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How-to create Dependent Drop Downs in Excel [Dynamic & Multiple]



Do you want to create a dynamic dependent drop down list in Excel like below? You can use XLOOKUP and data validation to set this up quickly. It is fully dynamic and works across a full column too.

multiple dependent dropdowns in excel - demo

Steps to Create Multiple Dependent Dropdown List in Excel

Dependent or cascading dropdowns are a valuable way to make your workbooks error free and improve the user experience. Follow these steps to set them up.

Step 1: Set up your validation list data.

In a blank area of your workbook, set up the data validation lists. If you have just two-levels, use the structure as depicted below.

data layout for setting up the validation list

If you have 3 or more levels, just set up the first two-levels as shown above. Then for each additional level, create a structure like above.

Step 2: Create Data Validation Rules for the Drop-downs

Now, you will need to create data validation rules for each of the levels.

For the main or first category,

Data validation rule for first or main category
  1. Select the entire column of cells
  2. Go to Data ? Data Validation
  3. Change the validation type to “List”
  4. Specify Source as the range of cells containing the main or first category.

For the next category items

The process for all these other items is same. We are going to use XLOOKUP function, which can return multiple values for the search criteria.

Related: Learn more about XLOOKUP function in Excel.

XLOOKUP formula for creating dependent drop down list
  1. Select the entire column
  2. Make a note of the first cell of previous column. In this case, that is D5.
  3. Go to Data ? Data Validation
  4. Set the rule type as “List”
  5. For source, write the XLOOKUP formula with below pattern.

For example, in my case, selected category is in D5, category names are in J4:N4 and product names are in J5:N15. So my XLOOKUP formula looks like this.

=XLOOKUP(D5, $J$4:$N$4, $J$5:$N$15)

Refer to below illustration to understand how these rules work.

explanation of xlookup logic and illustration for cascading drop down

Step 3: Using the Dependent Drop Downs

Now that you have set up both main category and sub-category (or product) level rules, you can start to use the data validation drop downs like below.

  1. Select a category in the first column.
  2. When you go to the next column, you will see all the sub-category items there.
  3. Pick a selection from the list.
  4. Go back to first column to add a new item.
multiple dependent dropdowns in excel - demo

How does this work? – The details

This key ingredient of this Dependent Drop-down technique is XLOOKUP. Previously, I’ve used INDIRECT formula with pre-defined names or even OFFSET formulas. But now that XLOOKUP returns the full range of values, we can simplify the process.

Here is how this works:

  1. When you select a category in D5, the data validation rule runs the XLOOKUP formula to get the matching values for that category in the range J4:N4.
  2. Then, as the return value for XLOOKUP is the range J5:N15, it returns the rows (or product names) corresponding to selected category.
  3. For example, if you picked “Bites” category in D5, then XLOOKUP will return the product values for Bites category – ie the range K5:K15
  4. This list is then fed to the data validation drop-down.

But what about all the blank values at the end…?

Excel 365 automatically removes any duplicate items in the data validation list. So it would remove all the blank cells and replace them with a single blank value.

Works with 3 Levels too…

The beauty of XLOOKUP based approach is, your formulas and data set up are exactly same even if you need 3 levels or 4 levels or even more. Here is a demo of how my drop-downs work when used with 3 levels (in a table).

Demo of dependent drop down list Excel with 3 levels

Video Instruction: Dependent Dropdown Lists in Excel

I made a video explaining how to create such a dependent drop down list in Excel. You will also see how the XLOOKUP really works. Watch the video below or on my channel.

?Sample File – Excel Dependent Drop Down Validation

Please grab my sample workbook with all the formulas for both two-level and three-level scenarios. Refer to the data validation rules to understand the formula syntax.

Click here to download the workbook.

Limitations of this approach for cascading dropdowns

  • Compatibility: The biggest limitation of this technique is you need Excel 365 or 2019+. So if you are your clients use an older version of Excel, you can’t rely on this technique. You can still use the OFFSET formula based approach we discussed here.
  • You need to set up formulas: If you are not familiar with Excel formulas, this technique will be hard for you. Fortunately the formulas themselves are not that complex.

More ways to create Dependent Drop-downs in Excel

If you want to make dependent drop-downs using another way, check below resources:

Alternatives to Dependent Drop-down Lists

You can use a two-level data validation list instead. These are easy to setup and don’t require any complex formulas.

two-level data validation list

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