Excel add-ins overview
An Excel add-in allows you to extend Excel application functionality across multiple platforms including Office for Windows, Office Online, Office for the Mac, and Office for the iPad. Use Excel add-ins within a workbook to:
- Interact with Excel objects, read and write Excel data.
- Extend functionality using web based task pane or content pane
- Add custom ribbon buttons or contextual menu items
- Provide richer interaction using dialog window
- Cross-platform support: Excel add-ins run in Office for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Office Online.
- Centralized deployment: Admins can quickly and easily deploy Excel add-ins to users throughout an organization.
- Single sign on (SSO): Easily integrate your Excel add-in with the Microsoft Graph.
- Distribution via AppSource: Share your Excel add-in with a broad audience by publishing it to AppSource.
Excel add-ins are different from COM and VSTO add-ins, which are earlier Office integration solutions that run only on Office for Windows. Unlike COM add-ins, Excel add-ins do not require you to install any code on a user's device, or within Excel.
Components of an Excel add-in
An Excel add-in includes two basic components: a web application and a configuration file, called a manifest file.
- Create, read, update, and delete data in the workbook (worksheets, ranges, tables, charts, named items, and more).
- Perform user authorization with an online service by using the standard OAuth 2.0 flow.
- Issue API requests to Microsoft Graph or any other API.
The web application can be hosted on any web server, and can be built using client-side frameworks (such as Angular, React, jQuery) or server-side technologies (such as ASP.NET, Node.js, PHP).
The manifest is an XML configuration file that defines how the add-in integrates with Office clients by specifying settings and capabilities such as:
- The URL of the add-in's web application.
- The add-in's display name, description, ID, version, and default locale.
- How the add-in integrates with Excel, including any custom UI that the add-in creates (ribbon buttons, context menus, and so on).
- Permissions that the add-in requires, such as reading and writing to the document.
To enable end-users to install and use an Excel add-in, you must publish its manifest either to AppSource or to an add-ins catalog.
Capabilities of an Excel add-in
In addition to interacting with the content in the workbook, Excel add-ins can add custom ribbon buttons or menu commands, insert task panes, open dialog boxes, and even embed rich, web-based objects such as charts or interactive visualizations within a worksheet.
For more information about command capabilities, supported platforms, and best practices for developing add-in commands, see Add-in commands for Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.
Task panes are interface surfaces that typically appear on the right side of the window within Excel. Task panes give users access to interface controls that run code to modify the Excel document or display data from a data source.
Dialog boxes are surfaces that float above the active Excel application window. You can use dialog boxes for tasks such as displaying sign-in pages that can't be opened directly in a task pane, requesting that the user confirm an action, or hosting videos that might be too small if confined to a task pane. To open dialog boxes in your Excel add-in, use the Dialog API.
Content add-ins are surfaces that you can embed directly into Excel documents. You can use content add-ins to embed rich, web-based objects such as charts, data visualizations, or media into a worksheet or to give users access to interface controls that run code to modify the Excel document or display data from a data source. Use content add-ins when you want to embed functionality directly into the document.
Shared API: Introduced with Office 2013, the shared API enables you to access features such as UI, dialogs, and client settings that are common across multiple types of host applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Because the shared API does provide limited functionality for Excel interaction, you can use it if your add-in needs to run on Excel 2013.