Published On: May 11th, 2016|13.5 min read|

XLSM vs XLSB Files, What are the Difference? Which one is faster?

When it comes to Excel files, XLSM and XLSB formats offer distinct advantages depending on your needs. XLSM files are equipped with macros, which are essentially automated scripts that can perform a series of tasks. These files are great for scenarios where you want to streamline repetitive actions, automate calculations, or create custom functions using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

On the other hand, XLSB files, known as Binary Workbook files, are designed for optimized performance. They store data in binary format, allowing faster calculations and faster loading times. This makes XLSB ideal for handling large datasets or complex financial models, where speed is a priority.

  • Standard Worksheet: Basic spreadsheet format for organizing and analyzing data.
  • Chart Sheet: Dedicated sheet for creating and displaying various types of charts and graphs.
  • Template Sheet: A predefined sheet format that can be used as a starting point for new documents.
  • Macro-Enabled Worksheet: Supports embedded macros for automating tasks and enhancing functionality.
  • XML Data Source Worksheet: Connects to external XML data sources for importing and updating information.

What is The XLSM format type?

The XLSM format is a file extension used for Microsoft Excel workbook files that contain macros written in the VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) programming language. Macros are scripts that automate tasks within Excel, allowing users to perform actions like data manipulation and formatting automatically. The “M” in XLSM stands for “macro-enabled,” indicating that the workbook includes these macros.

How to open an XLSM file?

To open an XLSM format file, you can use Microsoft Excel itself. Simply double-click the XLSM file, and it should open in Excel. You can use alternatives like Google Sheets, LibreOffice Calc, or other spreadsheet software that supports XLSM files if you don’t have Excel. Keep in mind that some macro features might not work perfectly in alternative software.

What software opens XLSM files?

XLSM files can be opened using Microsoft Excel, which is the primary software for working with Excel files, including macro-enabled workbooks. Some alternative spreadsheet software like Google Sheets, LibreOffice Calc, and WPS Office also support opening XLSM files. However, the compatibility of macros and advanced features might vary when using these alternative programs.

Advantages of using an XLSM file

XLSM files offer several advantages:

  1. Macro Functionality: XLSM files support macros, which are automated scripts that can perform tasks within the spreadsheet. This can help automate repetitive tasks and increase efficiency.
  2. Data Manipulation: XLSM files allow for complex data manipulation, calculations, and analysis using Excel’s extensive formula and function capabilities.
  3. Data Visualization: Excel provides powerful charting and graphing tools that enable users to create visually appealing and informative data visualizations.
  4. Compatibility: XLSM files can be opened and edited using various versions of Microsoft Excel and other compatible spreadsheet software, ensuring broad compatibility.
  5. Customization: Users can create custom functions, add-ins, and user interfaces to tailor the spreadsheet to specific needs, enhancing its functionality and usability.
  6. Collaboration: XLSM files can be easily shared, collaborated on, and reviewed by multiple users, making them suitable for team projects.
  7. Integration: XLSM files can be integrated with other Microsoft Office applications, allowing for seamless data exchange and interaction between different types of documents.
  8. Data Protection: XLSM files can have password protection and restricted access, ensuring the security and confidentiality of sensitive data.
  9. Data Storage: XLSM files can store significant data and maintain data integrity over time, making them suitable for small- and large-scale data management.
  10. Offline Access: XLSM files can be accessed and edited offline, making them a practical solution for situations where an internet connection is not available.

Disadvantages of using an XLSM file

There are a few disadvantages to using XLSM files:

  1. Macro Security: XLSM files can contain macros, which are scripts that can automate tasks in Excel. However, macros can also carry potential security risks if they are malicious or if you unknowingly enable them from untrusted sources.
  2. Compatibility: XLSM files with complex macros might not work well on different versions of Excel or other spreadsheet software. Compatibility issues can arise when trying to open XLSM files on software that doesn’t fully support the macro functionality.
  3. File Size: XLSM files can become larger in size due to the inclusion of macro code. This can impact storage and transmission, especially when compared to non-macro-enabled XLSX files.
  4. Limited Portability: XLSM files might not be as portable as simpler file formats like CSV or XLSX. Some platforms or software might not support macros or might strip them when converting or opening the file.
  5. Macros Maintenance: Macros can be complex, and maintaining or debugging them can be challenging. It can be difficult to understand and modify their functionality if macros are not well-documented or if the original creator is unavailable.
  6. Security Concerns: If you’re working with sensitive data, there’s a risk that macros could be used to extract or manipulate data in unintended ways. It’s important to be cautious when enabling macros from unknown sources.
  7. Learning Curve: Creating and working with macros in Excel requires some programming knowledge. If you’re unfamiliar with programming concepts, learning how to create and use macros effectively might take time.

Despite these disadvantages, XLSM files can be very useful for automating repetitive tasks and enhancing the functionality of Excel spreadsheets. It’s important to weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks and use them judiciously.

What is The XLSB format type?

