Flash Fill In Excel

Updated on December 27, 2023
Article byJeevan A Y
Edited bySheeba M
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Flash Fill In Excel?

Flash Fill in Excel is a feature where we can automatically fill a series of data, such as date, year, or fill a pattern to the selected empty cells in a flash, i.e., in a fraction of a second.

In Excel Flash Fill, first, Excel senses the pattern in the data from the previous fills of Excel. Then, when we type some characters in the adjacent cells next to it, it automatically flashes the suggested data.

For example, in cell A1 we have the cell value 1478569230, and we have modified the cell value as 1478-5692-14, which acts as a pattern.

Flash Fill Intro

Next, type the Flash Fill shortcut key “Ctrl+E”.

Flash Fill Intro - Output

The output is shown above, i.e., the rest of the cells are filled w.r.t the pattern automatically.

Key Takeaways

  • The Flash Fill in Excel automatically fills a set pattern in the cells, such as retrieving specific details from a cell value, part of the names, dates, years, etc.
  • We have multiple methods to Flash Fill, such as clicking the option from the Data tab, using the shortcut key, using the Fill Handle’s Automatic Flash Fill feature, etc.
  • Using this feature, we can retrieve a part of the selected cell values, or set a pattern to combine data from the existing data to form new data.
  • If we are unable to view the Flash Fill feature, make sure to enable the feature from the Excel Options window’s Advanced tab.

How To Use Flash Fill In Excel?

We can use Flash Fill in Excel using the 2 methods, namely:

  1. Using the Excel Ribbon.
  2. Using the shortcut key.

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Method #1 – Using the Excel Ribbon

First, choose the cell value with the pattern to be filled – select the “Data” tab – go to the “Data Tools” group – click the “Flash Fill” option, as shown below.

Data - Flash Fill

Method #2 – Using the shortcut key –

The shortcut key to Excel Flash Fill is “Ctrl+E”.

Examples

We will consider examples to Flash Fill in Excel.

Example #1 – Extract FY From the Invoice Number

We have data on invoice numbers, and we want to extract the FY year from the list given below. Applying many complex formulas will be quite challenging for an intermediate user. However, the “Flash Fill” tool is a useful option.

Flash Fill Example 1

The steps to retrieve the first year using Excel Flash Fill are,

  1. First, we must set the pattern, so type the first FY year in cell B2.

    Flash Fill Example 1-1

  2. Now, select the “Data” tab – go to the “Data Tools” group – click the “Flash Fill” option, as shown below.


    Flash Fill Example 1-2

  3. After typing the first FY into the cell, Excel understands the fill pattern. We can do the “Flash Fill” in two ways.

    The first way, drag the first entry until the end. Now, click the AUTOFILL option in excelAUTOFILL Option In ExcelAutoFill in excel can fill a range in a specific direction by using the fill handle.read more and select “Flash Fill.

    Flash Fill Example 1-3

    Consequently, it will insert all the FY years from the invoice numbers columns, as shown below.

    Flash Fill Example 1-4

    The second way, after typing the first FY year into the cell, we must press the “CTRL + E” key. It will extract FY from the invoice numbers columns.

    Flash Fill Example 1-5

Example #2 – Extract First Name & Last Name

The “Flash Fill” tool will help us extract specific details as required.

Flash Fill Example 2

We want to get the first and last names from the above list.

So, we must first type the first name in the B2 cell and the last name in the C2 cell to create a pattern.

Flash Fill Example 2-1

We will now go to the B2 cell, and press “CTRL + E”.

Flash Fill Example 2-2

Then, we will go to the C2 cell, and press “CTRL + E”.

Flash Fill Example 2-3

The final output is shown below.

Flash Fill Example 2-4

Example #3 – Format Numbers Using Flash Fill

The Flash Fill feature extracts a portion of the cell and helps us format the cell value. Now, let us take a look at the below example. We have phone numbers, and we want to format them like this: 9056-2358-90.

Example 3

First, we will type the format in the first cell to set a pattern.

Example 3-1

Now, type “CTRL + E”.

Example 3-2

The output is shown below.

Example 3-3

Example #4 – Combine Two Values Using Flash Fill

The Flash Fill tool takes the first and last names and combines them. So, now we have a first name and last name in two different columns. We want the full name in the next column.

Example 4

To do that, we must type the required pattern name in cell C2.

Example 4-1

Now, we must press the shortcut key to “Flash Fill”.

Example 4-2

The output is shown below.

Example 4-3

Excel Flash Fill Shortcut

The shortcut for Flash Fill is,

Flash Fill shortcut key

We must set the pattern in the first output cell, then press “Ctrl+E” for the pattern to Automatically Fill to the rest of the output cells.

Excel Flash Fill Limitations

The Flash Fill feature has its limitations too. It is very important to note them.

  • The Flash Fill data tool is not dynamic. Remember, it is not a formula to change the resulting cell if any modifications to the reference cell values are made.
  • The Flash Fill tool can wrongly insert the data. Take a look at the below example.
Flash Fill Limitations

In the above image, we wanted to extract the middle name. So, we typed the middle name in the first cell and pressed the “CTRL + E”. But for a few names, there are no middle names, so it has extracted the first name itself.

Important Things To Note

  • The Flash Fill tool works based on the pattern of the data. If there is no pattern, Excel may show the below error message.
Flash Fill error
  • Ensure to select the “Flash Fill” option while using the Fill Handle options.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How to Turn on Flash Fill in Excel?

There may be instances where the “Flash Fill” option is greyed out or not disabled. It may be because Excel has turned off the “Flash Fill” option in the system.
Therefore, the steps to enable the Flash Fill in Excel are,
1. We must first go to “File”. Then, choose “Options”.

Flash Fill turn on

2. Select the “Advanced” option on the left, and on the right, check/tick the “Automatically Flash Fill” option checkbox, as shown below.

Flash Fill turn on 1

2. Is there an alternate way to Flash Fill in Excel?

Yes, there is an alternate way to Flash Fill in Excel. We can use the “Fill Handle” option. So, when we Drag & Drop the values, we get a small box on the bottom right known as the “Auto Fill Options”, which has a few options along with the “Flash Fill” option, as shown below.

AutoFill in Excel - Example 1 (Fill Flash option)

3. Why is the Flash Fill in Excel not working?

A few reasons why the Flash Fill in Excel may not work are,
When we Drag & Drop the values using the “Fill Handle”, we have not selected the “Flash Fill” option.
The “Automatically Flash Fill” option is not enabled in the “Excel Options” window. We can enable it by following the steps from FAQ 1.

Download Template

This article must help understand Flash Fill in Excel with its formulas and examples. You can download the template here to use it instantly.

You can download this Flash Fill Excel Template here – Flash Fill Excel Template

This article is a guide to Flash Fill in Excel. Here we use Flash Fill using Data Tab, Shortcut key, fill handle, AutoFill, examples and downloadable template. You may learn more about Excel from the following articles: –