Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Returning dynamic array from VBA UDF into Excel

If you ever want to return non-scalar value from your VBA user-defined function (UDF) into Excel worksheet, you have to use CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER combination to return all the values. This means, that you have to know the exact dimensions of resulting array beforehand. Now, all Bloomberg users must have been wondering how Bloomberg has implemented its own worksheet functions, like BDH (for time-series data retrieving). When using that function, the user gives all required function arguments just like in any Excel build-in worksheet function and function then returns resulting array, after pressing ENTER and not using CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER combination. This means, that the user does not have to know the exact dimensions of the resulting array beforehand.

First attempt to create the corresponding functionality, would be to create some dummy worksheet UDF, which then calls separate sub routine to write an array of values into Excel worksheet. However, this attempt will fail, because a function called from worksheet is not able to modify any Excel objects (except message box). To get around this limitation (sub routine called inside UDF can not write data back to worksheet) you can use Windows Timer API . First, timer is created at the beginning of a function call. Then, timer is killed as soon as it calls desired sub procedure (which then writes data back to worksheet).

Here's my own BDH mimic below, along with comments. It may not be the most elegant one, but it should show the essence of this approach using Timer API. You can copy-paste the sample code directly into a new VBA standard module and test it. The actual worksheet interface function takes two arguments: value (which is going to be repeated), and repetitions (which defines how many times the value will be repeated below the cell, from which the function call has been made). With this approach, you could create your own UDF which takes any parameters and then retrieves data back to worksheet from database by using ADODB object inside your sub procedure what is going to be called by Timer API.

More information about Windows Timer API can be found here:

The code might sometimes look a bit odd within the frame below, but just copy-paste everything within the frame. I have tested the code and it should be working correctly. I hope you could get something out of this. Have a nice day.

Option Explicit
' Declare needed Windows API Timer dll functions
Declare Function SetTimer Lib "user32" _
(ByVal HWnd As Long, ByVal nIDEvent As Long, ByVal uElapse As Long, ByVal lpTimerFunc As Long) As Long
Private Declare Function KillTimer Lib "user32" (ByVal HWnd As Long, ByVal nIDEvent As Long) As Long
Private mTimerID As Long
Private mValue As Variant
Private mItems As Long
Private mUpdateMessage As String
Private mCurrentCellAddress As String
Private mCurrentWorksheetIndex As Integer
Public Function update(ByVal value As Variant, _
ByVal repetitions As Long) As Variant
    ' this is the worksheet interface function.
    ' save information from caller, plus information about
    ' the current worksheet and range
    mValue = value
    mItems = repetitions
    mUpdateMessage = "Updated at " & VBA.CStr(VBA.Now())
    mCurrentCellAddress = Application.Caller.Address
    mCurrentWorksheetIndex = Application.Caller.Parent.Index
    ' set timer to be launched: after 1 millisecond, timer
    ' will launch sub called fillWorksheet
    If mTimerID <> 0 Then KillTimer 0&, mTimerID
    mTimerID = SetTimer(0&, 0&, 1, AddressOf fillWorksheet)
    ' finally, return information about update time for the caller
    update = mUpdateMessage
End Function
Private Sub fillWorksheet()
    On Error Resume Next
    KillTimer 0&, mTimerID: mTimerID = 0
    ' create and modify the range object so, that it does
    ' not overwrite the actual worksheet function
    Dim r As Range
    ' UPDATED 31.5.2013
    ' before this procedure writes a given value n times into the worksheet,
    ' the old existing values needs to be cleared from the worksheet first
    Set r = Sheets(mCurrentWorksheetIndex).Range(mCurrentCellAddress).CurrentRegion
    Set r = r.Offset(1, 0)
    ' write given value n (repetitions) times
    Dim i As Long
    For i = 1 To mItems
        r(i, 1) = mValue
    Next i
End Sub


  1. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing. You saved me.

  2. Dear Mike,

    Thank you so much for this post! I was struggling to resolve this problem yesterday. Excellent idea to use Timer!