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How To Make API Calls To and From Excel

Woman writing “use APIs” on a whiteboard in a discussion about Excel api calls

Excel remains a powerful tool for data analysis and management, and millions use it to crunch numbers, perform complex calculations, and visualise data. Increasingly, users need to extend Excel's capabilities by integrating APIs, allowing for real-time and automated data feeds that bring external data into Excel directly.

Whether you're a financial analyst sourcing market data from data vendors, or a researcher gathering data from government sources, using APIs to source data and perform data staging of it for Excel to streamline workflows and enhance decision-making. 

This article guides you through various methods of making API calls from Excel, highlighting the benefits and limitations of each approach.

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APIs and Excel Integration - What Are Your Options?

To harness external data effectively within Excel, it's essential to understand APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and how they can be used.

APIs act as gateways for accessing data from external servers, enabling software applications to communicate with each other. For Excel users, APIs are invaluable tools for automating data inputs directly from external sources into their spreadsheets. This integration facilitates efficient API calls within Excel, enhancing productivity, capabilities and data accuracy.

Traditional Methods and Their Challenges

Traditionally, Excel users have relied on several methods to integrate APIs:

Power Query

Built into Excel, Power Query is a tool for importing data from various sources, including APIs. Users can add data from the web by entering the API’s endpoint URL, adjusting parameters, and importing the data into their Excel workbooks. 

However, Power Query has limitations, particularly with large datasets or complex APIs that require intricate authentication protocols. Handling such complexities can lead to performance bottlenecks and might not support non-standard API responses well.

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)

VBA offers more flexibility for those with programming skills. It involves writing scripts to make API requests and handling the data response within Excel. 

This method, though powerful, introduces complexity and requires a solid understanding of programming concepts. Moreover, it poses security risks if data handlers do not properly manage API keys and sensitive data.

External Data Connections (ODBC, OLE DB)

These are used to connect Excel with databases and other external data sources. While users can configure them to interact with APIs, they generally involve complex setup processes. They might not provide the granular control needed for specific data extraction tasks from APIs.

Each method has its own set of challenges, particularly concerning ease of use, performance, and data handling capabilities. Innovative solutions like Schematiq come into play here, offering streamlined, user-friendly, and powerful processes.

Schematiq - A Solution To Simplify Getting API Data To Excel

Schematiq stands out by enabling users to handle API calls directly within Excel using a set of intuitive, Excel-like functions. It simplifies the connection and authentication processes and incorporates robust security measures that protect sensitive information. 

Unlike traditional methods that may require storing API keys within scripts, Schematiq leverages OAuth 2.0 and similar authorisation methods  for authentication, this approach minimises the risk of unauthorised access and enhances compliance with industry standards around APIs.

Furthermore, Schematiq handles large volumes of data more efficiently than traditional generic solutions for API connectivity, overcoming common limitations such as slow refresh times and memory overheads. Schematiq’s approach enables users to connect to data, view it and traverse API trees and nodes, all before any transformation is done to that data. 

Head of Sales Engineering, Ruben Esposito, adds, “Schematiq has a low learning cost to make API calls. A lot of the complexity around connecting to the API, authentication, and viewing that data in a structured manner is handled up front by our proprietary Engine ahead of data being exposed to Excel.”

Setting Up Your Excel Environment for API Calls

Before diving into the specifics of making Excel API calls, it's important to properly configure your environment. This setup is crucial regardless of the method you choose for integration.

Power Query for API Integration

For those opting to use Excel’s built-in capabilities like Power Query, here's how to get started:

  1. Launch Microsoft Excel on your computer.

  2. Click the "Data" tab in the ribbon. This section houses tools for external data import.

  3. Click "Get Data" and select "From Other Sources." Choose "From Web" to open the dialogue box where you can enter your API request.

  4. Input the API endpoint URL and any necessary headers or parameters. You might need to set authentication details if the API requires it.

  5. Once you have retrieved the data, you can use the Power Query Editor to transform or clean it according to your needs before loading it into your Excel worksheet.

Power Query is suitable for basic to intermediate data needs and is a user-friendly option for those new to API integration.

