What Is VBA (Visual Basic for Applications)?

What Is Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)?

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is part of Microsoft Corporation's (NASDAQ: MSFT) legacy software Visual Basic. VBA is used to write programs for the Windows operating system and runs as an internal programming language in Microsoft Office (MS Office, Office) applications such as Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word, and Visio. VBA allows users to customize beyond what is normally available with MS Office host applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual Basic for Applications is a computer programming language developed and owned by Microsoft.
  • With VBA you can create macros to automate repetitive word- and data-processing functions, and generate custom forms, graphs, and reports.
  • VBA functions within MS Office applications; it is not a stand-alone product.
  • VBA is accessed in Excel by hitting Alt + F11 while having an Excel workbook present.
  • VBA leverages objects, variables, properties, projects, logical operators, and modules to make statements recognizable by debugging processes.

Understanding VBA

VBA is an event-driven tool, which means that you can use it to tell the computer to initiate an action or string of actions. To do this, you build custom macros—short for macroinstructions—by typing commands into an editing module.

A macro is essentially a sequence of characters whose input results in another sequence of characters (its output) that accomplishes specific computing tasks. You do not need to purchase the VBA software because VBA is the version of Visual Basic that ships with Microsoft Office.

VBA is not a stand-alone program. Instead, it allows users to manipulate graphical user interface (GUI) features such as toolbars and menus, dialogue boxes, and forms. You may use VBA to create user-defined functions (UDFs), access Windows application programming interfaces (APIs), and automate specific computer processes and calculations.

Microsoft hosts various learning opportunities for entry-level developers to gain modest experience working with VBA.

VBA in Excel

All Office suite programs share common programming languages, and each have the capability of integrating VBA code to enhance the program. Due to the repetitive nature of spreadsheets, data analytics, and organizing data, VBA has been a natural fit with Excel more so than other Office suite programs.

The root of the relationship between VBA and Excel is often tied to the use of macros. To run a macro in Excel, you use VBA, though you can use VBA for non-macro activities as well.

How to Access VBA in Excel

To access VBA in Excel, simply press Alt + F11. Your existing Excel workbook will remain running, but a new window will appear for Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications. The top left of the VBA window will show the current projects; in the example below, the InvestopediaProject file is ready to receive VBA code.

VBA, Project Window
VBA, Project Window.

In the bottom left, the window displays the properties of the selected project. As different projects or workbooks are selected, different properties are listed. These properties are listed alphabetically by default, though they can be sorted by category.

VBA Example, Properties
VBA Example, Properties.

By double-clicking on a project on the top left, a new window appears. There is no information in this area, though there are two dropdowns that say "(General)" and "(Declarations). This is the coding window for VBA code to be directly entered into.

VBA Example, Code
VBA Example, Code.

An example of VBA code has been entered below.

VBA Example, Code with Coding
VBA Example, Code with Coding.

Last, there are many important buttons and tools residing on the toolbar. The items below highlighted in yellow are the run, break, and reset toggles for the VBA code. The run button executes the code, the break button pauses the activity of the code, and the reset stops the execution of the code and brings the process back to the starting position of the code.

VBA Example, Toolbar
VBA Example, Toolbar.

What Can You Do With VBA

At its core, finance is about manipulating huge amounts of data; hence, VBA is endemic to the financial services sector. If you work in finance, VBA is likely running within applications that you use each day, whether you're aware of it or not. Some jobs in the sector require prior knowledge of VBA, and some do not. With VBA, you can:

  • Write macros. Macros allow financial professionals—whether accountants, commercial bankers, investment bankers, research analysts, salesmen, traders, portfolio managers, clerks, or administrators—to analyze and adjust huge amounts of data quickly.
  • Update data. You can use VBA in Excel to create and maintain complex trading, pricing, and risk-management models, forecast sales and earnings, and to generate financial ratios.
  • Perform scenario-analysis. With Visual Basic for Applications, you can create various portfolio-management and investment scenarios. This includes filtering through different situations that may impact outcomes differently.
  • Organize information. You also may use VBA to produce lists of customers’ names or any other content; create invoices, forms, and charts; analyze scientific data, and manage data display for budgets and forecasting.
  • Be unconventional. VBA can be used to copy and paste values, adjust cell styles for an entire workbook, and strike accelerator keys. You can perform very normal tasks but perform them in an easier, automated manner.
  • Prompt action. VBA can be used to interact with users. For example, you may need a user's input for their first and last name to put on a form. VBA can be used to prompt a user in a way that makes this input unavoidably mandatory.

