Formula calculation

Each cell in a sheet contains a value. For most cells, the value is Blank.Value. Sheet can also contain formulas that determine values of other cells during recalculation.

Formula can modify one of more cells, normal formula are only for one cell, array or data table formula can change many cells.

Please do read the Excel Recalculation artible by Microsoft that describes the fundamentals.

Cell values

IXLCell provides two properties that give access to value of a cell: IXLCell.Value and IXLCell.CachedValue.

There is an important difference between them:

  • IXLCell.Value will check if cell contains a dirty formula and if it does, the cell value is recalculated before the value is returned. The getter always returns up-to-date value.

  • IXLCell.CachedValue returns a value of a cell, even if the value is stale.

Using the IXLCell.Value thus carries a performance impact and if possible, the IXLCell.CachedValue should be used instead.

In order to acheve a performant code while working with formulas

  • Use IXLCell.InsertData to insert data. It marks all formulas dependent on the inserted cells as dirty.

  • Use IXLCell.Value setter for setting a single cell value. Setting a single value also triggers dirty marking (among other things), but only for the single cell. It is better to use IXLCell.InsertData for larger amount of data.

  • Use IXLCell.CachedValue getter to retrieve a value of a cell.

  • Use SaveOptions.EvaluateFormulasBeforeSaving to recalculate dirty formulas before saving the data to a file.

  • Use IXLWorkbook.RecalculateAllFormulas() or IXLWorksheet.RecalculateAllFormulas() to update formulas. Note that this recalculates all formulas, not just non-dirty ones.

Dirty tracking

Each formula can be dirty or non-dirty. Formula is dirty, if the value is calculated last time might no longer be accurate. That can happen for several reasons:

  • Another cell the formula depends on changed value (e.g. =A1+2 and A1 changed value from 1 to 2).

  • Worksheet has been added or removed and thus some values might be available or are no longer available (e.g. =Test!A1, but sheet Test didn’t exist previously and was just added).

  • Defined name was added or removed

Whether a formula is dirty can be checked through IXLCell.NeedsRecalculation property. Cells without formulas are never dirty.

Use IXLCell.InvalidateFormula() to mark the formula as dirty.

Transitive nature

ClosedXML holds information about what areas formula depends on in a r-tree (e.g. =SUM(A1:D4) + C7 depends on A1:D4 and C7:C7). When an area of a sheet changes (e.g. B2 is now 7 instead of 5), the r-tree finds all overlapping areas that formulas depends on (e.g. A1:D4 intersects with B2) and marks all those formulas as dirty.

This process continues, because cell of the formula is now also dirty and that can affect other formulas.

Loaded formulas

When a formula is loaded and the cell also contains a value, the formula is not makred as dirty on load. That is done under assumption that file contains the truth about what value of a cell should be.

If a cell contains a formula, but not a value, the formula is marked as a dirty during load.

Calculation chain

Calculation chain contains all formula cells. The cells in the chain are in the order in which they were evalualted during last formula calculation. Cell should be in order of dependencies (e.g. if A2 depends on A1, A1 should be positioned before the A2 in the chain).

Formulas in a sheet with precedent arrows

The “correct” order of the chain from the image might be any of following:

  • B1, C1, D1, B4, C4

  • B1, B4, C1, C4, D1

  • B1, C1, B4, C4, D1

  • B1, C1, B4, D1, C4

The chain does’t have to have correct order, it has the correct order during last calculation (or any order, if no calculation was yet done). In the beginning, the chain could look like this: D1, C1, B1, B4, C4.

When calc engine calculates formulas, it goes through the chain and tries to evaluate each formula. If the formula depends on a cell that is dirty, it stops evaluation of the current formula and moves the supporting formula before the current one and start to evaluate the new current formula.

This way, chain should end up with a correct order.


The order of cells changes most during the first calculation and far less in subsequent calculations. That is the reason why first calculation is generally the slowest.

Cyclic dependencies

Calc engine will throw an InvalidOperationException, when it encounteres a cycle in a calculation chain.