Have you ever been working in Google Sheets, the popular free online spreadsheet program, and suddenly got an error message saying “circular dependency detected”? If so, you’re not alone. This vague error message can be frustrating for beginners and advanced Google Sheets users alike.
Essentially, a Google Sheets circular dependency error occurs when a cell formula refers back to itself in some way or is part of a loop. For example, if cell A1 contains the formula =B1+10 and cell B1 contains the formula =A1+5, those cells have a circular reference or dependency that Google Sheets doesn’t allow.
In this article, we’ll walk you through what Google Sheets circular dependency is, common reasons why you might run into this error, and, most importantly, step-by-step solutions to resolve the pesky “circular dependency detected” error message.
With some simple tweaks and formula audits, you can break the circular reference and get back to executing your Google Sheets task without interruptions.
But before we delve into the practical aspect of this guide, let’s kick things off by understanding what Google Sheets circular dependency is.
Understanding Google Sheets Circular Dependency
If you ever encounter the error message “Circular dependency detected” in Google Sheets, don’t worry—it’s a common issue with formulas. This error occurs when a formula refers to a cell whose calculation depends on the same formula. It’s like a puzzle where the formula needs an answer to work, but the answer comes from the formula itself.
Unpacking the Issue
To simplify, imagine a scenario where you’re trying to calculate something, but the calculation involves a cell directly linked to your formula. This creates a loop, preventing the formula from working correctly.
For example, if cell A1 has the formula =B1+10, but cell B1 has the formula =A1+5.
In this situation, A1 needs B1 to calculate its value, but B1 also relies on A1’s value. This creates a loop where the cells reference each other (Called a circular dependency).
One common reason for circular dependency is forgetting to connect data from another sheet in your formula. If you’re pulling information from a different sheet, make sure you’ve properly linked it to avoid encountering this error.
Identifying the Error
When the circular dependency error happens, the cell with the issue displays a small red triangle in the top right corner, and the text changes to #REF! Or #ERROR! in some cases.
When you hover your cursor over the error cell, a message pops up, indicating the circular dependency.
Resolving the Issue
While the traditional approach involves adjusting Google Sheets’ iterative calculation settings, an easier solution is to modify the formula itself. Instead of tweaking settings, make adjustments directly within the spreadsheet to break the circular dependency.
Tip for Resolution
To address circular dependency through formula modification, simply edit the problematic formula in your spreadsheet. This straightforward adjustment is often enough to solve the issue without delving into intricate settings.
When Does the Google Sheets Circular Dependency Error Happen?
You may run into the frustrating “circular dependency detected” error message for a few common reasons:
- The cell formula refers back to itself in some way. For example, if A1 calculates =A1+5.
- The formula gets stuck in a loop. Like if A1 calculates =B1+5 and B1 calculates =A1+10.
- The formula references another sheet but forgets to include the sheet name, such as writing =A1 instead of =Sheet2!A1.
These situations create a circular reference where a cell formula depends on itself or gets caught in an endless calculation loop with other cells.
The good news is that circular dependency errors are usually easy to fix once you identify the source. Most of the time, you just need to update one of the formulas to remove the circular reference.
Checking closely at the specific cell formulas that caused the error is the critical first step to getting back up and running.
The Selected Range Includes the Formula
One very common way people run into the Google Sheets “circular dependency detected” error is when the range selected in the formula includes the cell with the formula itself. Let’s walk through an example using sample data to demonstrate.
Imagine we have a sheet listing employee names and hours worked. We want to calculate the total hours for everyone by adding up their hours in column B.
If we use the following formula =SUM(B2:B6), we will get a circular dependency error. The screenshot below shows exactly what we mean.
The issue in this data is that the Total formula in B6 tries to sum the entire column, including the Total cell itself.
This creates a circular reference where B6 is trying to calculate its own value as part of the sum range.
To fix it, the range should only include the data cells – B2:B5. This breaks the circular dependency by removing B6 from its own formula range.
Now, let’s head back to our sample sheet and tweak the formula to =SUM(B2:B5) Instead of =SUM(B2:B6) we used earlier.
From the screenshot above, you can see that after adjusting the formula to reference the correct range, we no longer get a circular dependency error. All we needed to do was simply update the formula.
That’s one way to resolve Google Sheets circular dependency detected error.
The Output Depends on the Input
Another common culprit behind the “circular dependency detected” error is when several connected formulas rely on each other for input and output. If you change or break one formula, it can create issues for the others.
Let’s look at a sample inventory spreadsheet as an example. Here, we have a list of items, their current counts, and formulas to flag when to restock each item based on a threshold.
The “Restock” column formulas in D2:D5 check if the count in column C falls below a given value. So those formulas depend on the count formulas in C2:C5 outputting valid numbers.
If we accidentally delete the underlying count values, then the output formulas encounter errors and show #REF. Even though the D-column formulas look fine on their own, they have no input data to work with anymore.
This cascades into the circular dependency error as the columns now have formulas dependent on each other’s outputs.
To resolve the circular reference error caused by interconnected formulas, we need to start at the beginning of the chain.
In our inventory example, the root cause is that we accidentally deleted the base “Count” formulas in column C. As a result, the dependent “Restock” formulas in column D broke.
For example, we initially used the below formula:
Because the formula isn’t correct, we ended up with a circular dependency error.
To fix that, all we need to do is tweak the formula to break the circular reference error. So instead of =IF(B2>,”Yes”,”No”), we will tweak it to =IF(B2>50,”Yes”,”No”)
From the screenshot above, you can see that by simply tweaking the formula, we have resolved the circular dependency in a scenario where the output depends on the input.
Frequently Asked Questions About Circular Dependencies
What causes the “circular dependency detected” error in Google Sheets?
This error typically happens for three reasons:
- A formula refers back to the cell containing the formula, creating a loop
- Connected formulas depend on each other’s outputs and inputs
- A formula missing a reference to another tab for its data
How do I resolve the circular dependency error message?
A few troubleshooting tips:
- Check all formulas closely to ensure proper syntax and references
- Look for deleted data causing downstream formula failures
- Start fixing from parent formulas first before addressing dependent ones
- Break formula chains to remove dependencies of one formula on another
What does “circular dependency” mean in plain terms?
It means formulas have gotten into a cyclical loop, attempting to calculate each other’s values repeatedly. The cycle needs to be broken by adjusting one formula to no longer depend on itself or others recursively. This error often indicates that an audit of the logic is needed to correct the circular chain.
Now that you know everything from what Google Sheets circular dependency is to specific examples and fixes, you’re well-equipped to troubleshoot this error on your own spreadsheets.
The key takeaways around Google Sheets circular dependencies are:
- Watch for formulas that reference themselves or each other in a continuous loop.
- Audit formulas carefully, especially if one failure seems to create widespread #REF errors
- Methodically step through and recreate formulas from input to output to break the cyclic chain.
- Simply tweaking one formula is often enough to resolve the error for good.
While the “circular dependency detected” error message may seem intimidating at first, more often than not, it takes just a little formula examination and minor tweaks to eliminate those pesky circular references.
So next time you see that error in Google Sheets, diagnose the source formula and tweak the formula as needed to continue working on your spreadsheet task.
If you need more clarifications on resolving the Google Sheets circular dependency detected error, feel free to leave a comment, and we will be happy to get back.