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How to Automatically Number Rows in Excel

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How to Automatically Number Rows in Excel








Did you know your Excel sheet can have up to 1,048,576 rows? That’s right. Now imagine assigning numbers to each of these rows manually. Without a doubt, this is one task that can be frustrating and time-consuming. For starters, you might make mistakes and repeat numbers, a situation that can complicate data analysis and potentially result in errors in your calculations. And nothing is more embarrassing than presenting a document that’s poorly organized or laden with errors.


How to Automatically Number Rows in Excel


It can make you look unprepared and unprofessional.


The good thing is that Excel can do all the hard work for you. You can command it to autofill row numbers and help you work on your document at a much faster pace.


This article will show you how to automatically number rows in Excel.


How to Automatically Number Rows in Excel


To develop an excellent Excel worksheet or workbook, entering your data in a well-organized manner is imperative. You want each row to have a “unique identifier” that helps you single out specific rows for analysis or presentation to an audience.


Numbering rows is the best way to create unique identifiers.


If your document isn’t too large, you could assign numbers manually with just a few strokes on your keyboard. But that’s hardly an option if your sheet has hundreds or thousands of rows. Manually numbering each row will waste valuable time that can be used to handle the more technical bits of your sheet.


Luckily, Excel comes with several tools designed to help you assign numbers automatically. This can help you to be more economical with your time and churn out a well-organized document that’s not only accurate but also easy on the eye.


Let’s see how each of these tools works.


Using the Fill Handle


The Excel Fill Handle – also called the Drag Fill Handle – is a small arrow button that appears in the bottom left corner of an active cell. It’s used to auto-populate a range of cells in a column based on information contained in the preceding rows.


The fill handle works by identifying a pattern and then following it.


Here’s how to automatically number rows in Excel using the fill handle:



  1. Open your Excel sheet.

  2. Enter the first value (1) into the first cell in the desired column.

  3. Enter the second value (2) into the cell directly below the first one.

  4. Select both cells.

  5. Press and hold on to the fill handle located in the bottom right corner of the lower cell.

  6. Gently drag down the handle until you’ve selected all the rows you’d like to assign numbers

  7. Once you get to the last row of interest, let go of your mouse.


After these steps, Excel will populate all the cells in the chosen column with serial numbers – from “1” down to whatever number you want.


Using the ROW Function


The fill handle and series function are simple to execute, but they fail in one important area: auto-updating numbers when you add some rows to your sheet or even remove some.


For example, if you insert a new row between rows 3 and 4, the new row won’t be numbered. You’ll have to format the entire column and execute either command afresh.


Enter the ROW function, and the problem disappears!


With the row function, you’re able to assign numbers that automatically update when some rows are deleted or new ones inserted.


Here’s how to use the function:



  1. Click on the first cell where the automatic numbering will begin.

  2. Enter the following formula into the cell:
    =ROW(A2) - 1

    While at it, remember to replace the reference row accordingly. We’ve assumed our reference row is A2 here, but it can be any other row in your file. Depending on where you want your row numbers to appear, it could be A3, B2, or even C5.
    If the first cell to be numbered is A3, the formula changes to =ROW(A3) - 2. If it’s C5, the formula to use is =ROW(C5) – 4

  3. Once a number has been assigned to the selected cell, hover the cursor over the drag handle in the bottom left corner and drag it down to the last cell in your series.


How to Automatically Number Rows in Excel Without Dragging


Dragging the fill handle down until you’ve selected all the rows you’d like to assign numbers works perfectly for small Excel files with just a few rows. If the file has hundreds or thousands of rows, dragging can be a bit tiresome and time-consuming.


Luckily, Excel provides a way to number your rows automatically without using the drag button: the fill series function.


The Excel fill series function is used to generate sequential values within a specified range of cells. Unlike the fill handle function, this function gives you much more control. It gives you the chance to specify the first value (which need not be “1”), the step value, as well as the final (stop) value.


For example, let’s say your start, step, and stop values are 1, 1, and 10, respectively. In this situation, the fill series feature will autofill 10 rows in the selected column, starting with “1” in the first cell, “2” in the second cell, through “10” in the last cell.


Here’s how to autofill row numbers in Excel using the fill series function:



  1. Select the first cell to which you’d like to assign a number.

  2. Enter the first value, say 10, in the first cell.

  3. Click on “Home” at the top of your sheet.

  4. Click on “Fill” and then select “Series” from the dropdown menu. This should open a floating dialog box in the middle of your sheet.

  5. In the dialog box, select ‘Columns’ from the ‘Series in’ section.

  6. At this point, enter the step value (“1” by default) and then enter the stop value in the spaces provided.

  7. Click on “Ok”


Et voila! All the cells in the selected column will now have unique and sequential serial numbers for easy identification.


How to Auto Number Filtered Rows in Excel


The filter is a function that allows you to sift (or slice) your data based on criteria. It will enable you to select certain parts of your worksheet and have Excel show only those cells.


For example, if you have lots of repetitive data, you can easily filter out all of those rows and leave just what’s you need. Only the unfiltered rows will be shown onscreen at any given time.


When presenting data, filtering enables you to share just what your audience needs without throwing too much information all at once. This situation can confuse and complicate data analysis.


Even if you’ve filtered your data, you can still add row numbering to your sheet.


Here’s how to go about it.



  1. Filter your data.

  2. Select the first cell to which you’d like to assign a number and then enter the following formula:
    =SUBTOTAL(3,$B$2:B2)

    The first argument, 3, instructs Excel to count the numbers in the range.
    The second argument, $B$2:B2, is simply the range of cells you want to count.

  3. Grab the fill handle (+) in the bottom right corner of the cell and pull it downwards to populate all the other cells in the specified range.


Stay Organized


Excel is a useful tool for managing data and performing all sorts of calculations. But it doesn’t always make your life easy. One task that can be time-consuming and frustrating is assigning numbers to rows.


Fortunately, there are several tools to help you assign numbers automatically. This can be a surefire way to create a well-organized file that’s easy to read.


Have you tried executing any of the Excel numbering functions described in this article? Did it work?


Let us know in the comments section below.





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