The XLSB format is a binary file format used by Microsoft Excel to store spreadsheet data. Unlike the more common XLSX format based on XML, XLSB files store data in a binary format. This can lead to smaller file sizes and faster opening and saving times, especially for large and complex spreadsheets. XLSB files can contain worksheets, charts, macros, and other Excel elements. While they offer performance benefits, XLSB files might have some compatibility limitations with non-Microsoft spreadsheet software.

How to open an XLSB file?

To open an XLSB file, you can follow these steps:

Using Microsoft Excel:

  • Double-click the XLSB file. If you have Microsoft Excel installed, the file should open directly in Excel. 
  • Alternatively, open Microsoft Excel, go to the “File” menu, then select “Open.” Navigate to the location of the XLSB file and select it.

Using Other Software:

  • Some spreadsheet software might support opening XLSB files, but compatibility can vary. To open the file, you can try using alternative spreadsheet software like LibreOffice Calc or Google Sheets. However, keep in mind that certain features might not work as expected due to the unique nature of the XLSB format.

It’s important to note that XLSB files are primarily designed to be opened in Microsoft Excel, as it provides the most complete compatibility and functionality for this file format. If you’re working with XLSB files regularly, having access to Microsoft Excel is recommended for the best experience.

What software opens an XLSB file?

The XLSB file format is primarily associated with Microsoft Excel and is best opened using Microsoft Excel itself. This format is specifically designed for Excel, so it might not be fully supported by other spreadsheet software.

However, if you’re looking for alternatives, some spreadsheet software like LibreOffice Calc might be able to open XLSB files to some extent, although there might be compatibility issues, especially with more complex features like macros. Always keep in mind that the best compatibility and functionality for XLSB files are achieved when using Microsoft Excel.

Advantages of using an XLSB file

Using XLSB files, the binary format for Microsoft Excel workbooks offers several advantages:

  1. Performance: XLSB files are generally faster to open and save than XML-based formats like XLSX. This is especially noticeable with larger and more complex spreadsheets.
  1. Smaller File Sizes: XLSB files tend to have smaller file sizes than equivalent XLSX files. This can save disk space and make file transfers quicker.
  1. Data Integrity: Binary formats like XLSB can be less prone to corruption since they are less sensitive to formatting or structural issues during saving and loading.
  1. Compatibility with Excel Features: XLSB files support the full range of Excel features, including formulas, charts, pivot tables, and macros. This makes them suitable for retaining complex functionalities.
  1. Macros: Macros stored in XLSB files generally run faster and can be more efficient due to the binary format. This can be particularly beneficial for complex automation tasks.
  1. Data Security: Binary formats can provide some level of data security since the structure of the file is less human-readable and might deter unauthorized access.
  1. Hidden Worksheets: XLSB files can include hidden worksheets, which can be useful for storing data that you don’t want to be directly accessible to users.
  1. Conditional Formatting and Styles: XLSB files maintain conditional formatting and cell styles well, ensuring consistent appearance and functionality.
  1. Data Validation: Data validation rules and settings are well-preserved in XLSB files, ensuring data accuracy.
  1. Reduced File Corruption Risk: The binary nature of XLSB files can result in fewer compatibility issues and less risk of file corruption during various operations.

Disadvantages of using an XLSB file

Using XLSB files does come with certain disadvantages:

  1. Limited Compatibility: XLSB files are primarily associated with Microsoft Excel. While Excel provides the best compatibility, other spreadsheet software might have difficulty opening or fully supporting XLSB files, potentially causing issues when sharing or collaborating.
  1. Interoperability: When working in a multi-platform or collaborative environment where different spreadsheet software is used, the binary nature of XLSB files can hinder seamless data exchange and cooperation.
  1. Limited Web Support: Cloud-based spreadsheet applications and web-based tools might have difficulty handling XLSB files due to their binary format, making it less convenient for online collaboration and access.
  1. Macros and Add-ins: While XLSB files can contain macros and add-ins, their compatibility might not be as reliable as with XLSX files. Macros and add-ins might not function as expected when sharing XLSB files with others who use different versions of Excel or alternative software.
  1. File Size Misinterpretation: The smaller file size of XLSB files might give the impression of better efficiency, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the contents are more efficient. The binary format can sometimes cause difficulties in analyzing, troubleshooting, and recovering data in case of corruption.
  1. Backup and Recovery: Since XLSB files are binary, recovering data from corrupted files might be more challenging than from XML-based formats like XLSX, which can be partially recovered through manual extraction of XML data.
  1. Learning Curve: The intricacies of working with binary files might require a deeper understanding of file structures and data representation, which could pose a learning curve for those unfamiliar with the format’s specifics.

Differences Between XLSM and XLSB

XLSM files are macro-enabled workbooks in XML format, supporting VBA macros. While readable, they can be slower due to XML. XLSB files, binary workbooks, offer faster performance with smaller sizes, but compatibility might vary.


XLSM files

XLSB files
File type
Macro-enabled XML workbooks 
Binary workbooks 
Readable with XML structure
Not human-readable due to binary format 
Performance (speed)Slower due to XML formatFaster due to binary format, small sizes 

When To Use XLSM Files?