VBA for Advanced Customisation

For more complex requirements, setting up VBA allows for greater flexibility:

  1. Ensure the Developer tab is enabled in Excel. If not, add it via Excel Options under the "Customise Ribbon" section.

  2. Click "Visual Basic" in the Developer tab to open the VBA development environment.

  3. Right-click in the Project Explorer window, choose "Insert," and then "Module." A space will open up for you to write your VBA scripts.

  4. Use VBA to script the process of making the HTTP request, handling the response, and parsing the data into an Excel format. You may need to use objects like MSXML2.XMLHTTP or WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5.1.

  5. Implement error handling to manage potential failures in API calls and ensure that sensitive information, such as API keys, is securely handled.

VBA is powerful but requires a good understanding of programming concepts and careful management of security risks.

Schematiq for Seamless Excel Integration

Schematiq simplifies the API integration process by minimising the setup complexity:

  1. Ensure that Schematiq is installed and configured to work with your Excel. 

  2. Instead of manually handling connections and data parsing, use Schematiq’s functions to make API calls and manage data directly. These functions are easy to use and integrate naturally into Excel’s function list.

  3. Schematiq handles authentication, connection pooling, and data parsing automatically, reducing the burden on the user and minimising errors.

You can effectively integrate APIs into your Excel workflows by choosing the right setup based on your technical skills and the complexity of your data needs.

How To Import Data from API to Excel

This section demonstrates how to import API data into Excel using tools like Power Query and Schematiq to get data from APIs to Excel efficiently.

Using Power Query to Import API to Excel

  1. Open Excel and Prepare to Fetch Data: Navigate to the 'Data' tab and select 'Get Data' > 'From Other Sources' > 'From Web'.

  2. Enter API Details: Input the URL of the API endpoint in the dialogue box that appears. Include necessary authentication tokens or parameters as required.

  3. Load and Transform the Data: Once the data is fetched, the Power Query Editor will open automatically. Here, you can apply transformations such as filtering, sorting, and merging data. After adjustments, click 'Close & Load' to add the data to an Excel worksheet.

Using VBA to Extract Data from API to Excel

  1. Open the VBA Editor: Use the shortcut Alt + F11 to open the Visual Basic for Applications editor.

  2. Write the API Call Function: Create a new module and write a VBA function to handle the HTTP request and response. Use objects like MSXML2.XMLHTTP to send requests and receive responses.

  3. Parse and Display Data: Extract the necessary information from the response and format it as needed before outputting it into an Excel cell or range.

Using Schematiq for API Export to Excel

  1. Establish Connection Using Schematiq Functions: Use functions like=web.Get("Request") to directly make API calls. These functions simplify the process and handle authentication and header management seamlessly.

  2. Transform and Utilise Data: Schematiq's Excel formula functions allow for easy data staging allowing for transformation and integration of data into Excel, enabling complex ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) operations right within your spreadsheet. This is particularly useful for recurring data updates.

  3. Automate and Streamline Processes: Set up automatic data refreshes and dynamic data manipulation with minimal effort, ensuring that your Excel dashboard or report always reflects the most current data available from the API.

Ruben Esposito, Head of Sales Engineering at Schematiq, adds, "APIs that paginate their data typically include parameters such as 'page' or 'offset' to specify which page of data to retrieve and 'limit' to define the number of records per page. Schematiq has the capability to utilise such parameters to have recursive functions to source the content."

Best Practices for API Data Import

  • Always validate and clean the data from external sources to ensure accuracy and reliability in your reports.

  • Implement error handling in your VBA scripts or use Schematiq’s built-in error management to prevent crashes or incorrect data displays.

  • Manage authentication details and sensitive information securely, particularly when scripting in VBA or configuring API requests.

How To Export Data from Excel to API

Once you've mastered importing data into Excel from an API, you might also need to export data from Excel to an API. 

Exporting Excel data to an API can be crucial for updating systems, sending updates back to the server or sharing information across platforms, effectively using Excel as a dynamic data management tool.

