Workbook and Worksheet activate and deactivate

Sometimes, you need to know when your user decided to move to another Worksheet in Excel. Fortunately, Excel exposes some events for this. At the workbook level, Workbook.SheetActivate and Workbook.SheetDeactivate are fired when the user activates or deactivates a sheet in the Workbook, and at the application level, Application.WorkbookActivate and Application.WorkbookDeactivate are triggered when the user changes Workbooks.

This looks all nice and simple, except that there is a small catch, which caused me a bit of grief on my current project. I naively thought that when a user activated a new Workbook, it would fire WorkbookActivate, and SheetActivate. Wrong – when you activate a new Workbook, only WorkbookActivate is triggered.

The following VSTO code illustrates the point: Excel traps when a new Workbook is added, and begins tracking the Sheet activation/deactivation for that new Workbook.

private void ThisAddIn_Startup(object sender, System.EventArgs e)

    var excel = this.Application;
    ((Excel.AppEvents_Event)this.Application).NewWorkbook += WorkbookAdded;
    excel.WorkbookOpen += WorkbookAdded;
    excel.WorkbookActivate += WorkbookActivated;
    excel.WorkbookDeactivate += WorkbookDeactivated;

private void WorkbookAdded(Excel.Workbook workbook)
    workbook.SheetActivate += SheetActivated;
    workbook.SheetDeactivate += SheetDeactivated;

private void WorkbookActivated(Excel.Workbook workbook)
    MessageBox.Show("Workbook activated.");

private void WorkbookDeactivated(Excel.Workbook workbook)
    MessageBox.Show("Workbook deactivated.");

private void SheetActivated(object sheet)
    MessageBox.Show("Sheet activated.");

private void SheetDeactivated(object sheet)
    MessageBox.Show("Sheet deactivated.");

If you run this code, you will note that when you change sheets within a Workbook, the Message Box “Sheet deactivated” pops up, followed by “Sheet activated”. However, if you add multiple workbooks, and start changing workbooks, only “Workbook activated” / “Workbook deactivated” shows up.

The morale of the story is that if you are interested in tracking when a user changed the active worksheet across workbooks, you can’t simply rely on SheetActivated: you will need to look out for Workbook level events, and when these occur, figure out through the Workbook active worksheet which sheet has been activated or deactivated.

I think the reason this caught me off-guard is that I had this Worksheet-centric mental image of Excel: when I am changing workbooks, my goal is to select a Worksheet in that Workbook, the Workbook is simply a means to an end – and I expected the events to reflect that. However, if you consider the Workbook as its own isolated entity, it makes sense: when I leave a Workbook, it simply becomes invisible, but otherwise nothing changed: the Worksheet that is active remains active, and will still be active when I come back later.

The other interesting pitfall is that when you start Excel, there is a Workbook active – but because it is created before you can begin trapping events, you have to register it manually if you want to track its behavior as well.

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