June 14, 2024

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Visual Basic for Applications (VBA): Definition, Uses, and Examples

9 min read

What Is Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)?

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is used to write programs for the Windows operating system. It runs as an internal programming language in Microsoft Office (MS Office, Office) applications including Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word, and Visio.

VBA is part of Microsoft Corporation’s (MSFT) legacy software Visual Basic. It allows users to customize beyond what’s normally available with MS Office host applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Visual Basic for Applications is a computer programming language developed and owned by Microsoft.
  • You can create macros to automate repetitive word- and data-processing functions with VBA and generate custom forms, graphs, and reports.
  • VBA functions within MS Office applications. It’s 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 Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)

VBA is an event-driven tool. You can use it to tell the computer to initiate an action or string of actions by typing commands into an editing module to build custom macroinstructions (macros).

A macro is essentially a sequence of characters that inputs results in another sequence of characters (its output). This accomplishes specific computing tasks. You don’t have to purchase the VBA software because VBA is the version of Visual Basic that ships with Microsoft Office.

VBA isn’t a stand-alone program. It allows users to manipulate graphical user interface (GUI) features such as toolbars, menus, dialogue boxes, and forms. You can 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 is capable of integrating VBA code to enhance the program. VBA has been a natural fit with Excel more so than with other Office suite programs because of the repetitive nature of spreadsheets, data analytics, and organizing data.

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

How to Access VBA in Excel

Simply press Alt + F11 to access VBA in Excel. 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. The InvestopediaProject file is ready to receive VBA code in this example:

VBA, Project Window.

The window displays the properties of the selected project at the bottom left. Properties are listed as projects or workbooks are selected. These properties are listed alphabetically by default although they can be sorted by category.

VBA Example, Properties.

A new window appears when you double-click on a project on the top left. There’s no information in this area but you’ll see two dropdowns that say “(General)” and “(Declarations).” VBA code is directly entered into this coding window.

VBA Example, Code.

Here’s an example of a VBA code that’s been entered:

VBA Example, Code with Coding.

Many important buttons and tools appear on the toolbar. The items 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. The reset stops the execution of the code and brings the process back to the starting position of the code.

VBA Example, Toolbar.

What You Can Do With VBA

Finance is about manipulating huge amounts of data and VBA is endemic to the financial services sector. It’s likely running within applications you use each day if you work in finance even if you’re not aware of it. Some jobs in the sector require prior knowledge of VBA and others don’t. You can:

  • Write macros: Macros allow financial professionals such as accountants, commercial bankers, investment bankers, research analysts, salesmen, traders, portfolio managers, clerks, and 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, to forecast sales and earnings, and to generate financial ratios.
  • Perform scenario analysis: You can create various portfolio management and investment scenarios with Visual Basic for Applications. This includes filtering through situations that may impact outcomes differently.
  • Organize information: You can also use VBA to produce lists of customers’ names or other content, to create invoices, forms and charts, to analyze scientific data, and to 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 in an easier, automated manner.
  • Prompt action: VBA can be used to interact with users. You might need a user’s input for their first and last names to be placed on a form. VBA prompts a user in a way that makes this input unavoidably mandatory.

Many online forums provide VBA code that allows you to simply copy and paste the code for your personal use. Be cautious when using someone else’s code, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the source, the individual, or the 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 Project Explorer, one of the sections of the Visual Basic Editor. All modules can be saved within a modules folder. Modules are sometimes referred to as standard modules.

Objects

Most code is used to manipulate objects in VBA. Objects are items such as workbooks, worksheets, cells, cell ranges, or cell fonts. Objects are often selected or referred to as part of the code when you’re coding in VBA. The code can use the “ActiveCell” language to manipulate the object currently selected in the spreadsheet. You can also 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.” Function procedures carry out calculations and return a value.

Statement

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

Variables

Variables are storage locations for defined items. They hold specific values that may change as VBA scripts are performed. The variable “FirstName” may not contain any value. but it can be assigned the FirstName variable and given the value “Jo” after the user inputs their name. Variables in coding can be different depending on the situation, similar to how variable costs can change over time.

Logical Operators

Logical operators are the functions that allow for greater analytical and processing capabilities. They’re bits of code that allow a computer to understand and compare items. VBA can analyze whether the user’s name is “Jo.” The program can analyze the input and perform a logical evaluation using logical operators such as ‘if, then’, ‘true’, and ‘false.’

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

VBA Users

Basic Users

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

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

Advanced Users

Programmers 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, non-Microsoft settings by using a technology called COM interface that allows commands to interact across computer boundaries. Many firms have implemented VBA within their 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 can accomplish. It’s 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’s used within Excel. It enhances its capabilities. Excel is a broader software that’s used for many types of analytical functions.

Is VBA Easy to Learn?

VBA is relatively easier to learn compared to other complex languages. It’s considered a beginner-friendly language. VBA coders often don’t have to have prior experience to learn the language. The VBA community also has many resources available for individuals who are new to programming.

Is VBA Still in Demand?

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

The Bottom Line

VBA was first introduced in 1991. It’s been used for decades to automate processes, generate macros, and help individuals by performing repetitive tasks. Other, more powerful computer languages may have greater capabilities but VBA is still useful and holds the advantage of being an easier, more basic language to learn.

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