In its simplest usage, the INDIRECT function allows you to put the address of one cell in another, and get data from the the first cell by referencing the second.  For example, if cell A1 has the value “C3”, then =INDIRECT(A1) will return the value in C3.

The real power of the INDIRECT function is that it can turn any string into a reference. This includes any string that you build up using string constants and the values of other cells in the formula, strung together with the & concatenation operator.   For example, the simple formula


will sum the values in the range A5:A10.  However, suppose you want to be able to specify which range of rows to sum “on the fly”, without having to change the formula.  The INDIRECTfunction allows you to do this.  Suppose you put your starting row cell B1, and your ending row in C1.  Then, you can use the formula


The argument to the INDIRECT function is


If B1 contains 5 and C1 contains 10, this evaluates to the string  “A5:A10”.  The INDIRECT function converts this string to an actual range reference, which is passed to the SUM function.

Another useful feature of the INDIRECT function is that since it takes string argument, you can use it to work with cell references that you don’t want Excel to automatically change when you insert or delete rows.   Normally, Excel will change cell references when you insert or delete rows or columns, even when you use Absolute referencing. If you have the formula =SUM($A$1:$A$10), and then insert a row at row 5, Excel will convert the formula to =SUM($A$1:$A$11). If you don’t want this to happen, use the INDIRECT function to change a text string to a reference:


Since Excel sees “A1:A10” as a text string rather than a range reference, it will not change it when rows or columns are deleted or inserted.

This feature is important when working with some array formulas.  Frequently, an array formula will use the ROW() function to return an array of numbers.  For example, the following formula will return the average of the 10 largest numbers in the range A1:A60 :


However, if you insert a row between rows 1 and 10, Excel will change the formula to


which will return the average of the 11 largest numbers.  If we use the  function with a string, Excel won’t change the reference, so the formula will remain correct, regardless of whether and where rows are inserted or deleted.


You can use the INDIRECT function in conjunction with the ADDRESS function. The ADDRESS function uses row and column numbers to create a string address. For example, the formula=ADDRESS(5,6) returns the string $F$5, since $F$5 is the 5th row of column 6. You can use then pass this to  INDIRECT to get the value in cell F5. For example,  =INDIRECT(ADDRESS(5,6)) . While this example may seem trivial, it illustrates a technique that you can use to build more complicated formulas.

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