How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
The IMPORTRANGE feature in Google Sheets is useful for managing several spreadsheets at once.Westend61/Getty Images
  • You can use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to easily copy data from one spreadsheet to another.
  • To import data, you only need to know the URL and name of the original spreadsheet, and the range of cells to import.
  • Once imported, the data is automatically updated when it changes in the original Google Sheets spreadsheet.

If you work with Google Sheets often enough, you'll inevitably need to get data from one spreadsheet into another.

You could always simply copy and paste the cells in question, but if you do that, there's no live connection between the two sheets - if the original data changes, your second spreadsheet will become outdated.
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Instead, you can use the IMPORTRANGE function, which quickly and easily helps you import data from one spreadsheet into another and keeps the two spreadsheets in sync at all times.
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What to know about IMPORTRANGE in Google Sheets

While the IMPORTRANGE function can look long and unwieldy, that's only because it includes a URL in it, which can make even the simplest function look confusing. In reality, it's very simple to use. Here is what the function looks like:
=IMPORTRANGE([spreadsheet_url], [range_string])

As you can see, the IMPORTRANGE function is broken into two separate parts.

  • spreadsheet_url: This is just the URL or web address of the spreadsheet you want to import data from. You actually have an option here: You can use the entire URL, or just what's known as the spreadsheet key. More on that in a moment.

  • range_string: This is the specific cells in the original spreadsheet you want to import and sync with the new spreadsheet.

How to use IMPORTRANGE in Google Sheets

1. With only two arguments, using the IMPORTRANGE function is usually quite simple. Suppose you have a spreadsheet and you want to import the table into a new spreadsheet.
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2. Click the URL in the address bar at the top of the browser and copy it. Alternately, you can copy just the spreadsheet key from within the URL.

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
You can import any range of cells from a spreadsheet like this into another by copying the URL or spreadsheet key.Dave Johnson/Insider
3. In the new spreadsheet, type "=IMPORTRANGE(" - without the quotes. 4. Paste the URL and add a closing quote (").
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5. Type a comma, add a quote (") and enter the range of cells you want to include. It should look like this: "Sheet1!B1:C6" Here, we're specifying that we want the spreadsheet named "Sheet1," and want cells B1 through C6.

6. Add a closing parenthesis and press Enter.

7. The complete function should look something like this:
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=IMPORTRANGE("https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Zoq0M0RG-RLYZ9HjOf01ff9eSPIYY3s/edit#gid=1027643093", "Sheet2!A1:C12")
How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
This example uses the spreadsheet key instead of the full URL.Dave Johnson/Insider

8. You might have noticed, though, that the data didn't import - there's a #REF! error in the cell instead. Click this cell and you'll see a message that you need to connect these sheets. Click "Allow access" and then, a moment later, the data should appear. You'll only need to do this once for each spreadsheet you import data from.

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
You only need to allow access to a spreadsheet once.Dave Johnson/Insider

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function with a named range

If you prefer, you can use a named range instead of specifying the range in the manual way.

1. In the original spreadsheet, select the range and then right-click.
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2. In the dropdown menu, choose "Define named range."
How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
The option to name a range of cells is in the right-click menu.Dave Johnson/Insider

3. In the Named ranges pane that appears, give the selection a name and then click "Done."

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
Name the range and it will include the name of the sheet, simplifying the task of importing cells.Dave Johnson/Insider
4. Now when you add your range_string to the IMPORTRANGE function, you can just enter this name, which already includes the name of the sheet. It's much easier than building the argument by hand.
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How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
Just remember to enclose the name range in quotes, the same as if you specified a range manually.Dave Johnson/Insider

Using the spreadsheet URL or spreadsheet key

There are a few nuances in the way this function works you should be aware of. Let's start with the URL.

You have a choice: You can use the entire spreadsheet URL or you can use just the spreadsheet key, which is the part of the URL that follows the "d/." For example, suppose you had a spreadsheet with this URL:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K6Jy9BAUsNLYtbEIIxI3LONV9JQ0hTY/edit#gid=25213
You can use the entire URL, or just the part after the d/:
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1K6Jy9BAUsNLYtbEIIxI3LONV9JQ0hTY

Both options work exactly the same; the only difference is convenience, so use whichever works best for you. Either way, always enclose this argument in quotes.

How to use the IMPORTRANGE function in Google Sheets to keep multiple spreadsheets in sync
Every spreadsheet has a unique spreadsheet key.Dave Johnson/Insider

Using the range_string

The range_string also has its own quirks. Specifically, when you enter the range in the IMPORTRANGE function, you need to clarify which sheet the cells are located in. Keep in mind that a spreadsheet might have many tabs, each being its own sheet. As a result, this argument takes this form:

Sheet1!A1:A12
In this example, Sheet1 is the name of the sheet, and the cells are indicated by the range A1:A12. You need to always include an exclamation mark between the sheet name and the range, and like the URL, always enclose it in quotes.
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Tips for using IMPORTRANGE in Google Sheets

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using the IMPORTRANGE function:

  • Google Sheets treats both arguments - the URL and range - as strings, which means you must always enclose them in quotes.
  • If you want to use the spreadsheet key rather than the entire URL, most browsers will select it automatically if you double-click that part of the URL in the browser's address bar.
  • Often, an easier way to specify a range is to use a named range.
  • If you make changes to the original spreadsheet, the update will appear after a few seconds in the new spreadsheet. It is fast, but not instantaneous.
  • The data synchronization only updates in one direction - from the old spreadsheet to the new one. If you try to change a value in the new spreadsheet, you'll find that an error message will appear. To get the imported data back in the new spreadsheet, delete the data that you tried to add.
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