo

  12. Ron says:

    In the sample sheet,
    #1 ship name & #2 captain name:
    it would have been nicer if you had formatted the example more like #5 so that the formula refers to a cell and we can change the number to see the result change.

    Actually, I defined a highlighted cell for “Input Position” at the top of the examples and pointed both #1 and #2 at it.

    #5 your text of the formula says “M17″, it should be “M18″ as it is in the actual formula

    It would be nice if you stated up front that the “sf” used in the formulas is a name for the table range B4:H23. Better still, make the name more descriptive than “sf”, ie “ship_info_tbl”

    I am curious, what did you do in column N to display the formulas as text rather than results

    • Kevin says:

      I am curious, what did you do in column N to display the formulas as text rather than results

      try this
      ‘=AVERAGE(INDEX(sf,,7))

      • Neale says:

        You can format the cell containing a formula as Text (Format Cells) and then press F2 and press Enter which will then show the formula as text and it will not calculate.

        Excel 2013 has a FORMULATEXT function that does it via a function.

  13. Ron says:

    PS: How did you place the links inside of the “Learn More” text box. They seem to be placed in column N, I just can’t figure out how.

    Thanks for the good example sheet.

  14. Maxim Manuel says:

    I really love INDEX too. Looks like we’re gonna have to fight to keep that girl named INDEX. She is mine.
    I really love the array use of it.
    Great tips. Thanks so much.

  15. Neale says:

    Thanks for the post Chandoo.

    Yes, INDEX is a very versatile function.

    In reason 5 Example 2 if you already have table names defined you can use =sf[Ship name] to define lstShips as this avoids the volatile issue.

    I have used the INDEX version for dynamic names but am switching more and more to the table names for single column lists that need to be dynamic.

    In Example 6 I’d probably use the CHOOSE function – which is also involved in Hui’s link above for a solution to the left hand side VLOOKUP.

  16. Neale says:

    Here is a link to Daniel Ferry’s blog on INDEX – he loves INDEX too.

    http://www.excelhero.com/blog/2011/03/the-imposing-index.html

    This was required reading for his Excel Hero Academy students – hence there are lots of comments.

  17. Dr. Jagadeesh says:

    Good to know about INDEX. i will start using it in my class data records.

  18. Lyn says:

    Just spent the day learning OFFSET, looks like tomorrow I will be working on INDEX, thanks for the post.

  19. Patricia says:

    I love to use Index in charts so that they update automatically as dynamic ranges. It is a great time saver.

  20. Madds says:

    I have a question about how the reason number 6 syntax works. When it’s selecting the “3″(C1) in the function is it grabbing the 3rd table that is mentioned in the index formula? So if I had my selections out of order in the equation, it wouldn’t be effective?

    Also I may have told a date in the past that I did love the INDEX function. Excitedly, while we were enjoying some super fancy five dollar pizza, I was attempting to explain how it had simplified a problem at work. When it became obvious he had lost track of the conversation I quickly summed it up with “I just love the INDEX function ok?”

  21. Debaranjan samal says:

    Index function is very helpfull for dynamic chart as well for lookup data in table that i have able to used learning through chandoo.org. thanks
    chandoo

  22. Your site is awesome. Not only is it great Excel, it’s a lot of fun to read :)

  23. MF says:

    Finally, I have a better understanding of the 2nd syntax of INDEX through example #6. Thanks!! :)

  24. Uma says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    A quick question, when I input this it give me an error. Little bit confused whether to write it this way
    MAX(sf[Capacity (000s tons)])
    or input
    MAx(sf , E7(where the capacity is entered)

    Any help will be appreciated.

  25. Grace says:

    This site never fails to excite me! Thanks for the lessons Chandoo! Waahooo! :)

  26. Eric says:

    I am trying to figure out how to do something and after reading this I think Index will be heavily involved, but I’ve never used it so I’m not sure how to accomplish this. Let’s take example 6 above and say we have multiple ships the same age across all 3 planets. Say I wanted to create a new list that listed all of the Ship Names that are 66, then 67, then 68, then 69 (i need 4 values in my situation). I am racking my brain for all of the formulas I know and I cannot get this.

  27. Paul says:

    Hello Chandoo,

    I’m not sure if this question belongs with the Index function but here goes…I have a string of 3 sets of characters in one column in worksheet A, separated by a (-). The first and third values of each instance of that string are old values I need to replace with new values from worksheet B. Worksheet B has the new values in separate columns and it is compounded by the fact that the first and third values in worksheet A are essentially pairs that have to matched up with new pairs of values from worksheet B but worksheet B has those pairs of values in separate columns. Is there any way to search and replace the first and third set of values in worksheet A with the new values from worksheet B in one formula without VBA? I would be willing to perform two separate functions for each replacement if that makes this type of operation more feasible.