There are many forums online that provide VBA code, allowing you to simply copy and paste the code for your personal use. Be cautious when using someone else's code, especially if you are unfamiliar with the source, individual, or logic of the code.

Important VBA Terms

Module

A module is where Excel stores the VBA code. Information regarding the modules within a spreadsheet can be found in the Project Explorer, one of the sections of the Visual Basic Editor. All modules may be saved within a modules folder, and modules are sometimes referred to as standard modules.

Objects

In VBA, most code is used to manipulate objects. Objects are items such as workbooks, worksheets, cells, cell ranges, or cell fonts. When coding in VBA, objects are often selected or referred to as part of the code. For example, VBA code may use the "ActiveCell" language to manipulate the object currently selected in the spreadsheet. In addition, you may create a process that executes when a bar chart is edited.

Procedures

The procedure is the part of a computer program that performs a specific task. It's the block of code that starts with a declaration and finishes with an end declaration. There are two types of procedures in VBA: sub procedures form an action in Excel and begin with the text "Sub", and function procedures that carry out calculations and return a value.

Statement

A statement is an instruction that can be broken into two different types. First, a declaration statement is used to state something such as defining a constant or variable value. Second, executable statements designate code that specify that a certain action is

Variables

Variables are storage locations for defined items. They're used to hold specific values that may change as VBA scripts are performed. For example, the variable "FirstName" may not contain any value. However, after the user inputs their name, the variable may be assigned the FirstName variable and may be given the value "John". Similar to how variable costs may change over time, variables in coding may be different in different situations.

Logical Operators

Logical operators are the functions that allow for greater analytical and processing capabilities. They are bits of code that allow a computer to understand and compare items. For instance, VBA can analyze whether the user above's name is "Mary". Using the logical operators 'if, then', 'true', and 'false', the program can analyze the input and perform a logical evaluation.

Visual Basic for Applications is the only version of VB 6 that is still sold and supported by Microsoft, and only as an internal component of Office programs. 

VBA Users

Basic Users

Within MS Office applications, Visual Basic for Applications allows users to perform myriad functions that go beyond simple word processing and spreadsheet operations. For the most basic user, VBA helps to make frequent everyday tasks less repetitive via macros.

Macros can automate just about any task—like generating customized charts and reports, and performing word- and data-processing functions. For example, you can write a macro that, with a single click, will make Excel create an entire balance sheet from a series of accounting entries in a spreadsheet.

Advanced Users

Programmers, however, use macros in more complex ways—like replicating large pieces of code, merging existing program functions, and designing specific languages. Advanced VBA code can convert a single row vector into a matrix, populate a range, or manipulate the characteristics of a sheet.

Companies and Organizations

VBA can also work in external—that is, non-Microsoft—settings by using a technology called COM interface, which allows commands to interact across computer boundaries. Many firms have implemented VBA within their own applications, both proprietary and commercial, including AutoCAD, ArcGIS, CATIA, Corel, raw, and SolidWorks.

Any firm may use VBA to customize Excel for a unique purpose, such as discerning how long it would take to earn $1 million in an investment portfolio based on a specific interest rate and other factors, like the number of years until retirement.

What Is VBA Used for?

VBA is used to further expand what some programs are able to accomplish. VBA is often used to create macros, automate processes, generate custom forms, or perform repetitive tasks that may need minimal human intervention.

Is VBA the Same As Excel?

VBA is a computer language that is used within Excel. While Excel is a broader software used for many different types of analytical functions, VBA enhances its capabilities.

Is VBA Easy to Learn?

Compared to other complex languages, VBA is relatively easier to learn. It is considered a beginner-friendly language, and VBA-coders often do not need to have prior experience as a coder to learn the language. In addition, the VBA community has many resources available for individuals new to programming.

Is VBA Still In Demand?

Yes, VBA is still useful and used by individuals interacting with Microsoft products. However, newer languages such as Python, C#, or R can be used to code in place of VBA. In addition, new tools such as Power Query may be able to perform tasks that could previously only be performed when using VBA.

The Bottom Line

First introduced in 1993, VBA has been used for decades to automate processes, generate macros, or help individuals by performing repetitive tasks. Though other, more powerful computer languages may have greater capabilities, VBA is still useful today and holds the advantage of being an easier, more basic language to learn.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Microsoft. "Getting started with VBA in Office."

  2. Microsoft. "Develop Solutions and Customize Excel."

  3. Microsoft. "COM Objects and Interfaces."

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