Dealing with dates 2: Getting cell data type and format code

When working with imported data, or data from an opened csv file, it is often important to know the data type that has been used to store the data.  This may not be obvious, for instance in the previous post we saw that a date imported into a cell formatted as text displays as text, but is converted into a date value when used in a simple formula.  However if the cell is included as part of a range it will be treated as text, with a value of zero, even for a single cell range.  For instance, if we format cell A1 as text and enter 8-jun the cell will display as entered (including the lower case j), but in another cell:

  • =A1 will display 8-jun
  • =A1+0 will (in 2015) display  42163 (the date number for 8 Jun 2015)
  • =Sum(A1) will display 0 (because all text is treated as having a value of 0 when used in the Sum function, even if it looks like a date).

If we now format the cell as General, and re-enter 8-jun, the cell will display 8-Jun and =Sum(A1) will display 42163 (if it is formatted as a number), or 8-Jun (if it is formatted as a date).

The User Defined Function (UDF) below will return information about the data type for the values in a selected single column range:

Function GetDType(DRange As Range) As Variant
Dim DTypeA() As Variant, DVal As Variant, NumRows As Long, i As Long

DVal = DRange.Value
NumRows = UBound(DVal)
ReDim DTypeA(1 To NumRows, 1 To 2)

For i = 1 To NumRows
    DTypeA(i, 1) = DVal(i, 1)
    DTypeA(i, 2) = TypeName(DVal(i, 1))
Next i

GetDType = DTypeA
End Function

The function must be entered as an array function (using Ctrl-Shift-Enter), and returns two columns.  The first shows the actual value stored by Excel (as opposed to the value displayed), and the second the data-type:


To work with number formats in VBA (which we need to use to open csv files without changing the data) we need to use Excel’s format codes, but there is no built-in way to show the correct format code for any selected cell format.  An excellent and (almost) comprehensive  guide to Excel number formats can be found at: A comprehensive guide to Number Formats in Excel, but for a quick way to find the correct number format, the UDF below will return the format code for any selected cell:

Function GetNumformat(Target As Range, Optional UseLocal As Boolean = True)

If UseLocal Then
    GetNumformat = Target(1, 1).NumberFormatLocal
    GetNumformat = Target(1, 1).NumberFormat
End If

End Function

Examples of some format codes are shown below:


Click for full size view


Each format comes in a standard and local version; the local version is returned by default.

Full details of how to generate these sometimes lengthy codes are given in the article linked above, other than for the start of the codes associated with Long Date and Time ([$-F800] and [$-F400]).  A search on these codes suggests that the answer to the question of what they mean is, no-one knows (my lord), but a bit of experimentation shows that if the code between the square brackets is applied as a custom format (including the brackets) a date displays in date format on the spreadsheet, but in date number format in the edit bar, whereas applying the full code the date format displays in both the worksheet and the edit bar.

These functions plus routines to allow data from csv files to be quickly imported and saved without corruption will be available for download in the next post in this series.


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6 Responses to Dealing with dates 2: Getting cell data type and format code

  1. Martin Nolan says:

    Looking forward to your next post. I am in the US and currently working on a project for a client in Australia that involves reading in a csv file with d/m/yyyy dates. I observed that VBA always converts according to my system settings and assumes m/d/yyyy. There does not appear an easy method to change this behavior. I consider changing my system regional settings akin to using a sledge hammer to drive a nail with similar unintended consequences possibly following.

    I observed that VBA converted the dates that appeared valid in the m/d/yyyy system to m/d/yyyy (thus with the real month and day reversed). The invalid dates were converted as strings. To deal with this in VBA in a way that would also have to work on the PC of my client, I checked for the regional setting after reading the csv, then, if on a US Region machine, swapped all the days and months in the “valid” dates and converted the “strings” to d/m/yyyy” dates, being careful to convert the values as doubles and save the data back to the worksheet with NumberFormat = “d/m/yyyy”.


    • dougaj4 says:

      Martin – I hope to get part 3 out today or tomorrow. I’ll look forward to your feedback (good or bad), as someone needing to apply it to a real project.


    • Michael Tollefson says:

      Hi Martin –
      The VBA Format function comes with seven machine-dependent date and time options that will change its return format depending on your or your client’s machine settings. See for some Excel magic across the wide Pacific. No sledge hammer required.


      • mrnolan says:

        Thank you Michael, however, I think FORMAT will only work on a valid date variable already in memory. Unfortunately, on a PC with regional settings of US “m/d/yyyy” a date in a csv file of 17/04/2004 in a string form will be converted to a string by VBA immediately as it opens the file. It does not recognize this as a valid date. Similarly, any date in “d/m/yyyy” format will be converted to a date value as a double with the “d’ swapped with the “m” as long this results in a valid “m/d/yyyy” date. You might like to try this for yourself to see it happening.


  2. Michael Tollefson says:

    Hi Doug — quibbling a bit with “there is no built-in way to show the correct format code for any selected cell format.” =CELL(“format”,A1) seems to return from a fairly comprehensive list of options. I have a very old Excel 5 Worksheet Function Reference book that lists them, which seems to be copied to here:


    • dougaj4 says:

      Michael – I actually forgot about the Cell function, but looking into it, it has a couple of disadvantages:
      – It returns a code for the format code, so to get the actual format code we need to look it up in the help.
      – It returns a cell formatted as Text as G (i.e. General), but General format converts any text that looks like a number or a date into a number or a date, which is the problem we are trying to avoid.


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