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The VLOOKUP Slayer: XLOOKUP Debuts Excel


August 28, 2019 - by Bill Jelen

The VLOOKUP Slayer: XLOOKUP Debuts Excel

The whole purpose of XLOOKUP is to find one result, find it quickly, and return the answer to the spreadsheet.

Joe McDaid, Excel Project Manager

At Noon today, Microsoft began slowly releasing the XLOOKUP function to some Office 365 Insiders. The main benefits of XLOOKUP:

  • Can find the last match!
  • Can look to the left!
  • Defaults to an exact match (unlike VLOOKUP which defaults to True for the 4th argument)
  • Defaults to not support wildcards, but you can explicitly allow wildcards if you want them
  • Has all the speed improvements released to VLOOKUP in 2018
  • No longer relies on Column Number, so it won't break if someone inserts a column in the middle of the lookup table
  • Performance improvement because you are only specifying two columns instead of the whole lookup table
  • XLOOKUP returns a range instead of VLOOKUP returning a value

Introducing XLOOKUP

The XLOOKUP Syntax is:

XLOOKUP(Lookup_Value, Lookup_Array, Results_Array, [Match_Mode], [Search_Mode])

The choices for Match_Mode are:

  • 0 Exact Match (default)
  • -1 Exact Match or Next Smaller
  • 1 Exact Match or Next Larger
  • 2 Wildcard Match

The choices for Search_Mode are

  • 1 first to last (default)
  • -1 last to first
  • 2 binary search, first to last (requires lookup_array to be sorted)
  • -2 binary search, last to first (requires lookup_array to be sorted)

Replacing a Simple VLOOKUP

You have a lookup table in F3:H30. The lookup table is not sorted.

Lookup Table
Lookup Table

You want to find the description from the table.

With a VLOOKUP, you would do =VLOOKUP(A2,$F$3:$H$30,3,False). The equivalent XLOOKUP would be: =XLOOKUP(A2,$F$3:$F$30,$H$3:$H$30).

In the XLOOKUP, the A2 is the same as in the VLOOKUP.

The F3:F30 is the lookup array.

The H3:H30 is the results array.

There is no need for False at the end because XLOOKUP defaults to an exact match!

XLOOKUP Simple Result
XLOOKUP Simple Result

One benefit: if someone inserts a new column in the lookup table, your old VLOOKUP will be returning price instead of description. XLOOKUP will adjust and keep pointing to description: =XLOOKUP(A2,$F$3:$F$30,$I$3:$I$30).

XLOOKUP Insert Column
XLOOKUP Insert Column

Find the Last Match

XLOOKUP allows you to begin your search at the bottom of the data set. This is great for finding the last match in a data set.

XLOOKUP Search From Bottom
XLOOKUP Search From Bottom

Look to the Left

Like LOOKUP and INDEX/MATCH, there is no hassle looking to the left of the key with XLOOKUP.

Where you would have used =INDEX($E$3:$E$30,MATCH(A2,$F$3:$F$30,0)) previously, you can now use =XLOOKUP(A2,$F$3:$F$30,$E$3:$E$30)

XLOOKUP To Left
XLOOKUP To Left

Speed Improvements of XLOOKUP

In the example above, the VLOOKUP has to recalculate if anything in the lookup table changes. Imagine if your table included 12 columns. With XLOOKUP, the formula will only recalc if something in the lookup array or results array changes.

In late 2018, the VLOOKUP algorithm changed for faster linear searches. The XLOOKUP maintains the same speed improvements. This makes the linear and binary search options nearly identical. Joe McDaid says there is no significant benefit to using the binary search options in Search_Mode.

Wildcard Support, but Only When You Request It

Every VLOOKUP supported wildcards, making it hard to look up Wal*Mart. By default, XLOOKUP will not use wildcards. If you want wildcard support, you can specify 2 as the Match_Mode.

Multiple Columns of XLOOKUP

Need to do 12 columns of XLOOKUP? You could do it one column at a time...

Multiple Columns of XLOOKUP
Multiple Columns of XLOOKUP

Or, thanks to Dynamic Arrays, return all 12 columns at once...

Return all 12 Columns at once with Dynamic Arrays
Return all 12 Columns at once with Dynamic Arrays

Approximate Lookups No Longer Have to Be Sorted

If you need to find the value just less than or just greater than the lookup value, the tables no longer have to be sorted.

XLOOKUP Smaller
XLOOKUP Smaller

Or to find the next larger value:

XLOOKUP Larger
XLOOKUP Larger

The Only Disadvantage: Your Co-Workers Won't Have It (Yet)

Due to the new policy of Flighting, only some small percentage of Office Insiders have the XLOOKUP feature today. It could be a while until the function is widely available and even then, it will require an Office 365 subscription. (Dynamic Arrays have been out since September 2018 and still have not rolled out to General Availability.)

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Title Photo: Henry Hustava on Unsplash


Bill Jelen is the author / co-author of
Microsoft Excel 2019 Pivot Table Data Crunching

Use Excel 2019 pivot tables and pivot charts to produce powerful, dynamic reports in minutes instead of hours, to take control of your data and your business. Even if you’ve never created a pivot table before, this book will help you leverage all their remarkable flexibility and analytical power–including valuable improvements in Excel 2019 and Excel in Office 365.