In the olden days, collaborating with other people could be incredibly frustrating. You’d open a document and there would be changes everywhere — deletions, additions, and modifications. You wouldn’t know what had been edited and why. You may have even lost data forever.
Today, there’s a simple solution: tracking changes. When you track changes in Google Sheets, you can see what changes were made, when, and by whom. But there isn’t a single, easy way to track changes in Google Sheets — so you’ll have to use a few different methods.
Why Would You Track Changes in Google Sheets?
Tracking changes makes it possible to see which changes occurred and when. You can then revert back to previous information.
In Google Docs, it’s possible to simply select “Track Changes.” From then on, every change is marked as a “Suggestion” until it’s resolved. Google Sheets doesn’t have this type of feature. Instead, you have to track changes using a few other functions:
- You can be notified when changes occur.
- You can see the history of changes for a cell.
- You can see the complete version history of the document.
- You can protect a certain sheets or data ranges from changes.
Together, these functions make it possible to be notified of changes, see changes, and prevent changes. While it may not be as elegant as just clicking “Track Changes,” it’s actually a very flexible solution.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets
Let’s say that a non-profit organization is trying to share its budget between three people and wants to make sure that any changes are visible. Not sharing the document isn’t an option; everyone has to work on it at once.
You should start by protecting any sheets you don’t want to change. Then, you would turn on notifications. Finally, you would share the document with the people you want to share it with.
If, at any time, you saw changes that you didn’t agree with, you could use the version history kept in Google Sheets to revert the changes that had been made.
1. Protect Your Sheet from Changes
Before you share your sheet, there may be areas of the sheet that you want to protect. In this case, you might want everyone to be able to see the budget and add transactions, but you might not want them to edit the instructions on the top of the page.
- Select the cells that you want to protect.
- Click on Tools -> Protect Sheet.
- Click on “Range.”
- Click on “Set Permissions.”
Here, you have two options:
- Show a warning when editing the range. Every time someone tries to edit a cell within this range, they will receive an alert warning them not to. Importantly, they can override this alert if they choose. This is used for gentle warnings that can be ignored.
- Restrict who can edit this range.You can choose to limit editing to yourself or to specific other people. If you have another administrator, for instance, you might want both yourself and them to be able to edit these cells.
You can either protect an entire sheet within the document or specific columns. At any time, you can go to “Protect Sheet” to view the protected sheets and ranges that you’ve already set.
2. Change Your Notification Rules
Now, you will want to be notified of any changes in your sheet. Click on “Tools -> Notification Rules.”
There are two parts to notification rules:
- When you should be notified. This can be set to either “Any changes are made.” or “A user submits a form.” In this case, we’re tracking changes. So, we want to select “Any changes are made.”
- How you should be notified. This can be set to either “Email – daily digest,” or “Email – right away.” This is up to your personal preference. If there will be a lot of changes, a daily digest is the best solution. But if you need urgent notifications, right away is best.
Now, you’ll be emailed when changes are made, and you can reference these emails to track changes.
When wouldn’t you want to be notified? If you aren’t concerned about when changes are made, but you just want to be able to go back through prior versions, you can do that through version history.
3. Share Your Document
Of course, you can also track changes even if you aren’t sharing your document. But tracking changes is usually most useful when you’re sharing a document with others. Once you’ve shared your document with others, you’ll see who made what change.
You can share a document in two ways:
- You can send the document to specific people. This is generally the most secure option.
- You can send a document link to people. You can either restrict this (to specific people) or you can make it so anyone with the link can edit it.
You can also set permissions in a few ways:
- Viewers can view the document but not make changes.
- Commenters can comment on the document but not make changes.
- Editors can edit the document; this can be dangerous.
Once you have shared the document, you should start receiving updates when anyone has edited the document.
4. Checking the History of the Document
You’ve now set up emails for any changes that are made to the sheet. But what if you’re curious about a certain area of the sheet? It would be a pain to try to go through the version history to see when changes were made to a specific cell.
To that end, Google Sheets has a new function that can reveal the history of a cell.
- Select a cell.
- Right-click on the cell.
- Select “Show Edit History.”
You will now see the entire history of the cell. This history is only going to show edits to the cell’s value, not edits to formatting like a Google Doc might. But it will make it possible for you to revert back to previous cell values one at a time.
5. Reverting to Previous Versions of the Document
In addition to being able to see the edit history of a particular cell, you can also choose to see the previous versions of a document. Just go to “File -> Version History -> See Version History.”
In the version history panel, you can see prior versions of the file, including the current version. You can then select a prior version and choose to restore it, name it, or make a copy.
You may want to periodically save versions by naming them. You can then revert to these versions if changes are made that you don’t desire. You can also choose to only see versions that have been named, which makes it easier to revert back to specific files.
Tracking and Reverting Changes in Google Sheets
Google Sheets gives you multiple methods of tracking and reverting changes.
To track changes, you can:
- View the version history of the document.
- Right-click on a cell to view its individual history.
- Get notifications when changes are made.
To revert changes, you can:
- Prevent certain cells from being changed at all.
- Revert back to prior versions of the document.
- Manually change cells back to their previous values.
Though it is a bit finicky, the ability to track changes in Google Sheets and see cell history is extremely useful. If you’re working on any important documents, you will want to be notified of changes — otherwise, the sheet could get out of control very quickly. And by tracking your version history, you can make sure that data is never lost. We hope you now have a better idea how to track changes in Google Sheets.