XLSM vs. XLSB Files – What’s The Difference?

Choosing the right file format when working with Excel can have a significant impact on your spreadsheet experience. Two popular formats you may encounter are XLSM and XLSB files, but understanding their differences can help you make the best decision for your needs.

In this article, we’ll dive into the unique characteristics and applications of both XLSM and XLSB file types. By the end, you’ll feel confident in selecting the right format for your Excel projects and maximizing the efficiency of your work!

Understanding XLSM and XLSB File Formats

Key Differences Between XLSM and XLSB

Here’s a table summary of some of the key differences:

File typeXML-basedBinary
Corruption repairCan be repaired more easily than XLSBHarder to repair than XLSM
ReadabilityHuman-readableComputer-readable but not human-readable
File sizeLarger than XLSBSmaller than XLSM
SpeedSlower in opening and closing files than XLSBFaster in opening and closing files than XLSM
Formula lengthLimited to 8192 charactersCan store formulas with more than 8192 characters
Function storageCannot store all functions available in ExcelCan store all functions available in Excel
  • File type: XLSM files use the open XML standard, while XLSB files employ a binary structure. This means the XLSB is more efficient in terms of storage space utilization.
  • Readability: XLSM files are human-readable due to their XML-based structure, whereas XLSB files are only readable by computers.
  • File size: XLSB files are generally smaller because of their binary structure, which makes these files faster to open and save.
  • Compatibility: XLSM files may experience compatibility issues with Excel versions before 2003, while XLSB files are compatible with Excel 2007 and later versions.

When To Use XLSM Files

XLSM files are perfect for workbooks that require macros. These files are also XML-based. What does that mean for you? It means that, in case of corruption, an XLSM file has a better chance of being repaired.

Now, consider your file size. If it’s relatively small, say smaller than 10 MB, XLSM is a great choice. It accommodates the need for macros while still maintaining a manageable size.

In summary, choose XLSM files when you:

  • Work with macros (that being said, macros work on XLSB files too)
  • Have a smaller file size (under 10 MB)
  • Want better chances of repairing corruption

From personal experience, I tend to use XLSM files for smaller / one-off spreadsheets that don’t need to be updated on a constant basis. The extra fail-safe is nice to have but I find that file sizes can get unwieldy on larger workbooks and financial models.

When To Use XLSB Files

XLSB files have several key advantages:

  • Smaller file size: You’ll notice significantly less space is taken up by XLSB files, especially with large Excel datasets. A must-have if you’re emailing colleagues and clients the Excel file constantly.
  • Faster to open and save: Loading binary data is quicker than parsing text-based XML files. This makes XLSB files more time-efficient. Win-win!

Here are some scenarios when I recommend using the XLSB format:

  1. Dealing with large files: If your workbook contains a lot of data, XLSB can shrink the file size.
  2. Desiring better performance: As mentioned earlier, XLSB files offer increased speed and efficiency for both opening and saving data.
  3. Using complex formulas: XLSB permits the use of formulas with over 8192 characters. This provides more flexibility for advanced calculations. Don’t overkill your formulas though!

Both formats support Excel functions and can contain VBA code. However, XLSM has an edge in compatibility with third-party software due to its open XML standard source.

Remember, choose the right file format based on your specific needs. By understanding the benefits of XLSB files, you can make an informed decision and optimize your Excel projects.

Converting Between XLSM And XLSB Files

To convert an XLSM file to XLSB or vice versa, follow these steps:

  1. Open the workbook in Excel
  2. Navigate to File > Save As
  3. Choose the desired file format from the “Save as type” dropdown
Save As XLSB

That’s it! You have now successfully converted your file between XLSM and XLSB formats.

Keep these factors in mind while converting:

  • Back up your original file in case of corruption
  • XLSB files might not be ideal for sharing, as they can be flagged in security tools (this has been a very rare occurrence for me)

Happy converting!

Other Considerations Between XLSM and XLSB

Older Excel Versions

If you’re using an older version of Excel, you might encounter compatibility problems when opening XLSM or XLSB files. Microsoft’s Compatibility Checker can help in identifying potential issues.

While some issues may not require immediate resolution, they can still affect the appearance or functionality of the workbook in earlier Excel versions.

Macro and Security Considerations

XLSM files are essentially XLSX files that support macros. These Excel files rely on the XML file structure, making them human-readable.

However, this also means that they’re more prone to corruption. That being said, they’re easier to repair when that happens. A valuable advantage when your PC crashes after hours of work!

XLSB files can be more challenging to repair if corruption occurs due to their binary nature. Unlike XLSM files, you won’t have the same chances to recover the contents of a damaged XLSB file.

Since macros can introduce security risks, it’s essential to know how to control macro security settings in XLSM and XLSB files. This way, you can manage macros behavior and safeguard your workbook from potential security issues.

Now that you have a better understanding of these two file formats, you can make more informed decisions when working with Excel.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope you found this helpful!

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