Password protected excel files in Excel online

If you are one of those users who heavily rely on excel desktop application and thinking of moving fully cloud, perhaps you must think twice. There are some limitations on excel web app compare to desktop app. Some organizations intend to downgrade their Office 365 E3/E5 plans to E1 due to economical aspects but there are some serious consequences which could impact the business.

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Go through this article carefully to understand the full list of limitations – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/differences-between-using-a-workbook-in-the-browser-and-in-excel-f0dc28ed-b85d-4e1d-be6d-5878005db3b6 

Specially as Microsoft stated in the article above, if you have Excel files with password protected, they won’t open in excel online and you will get the message below.

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This level of encryption is usually done within the Excel application using the Protect Workbook feature. It simply means you need to key in a password to open the Excel file.

As this is currently unsupported in Office 365 Excel online, let’s find out an alternative to restrict at least certain functions of an Excel Workbook.

There is a workaround for this matter. However, it won’t help if your requirement is to restrict the viewing of the file, but we can restrict changes from others. This means, others will not be able to amend the data or change structure within a workbook but still can open and see it.

To do this, open the desired workbook from your Excel desktop application and click on the required sheet which will be your current sheet in the setting we are going to set. If you have multiple sheets, these steps must be repeated for each one.

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Now go to Review section –> Click on “Protect Workbook” option

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Provide a password and choose all the fields that you want to restrict others from editing and hit “Ok

Protect sheet – prevents others from editing cells or making formatting changes

Protect Workbook – Prevents others from doing structural changes such as adding, deleting sheets.

Having both these restrictions in place will protect your entire workbook from unwanted alterations. But it wont prevent viewing.

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Now, if you close the Workbook and try to open it again from the desktop application, you’d see something similar to below when you try to amend a field. Meaning you have been restricted doing changes to sheets.

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Let’s try to open from Excel online. Just right click on the file and click “View Online

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Now try to edit a field and you’d see the following message immediately.

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Deletion of tabs, rows, columns or sheets (structural changes) are also disabled now.

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If you want to revert this lock, open the Workbook from the Desktop app again and say “Unprotect” from the Info section and it will enable the functionalities again.

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This could be an option but not really a perfect workaround. If you are on Office 365 E1, limitations like this one is expectable. Bottom-line is – be extra cautious when you downgrade your plan.

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