XLSM files are best used when:

  • Macros are Required: You need to automate tasks, perform calculations, or create custom functionality using VBA macros within Excel.
  • Complex Logic: Your workbook requires complex calculations, data transformations, or interactions that can be efficiently handled by macros.
  • Data Validation: Macros can provide dynamic data validation, ensuring data accuracy and consistency.
  • Custom Forms: You want to create custom user interfaces and forms using macros for data entry and interaction.
  • Data Manipulation: Macros can help manipulate and transform data across multiple worksheets or workbooks efficiently.
  • Workflows: Your tasks involve repetitive operations that can be streamlined with automated macros.
  • Custom Reporting: Macros can generate custom reports or charts based on specific criteria.
  • Interactive Dashboards: You aim to build interactive dashboards or visualizations using macros to enhance user experience.
  • Specific Functionality: Your workbook requires functionalities not readily available through Excel’s built-in features.

When To Use XLSB Files?

You might consider using XLSB files in the following scenarios:

  • Large Datasets: When working with large datasets or complex calculations, XLSB’s binary format can offer faster performance and smaller file sizes compared to XML-based formats like XLSX or XLSM.
  • Speed-Critical Tasks: If your spreadsheet involves resource-intensive calculations or frequent data manipulation, XLSB’s binary format can provide quicker calculations and operations.
  • Limited Compatibility Concerns: If you primarily use Microsoft Excel and don’t need to share files with a wide range of software, XLSB can be an efficient choice due to its speed advantages.
  • Internal Use: When working within an organization that uses Excel extensively and doesn’t rely on sharing files outside the organization or across different software platforms.
  • File Size Concerns: If storage space is a concern and you want to minimize file sizes while retaining complex data and calculations.
  • Macro-Enabled Files: When you want to use macros within your Excel workbooks, XLSB format can support macros while offering potential performance benefits.

Does XLSB run faster than XLSM?

Yes, XLSB files generally tend to run faster than XLSM files. The main reason for this speed advantage is the binary format used in XLSB files. Binary files are more efficient for processing by computers compared to XML-based files like XLSM. When Excel reads data from a binary file, it can do so more quickly because it doesn’t need to interpret and parse complex XML structures.

How is XLSM converted to XLSB?

Converting an XLSM file to an XLSB file involves a process that might require a few steps. Here’s a general outline of how you can convert an XLSM file to XLSB:

  1. Open the XLSM File in Excel:
  • Launch Microsoft Excel and open the XLSM file you want to convert.
  1. Save As XLSB:
  • Once the XLSM file is open, go to the “File” menu.
  • Choose the “Save As” option.
  • In the “Save as type” dropdown menu, select “Excel Binary Workbook (*.xlsb).”
  • Choose a location to save the new XLSB file and provide a name.
  1. Options (Optional):
  • You might see a “Tools” dropdown in the “Save As” dialog. This can provide options for optimizing the XLSB file, such as compressing images or removing excess formatting. Adjust these settings if needed.
  1. Save:
  • Click the “Save” button to convert and save the XLSM file as an XLSB file.
  1. Review and Test:
  • Open the newly created XLSB file to ensure that the content and macros are intact and functioning as expected.


In summary, your choice between XLSM and XLSB files carries significant weight in shaping your Excel experience. XLSM files harness the power of macro-enabled XML to enhance automation, while XLSB files, rooted in binary efficiency, deliver speed and compactness, though with compatibility aspects to bear in mind. Selecting the right format hinges on striking the right balance between automation, performance, and compatibility to ensure your Excel journey remains seamless and productive.


Can XLSB files have macros?

Yes, XLSB files can indeed contain macros. XLSB is a binary file format used by Microsoft Excel for storing spreadsheet data. It supports the inclusion of VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) macros, which are used for automating tasks and adding functionality to Excel spreadsheets. So, if you have an XLSB file that contains macros, they can be executed within Excel.

Does XLSB save space?

Yes, the XLSB file format can save space. XLSB files are binary files that store spreadsheet data in a compressed form, resulting in smaller file sizes.

Is XLSB smaller than CSV?

Yes, XLSB files are generally smaller in size compared to CSV files. XLSB is a binary file format used by Microsoft Excel to store spreadsheet data, while CSV (Comma Separated Values) is a plain text format. XLSB files tend to be more efficient in terms of space usage as they store data in a binary format, resulting in smaller file sizes.

Can you use macros in XLSB?

Yes, you can use macros in XLSB files. It supports the use of VBA macros, which allow you to automate tasks, create custom functions, and perform various actions within your Excel workbook.

Is XLSM a macro file?

Yes, XLSM is a file extension used for macro-enabled spreadsheet files in Microsoft Excel. The “M” in XLSM stands for Macros, indicating that the file contains VBA macro code. These macros can automate tasks and add custom functionality to the spreadsheet.

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About the Author: Hajir Hoseini

One Comment

  1. Gunter D Raffel January 12, 2022 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    I very much appreciate the explanation of the differences between .xlsm and .xlsb extensions in Excel. and when to use which.

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