Here's how to export data from Excel to an API using VBA and Schematiq:

Using VBA to Export Data to an API

  1. Prepare Data for Export: Organise the data you intend to send to the API within Excel. Ensure it is correctly formatted and validated.

  2. Open the VBA Editor: Access the VBA editor via Alt + F11 and create a new module if necessary.

  3. Write the Export Function: Develop a VBA function to convert Excel data into a format suitable for the API (usually JSON or XML) and make an HTTP POST request. Include error handling to manage potential issues during the data transmission process.

  4. Execute and Verify: Run your VBA script to send data to the API. Check the API’s response to ensure the data was received and processed correctly.

Using Schematiq to Export Data to an API

  1. Select Data for Export: Choose the data within Excel you want to export. With Schematiq, you can easily manipulate and prepare data for export using its advanced data transformation capabilities.

  2. Use Schematiq Functions: Apply Schematiq’s simple syntax to send data. For instance, =web.Post("API Endpoint", "Headers", ExcelRangeToJson(YourDataRange), "Auth") could be used to convert a range of Excel data into JSON and post it to the API.

  3. Automate and Secure the Process: Schematiq’s functions include built-in security measures for handling credentials and can automate repetitive tasks, making the data export process secure and efficient.

Best Practices for Exporting Data to APIs

  • Before exporting, double-check your data for accuracy and completeness. Data errors can lead to significant issues downstream.

  • Be aware of the API’s rate limits and ensure your data export routines do not exceed these limits to avoid service interruptions.

  • Always log and monitor the API responses for your data exports. This can help you troubleshoot issues and confirm that data integration is successful.

Troubleshooting Common Issues with Excel API Integration

Encountering issues when making API calls from Excel is common. Here we troubleshoot frequent problems, whether you’re trying to call an API from Excel or manage ongoing API interactions, and offer solutions to resolve them.

Handling API Call Failures

  1. Identify the Error: Most API call failures will provide an error message or code.

  2. Check API Documentation: Refer to the API's documentation for specifics on error codes and messages to understand why it occurred.

  3. Validate API Request Details: Ensure that the URL, headers, and parameters in your API request are correct. Common mistakes include typos, incorrect header fields, or malformed body content.

Managing Large Data Volumes

  • Instead of requesting large datasets in one go, fetch data in smaller chunks, especially if the API supports pagination.

  • Large data sets can slow down Excel, leading to sluggish performance and crashes. Consider ways to improve Excel performance, such as disabling automatic calculations or using more efficient formulas and data structures.

  • Consider using an external database to handle data processing for extremely large datasets and only bring summarised results into Excel.

Ensuring Data Accuracy

  • Implement routines in Excel to regularly check the accuracy of imported data, such as verifying totals, checking for duplicates, or ensuring data falls within expected ranges.

  • Use Excel formulas or VBA scripts to automate error checking and alert you to potential data inaccuracies.

Security Concerns with API Keys and Sensitive Data

  • Never hard-code sensitive information like API keys directly in Excel or VBA scripts. Instead, use secure methods like environment variables or secure vaults.

  • Use OAuth or other secure authentication methods the API provides to minimise the risk of unauthorised access.

Dealing with API Limitations and Quotas

  • Keep track of how many requests you make to the API, especially if it has rate limits or quotas.

  • Implement logic in your Excel solution to handle rate limiting, such as pausing requests and retrying after a wait period.

Using Schematiq for Enhanced Troubleshooting

  • Advanced Data Viewing: Schematiq provides a data viewer tool that allows users to visually inspect and monitor data as it is processed, which can be extremely helpful in diagnosing issues with data transformations or API interactions. Users can observe the exact state of data at any point in the API call process.

  • Error Handling Functions: Schematiq enhances error handling by automating much of the traditional troubleshooting required in Excel. It can preemptively catch and resolve errors, reducing downtime and user frustration. For example, its built-in retry mechanisms help users manage API call failures and ensure more reliable data integration.

Streamline Your Excel Data Processes with Schematiq

Explore the potential of Schematiq to efficiently manage API interactions, ensuring robust, error-free data handling in your spreadsheets. Elevate your data workflow with Schematiq's powerful tools. Learn more about Schematiq today!


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