    Any assistance with this problem would be highly appreciated. If anyone can figure out this problem, I believe it would be the most knowledgeable Excel person I have ever come across on the web or in life…you.

    Thank you.

    Paul

  28. Shailendra says:

    Hi Chandoo,

    No one has ever made Excel sound so interesting. Need an insight though.

    Is it possible get the cell Address of a certain unique value with in a given range.

    What I have:
    I Know the range of values
    All values are unique values
    I know the value – “x”

    What I Need:
    The cell address where that value “x” is written

    Regards
    Shailendra

  29. […] it be possible to do this work by using the INDEX Formula – INDEX Formula in Excel – How to use it, tips & examples | Chandoo.org – Learn Microsoft Excel On… […]

  30. Janardhan says:

    I guess that Formula using average & index for getting an entire row or column is not working…Pls rply for that

  31. Pat says:

    Each month I have to send managers a data sheet that they can used to then extract data that relates to their expenditures for their program. The data sheet consist of rows of data, and sometimes these work sheets can reach 300,000 rows. I am looking for a way in which the managers can use a criteria and pull out all the rows (entire rows with approx 10 columns) that relates to their district only. this will give them the breakdown on this expenditure. What would be the best way to do this? Would this formula help?

    Here is an example:

    Programs Cost Element Cost Element Name Vendor Qty Amount

    AA111 2002 Office Supplies ABC Company 2 $25.00
    AA111 2002 Office Supplies Tom Sammy Ltd 5 $58.00
    AA111 2002 Office Supplies Staples 8 $47.00
    AA111 2003 Marketing Exp ASL Ltd 9 $856.00
    AA111 2003 Marketing Exp PSL Ltd 4 $898.00
    AA111 2003 Marketing Exp Mark Ltd 5 $526.00
    AA111 2003 Marketing Exp OMA Co 6 $547.00
    AA111 2003 Marketing Exp Star Ltd 4 $552.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Xerox Ltd 2 $2,365.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Bedrock Ltd 8 $365.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Samu Ltd 8 $369.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Stapes 9 $852.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Compu Ltd 5 $777.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Tom Sammy Ltd 2 $55.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment M&T Incorporated 6 $22.00
    AA111 2004 General Equipment Match Co 9 $88.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Staples 5 $555.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies ASL Ltd 2 $4.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies PSL Ltd 1 $596.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Mark Ltd 4 $5,235.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies OMA Co 8 $7,415.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Star Ltd 7 $6,985.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Xerox Ltd 4 $6,398.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Bedrock Ltd 5 $2,541.00
    BB222 2002 Office Supplies Samu Ltd 5 $3,698.00
    BB222 2003 Marketing Exp Stapes 4 $2,574.00
    BB222 2004 General Equipment Compu Ltd 8 $586.00
    BB222 2004 General Equipment Tom Sammy Ltd 9 $5.00

  32. ApparentlyStupid says:

    I can’t even remotely begin to understand this article. I am trying to find a way to pull data from one spreadsheet into another, but the data may be in different spots depending on how many entries there are.

    I suspect that this might be helpful, but I can’t make heads nor tails of any of these explanations or examples. Does anyone know of a place where they can explain these things to me as though I am seven years old?

    I am ripping my hair out, and all the potential solutions I can find online are so far beyond my comprehension that they may as well be written in Latin.

    What do I do for a living? IT Support. So I am not a moron, but I guess I don’t know enough about advanced Excel functions to be able to understand things like this. So maybe I am a moron. Help!!!

  33. Gail says:

    I am struggling to understand how to use Index and match. Is there a more simple explanation on your site? One for complete dummies like myself? I am trying to look up program names, match the date and air time to return the proper episode that aired on that date and time, but I cannot figure out how to apply the Index and Match formula. I have a table with all the program names, episode numbers and titles, and the dates/times their aired, and I need to bring those specific episode numbers and titles into a different table (to apply against the research data), but so far I can only do this manually by sorting both tables by date and time, and copying the information from one table to the other. If there were a way to perform this action with a formula that would save me hours and hours of work, and strain on my fingers. Thanks for any directions to help me better understand how to build a formula to perform this type of action. Your current directions are far too complex for me to grasp

  34. Mircea says:

    Hello,

    I need a little help for a formula.

    I need a formula that gives me a number (taking account of another number) so i can reach another number.
    For example i have now 3 days in stock and i need to reach 5.2 days. I can reach 5.2 filling a number that also is rounded up with a minimum quantity.
    If i can give more details please let me know.

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