XLOOKUP vs VLOOKUP in Excel: Which to Use and When?

Written by Kasper Langmann

In the realm of Excel functions, VLOOKUP has long been a go-to choice for many users. However, with the introduction of XLOOKUP, there’s a new contender in town. Both functions are powerful tools for searching and retrieving data, but they each have their unique strengths and weaknesses. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the specifics of each function, how they work, and when it’s best to use one over the other.

Understanding VLOOKUP

What is VLOOKUP?

VLOOKUP, or Vertical Lookup, is an Excel function that’s used to find specific information in your spreadsheet. It performs a ‘vertical’ search, hence the ‘V’ in its name. This function is particularly useful when dealing with large datasets where manually searching for data would be time-consuming and inefficient.

The VLOOKUP function works by searching for a value in the left-most column of a specified range and then returns a value in the same row from a column you specify. However, it’s worth noting that VLOOKUP only searches from left to right. It cannot look up values to the left of the column you specify, which can limit its functionality in certain scenarios.

How to Use VLOOKUP

To use VLOOKUP, you’ll need to input four arguments: lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, and [range_lookup]. The ‘lookup_value’ is the value you’re searching for, which VLOOKUP will look for in the first column of your ‘table_array’ (the range of cells where the search will take place). The ‘col_index_num’ is the column number in your range from which VLOOKUP will return a value. Lastly, ‘[range_lookup]’ is an optional argument where you can specify whether you want an exact match (FALSE) or an approximate match (TRUE).

While VLOOKUP is a powerful tool, it does have its limitations. It can only look from left to right, it’s not the most intuitive function for beginners, and errors can occur if columns are added or deleted from your table array. These limitations led to the development of a more robust, flexible function: XLOOKUP.

Understanding XLOOKUP

What is XLOOKUP?

XLOOKUP is a newer Excel function designed to overcome the limitations of VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP. Unlike its predecessors, XLOOKUP can perform a lookup in any direction, not just vertically or horizontally. This makes it a more versatile tool for data retrieval.

Another significant advantage of XLOOKUP is its simplicity. It requires fewer arguments than VLOOKUP, making it easier to understand and use. Furthermore, XLOOKUP can return an array of values, not just a single value, opening up a broader range of potential applications.

How to Use XLOOKUP

To use XLOOKUP, you’ll need to input three to five arguments: lookup_value, lookup_array, return_array, [match_mode], and [search_mode]. The ‘lookup_value’ is the value you’re searching for. The ‘lookup_array’ is the array or range of cells where the search will take place, and the ‘return_array’ is the array or range of cells from which XLOOKUP will return a value.

The optional ‘[match_mode]’ argument allows you to specify what type of match you want: an exact match (0), an exact match or next smaller item (-1), an exact match or next larger item (1), or a wildcard match (2). The optional ‘[search_mode]’ argument lets you specify the direction of the search: first to last (1), last to first (-1), binary search in ascending order (2), or binary search in descending order (-1).

Choosing Between VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP

When to Use VLOOKUP

VLOOKUP is a good choice when you’re working with simple, structured data and you only need to retrieve a single value. It’s also the better option if you’re sharing your work with users who may not have access to the newer XLOOKUP function, as VLOOKUP is available in all versions of Excel.

When to Use XLOOKUP

XLOOKUP is the more powerful, flexible option. It’s ideal for complex data structures, as it can look in any direction and return multiple values. XLOOKUP also handles errors more gracefully than VLOOKUP, making it a more robust choice for complex spreadsheets. However, it’s only available in Excel 365 and Excel 2019, so it may not be an option for users with older versions of Excel.


Both VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP are powerful tools in Excel, each with their unique strengths. VLOOKUP is a reliable choice for simple lookups in structured data, while XLOOKUP offers more flexibility and power for complex data structures. By understanding the capabilities and limitations of each function, you can choose the right tool for your specific needs and work more efficiently in Excel.