VBA Programming in Office
Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) for Microsoft Office is a simple but powerful programming language that you can use to extend Office applications, and our comprehensive range of training courses will help you become an expert.
The Microsoft Office suite of applications has a rich set of features. There are many different ways to author, format, and manipulate documents, e-mail, databases, forms, spreadsheets, and presentations. The great power of VBA programming in Office is that nearly every operation that you can perform with a mouse, keyboard, or a dialog box can also be done by using VBA. Further, if it can be done once with VBA, it can be done just as easily a hundred times. (In fact, the automation of repetitive tasks is one of the most common uses of VBA in Office.)
Beyond the power of scripting VBA to accelerate every-day tasks, you can use VBA to add new functionality to Office applications or to prompt and interact with the user of your documents in ways that are specific to your business needs. For example, you could write some VBA code that displays a pop up message that reminds users to save a document to a particular network drive the first time they try to save it.
This article explores some of the primary reasons to leverage the power of VBA programming. It explores the VBA language and the out-of-the-box tools that you can use to work with your solutions. Finally, it includes some tips and ways to avoid some common programming frustrations and missteps.
Automation & Repetition
VBA is effective and efficient when it comes to repetitive solutions to formatting or correction problems. For example, have you ever changed the style of the paragraph at the top of each page in Word? Have you ever had to reformat multiple tables that were pasted from Excel into a Word document or an Outlook e-mail? Have you ever had to make the same change in multiple Outlook contacts?
If you have a change that you have to make more than ten or twenty times, it may be worth automating it with VBA. If it is a change that you have to do hundreds of times, it certainly is worth considering. Almost any formatting or editing change that you can do by hand, can be done in VBA.
Extensions to User Interaction
There are times when you want to encourage or compel users to interact with the Office application or document in a particular way that is not part of the standard application. For example, you might want to prompt users to take some particular action when they open, save, or print a document.
Interaction between Office Applications
Do you need to copy all of your contacts from Outlook to Word and then format them in some particular way? Or, do you need to move data from Excel to a set of PowerPoint slides? Sometimes simple copy and paste does not do what you want it to do, or it is too slow. You can use VBA programming to interact with the details of two or more Office applications at the same time and then modify the content in one application based on the content in another.
Doing Things another Way
The critical question to ask is whether there is an easier way. Before you begin a VBA project, consider the built-in tools and standard functionalities. For example, if you have a time-consuming editing or layout task, consider using styles or accelerator keys to solve the problem. Can you perform the task once and then use CTRL+Y (Redo) to repeat it? Can you create a new document with the correct format or template, and then copy the content into that new document?
Office applications are powerful; the solution that you need may already be there. Take some time to learn more about Office before you jump into programming.
Before you begin a VBA project, ensure that you have the time to work with VBA. Programming requires focus and can be unpredictable. Especially as a beginner, never turn to programming unless you have time to work carefully. Trying to write a “quick script” to solve a problem when a deadline looms can result in a very stressful situation. If you are in a rush, you might want to use conventional methods, even if they are monotonous and repetitive.
Using Code to Make Applications Do Things
You might think that writing code is mysterious or difficult, but the basic principles use every-day reasoning and are quite accessible. Microsoft Office applications are created in such a way that they expose things called objects that can receive instructions, in much the same way that a phone is designed with buttons that you use to interact with the phone. When you press a button, the phone recognizes the instruction and includes the corresponding number in the sequence that you are dialling. In programming, you interact with the application by sending instructions to various objects in the application. These objects are expansive, but they have their limits. They can only do what they are designed to do, and they will only do what you instruct them to do.
For example, consider the user who opens a document in Word, makes a few changes, saves the document, and then closes it. In the world of VBA programming, Word exposes a Document object. By using VBA code, you can instruct the Document object to do things such as Open, Save, or Close.
Our Visual Basic training courses assume no prior knowledge of coding or programming, and will take you through the basic building blocks of the code environment to help you gain the skills and confidence to write your own procedures and functions.
Learn about the Object Model
Each application has its own set of objects, properties and methods, so while the VBA environment is similar, it is still important to have a good working knowledge of each application to ensure you can better understand the relevant objects.
Our training courses cover the theory and practical uses and implementation through many hands on exercises.
Developers organise programming objects in a hierarchy, and that hierarchy is called the object model of the application. Word, for example, has a top-level Application object that contains a Document object. The Document object contains Paragraph objects and so on. Object models roughly mirror what you see in the user interface. They are a conceptual map of the application and its capabilities.
The definition of an object is called a class, so you might see these two terms used interchangeably. Technically, a class is the description or template that is used to create, or instantiate, an object.
Once an object exists, you can manipulate it by setting its properties and calling its methods. If you think of the object as a noun, then the properties are the adjectives that describe the noun and the methods are the verbs that animate the noun. Changing a property changes some quality of appearance or behaviour of the object. Calling one of the object methods causes the object to perform some action.
The VBA code in this article runs against an open Office application where many of the objects that the code manipulates are already up and running; for example, the Application itself, the Worksheet in Excel, the Document in Word, the Presentation in PowerPoint, the Explorer and Folder objects in Outlook. Once you know the basic layout of the object model and some key properties of the Application that give access to its current state, you can start to extend and manipulate that Office application with VBA in Office.
In Word, for example, you can change the properties and invoke the methods of the current Word document by using the ActiveDocument property of the Application object. This ActiveDocument property returns a reference to the Document object that is currently active in the Word application. “Returns a reference to” means “gives you access to.”
The following code does exactly what it says; that is, it saves the active document in the application.
Read the code from left to right, “In this Application, with the Document referenced by ActiveDocument, invoke the Save method.” Be aware that Save is the simplest form of method; it does not require any detailed instructions from you. You instruct a Document object to Save and it does not require any more input from you.
If a method requires more information, those details are called parameters. The following code runs the SaveAs method, which requires a new name for the file.
Application.ActiveDocument.SaveAs (“New Document Name.docx”)
Values listed in parenthesis after a method name are the parameters. Here, the new name for the file is a parameter for the SaveAs method.
You use the same syntax to set a property that you use to read a property. The following code executes a method to select cell A1 in Excel and then to set a property to put something in that cell.
Application.Selection.Value = “Hello World”
The first challenge in VBA programming is to get a feeling for the object model of each Office application and to read the object, method, and property syntax. The object models are similar in all Office applications, but each is specific to the kind of documents and objects that it manipulates.
In the first line of the code snippet, there is the Application object, Excel this time, then the ActiveSheet, which provides access to the active worksheet. After that is a term not as familiar, Range, which means “define a range of cells in this way.” The code instructs Range to create itself with just A1 as its defined set of cells. In other words, the first line of code defines an object, the Range, and runs a method against it to select it. The result is automatically stored in another property of the Application called Selection.
The second line of code sets the Value property of Selection to the text “Hello World” and that value appears in cell A1.
The simplest VBA code that you write might simply gain access to objects in the Office application that you are working with and set properties. For example, you could get access to the rows in a table in Word and change their formatting in your VBA script.
That sounds simple, but it can be incredibly useful; once you can write that code, you can harness all of the power of programming to make those same changes in several tables or documents, or make them according to some logic or condition. For a computer, making 1000 changes is no different from making 10, so there is an economy of scale here with larger documents and problems, and that is where VBA can really shine and save you time.
Macros and the Visual Basic Editor
Now that you know something about how Office applications expose their object models, you are probably eager to try calling object methods, setting object properties, and responding to object events. To do so, you must write your code in a place and in a way that Office can understand; typically, by using the Visual Basic Editor. Although it is installed by default, many users do not know that it is even available until it is enabled on the ribbon.