Difference Between XML and Excel Files (9 Real Instances)

While working with Excel files, users may save them in various formats other than .xlsx. One such format is the .xml format, which means Extensible Markup Language. There are some core differences between an XML file and an Excel file. In this article, I will show you the difference between an XML and an Excel file.

Overview of Excel File

Excel in today’s world is not only a tool for calculation or analysis. Users can perform numerous tasks with the help of Excel. They can arrange, store, analyze, and visualize results through numerical or graphical representation using Excel. If you open a normal worksheet with data in an Excel file, it will look like the following image.

Overview of an Excel File to Show Difference Between an XML File and an Excel File

Overview of XML File

An Extensible Markup Language or an XML file is used to organize data for storage and transmission. To describe the different parts of a file, XML employs tags. Instead of programming or coding syntax, an XML file contains real words. If you open an XML file in Notepad++, the visual representation will be like the following.

Overview of an XML File to Show Difference Between an XML File and an Excel File

Differences Between XML and Excel Files: 9 Real Instances

In this article, you will see ten real instances of figuring out the differences between XML and Excel files. Here, I will go through various points like extension, saving process, information storing process and so on, to demonstrate the difference between them.

1. Full Meaning of Both XML and Excel Files

You can call an XML file an Extensible Markup Language in its full form. In contrast, the full form of Excel is Microsoft Excel.

2. Classification of Both Files

Firstly, Excel is a tool that can store data, and one can do an analysis of that data and get the result of that. You can store some data in the worksheet, and after the analysis or performing the desired function, Excel will show the result of that function.

On the other hand, you can describe XML as a file format or a file extension that contains some information with some tags.

Read More: How to Open XML File in Excel

3. Launching Period

First of all, Microsoft Corporation launched Microsoft Excel in 1987 for performing professional tasks.

However, in 2000, the same organization unveiled the first iteration of an XML-based Excel format.

4. Extensions of Both Files

If you want to save your Excel file as an XML file, then choose the .xml format from the Save As menu before saving. Consequently, Excel contains two types of the XML format.

  • XML Data (.xml)
  • XML Spreadsheet 2003 (*xml)

Showing Extensions of an XML File as A Real Instance to Figure Out the Differences Between XML and Excel Files

On the contrary, an Excel spreadsheet will be in one of the three formats below.

  • .xls that is Excel 97-2003 Workbook
  • .xlsx that is the Excel Workbook
  • .xlsm that is the Excel Macro Embedded Workbook

Showing Extensions of an Excel File as A Real Instance to Figure Out the Differences Between XML and Excel Files

Read More: How to Convert XML to XLSX Without Opening File

5. Information Storing Process

Generally, the XML file stores different parts of a file, wrapped in tags. Additionally, these tags (<>) also help to specify which data belongs to which column header.

On the other hand, the data that you input in an Excel file will be stored in a binary format.  So, after inputting any data or number, Excel will convert the data into its binary form and save it in the respective device.

Read More: How to Convert Large XML to Excel

6. Inserting or Adding Different Types of Data

While using an Excel file, one can insert or import various types of data like pictures, shapes, charts, etc. These types of data help a lot during presenting any data analysis in a visual format. In order to do that, you have to go to the Insert tab of the ribbon and access this wonderful feature of Excel.

Besides the Formulas tab, you can apply various functions from more than 300 functions from the Excel register.

Additionally, using Macros or Visual Basic, you can customize your own functions.

But in terms of an XML file, you will not be able to apply or enjoy this feature.

Read More: How to Convert XML to Columns In Excel

7. File Opening Process

Firstly, you can open your XML file with text editor software from your device. So, you don’t always have to use Excel to open these kinds of files. Consequently, I have used Notepad++ to open the above XML file.

On the other hand, you need your spreadsheet software to open your Excel file stored in any of the Excel file formats.

Read More: [Solved]: XML File Not Opening in Excel

8. Setting Relationship

While working in Excel, you can reference data from one worksheet to another one in any formula. However, you cannot perform or establish this type of relationship with XML files.

9. Area of Application

Firstly, writing and formatting an XML file requires patience and proper guidance. Also, the use of such kinds of files is more complex. On the other hand, the application of Excel is quite easy and simple. Normal users can use Excel files generally without the help of professionals.

Read More: VBA Code to Convert XML to Excel


From the above discussion, you can see all the differences in the following table.

Factors for Comparison XML File Excel File
Full Meaning Extensible Markup Language Microsoft Excel
Classification File Format Data Analysis, Sorting, and Saving Tool
Period of Launching 2000 1987
Extension .xml xlsx, .xlsm, and .xls
File Opening Platform Text Editor like Notepad++ Only Microsoft Excel
Setting Relationship Not Possible Possible
Information Sorting Process In Plain Text In Binary Format
Inserting Various Types of Data Not Possible Possible
Compatible with Mainly Professionals Most of the General Users

Download Practice Files

You can download the free Excel workbook here and practice on your own.

And here is the employee information file in XML format. We have uploaded this file in .rar format. So you need to extract the file before using it.


That’s the end of this article. I hope you find this article helpful. After reading the above description, you will be able to understand the difference between an XML and an Excel file. Please share any further queries or recommendations with us in the comments section below.

Please give us some moments to solve your issues, and we will reply to your queries with the best possible solutions.

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Md. Araf Bin Jayed
Md. Araf Bin Jayed

I am Araf. I have completed my B.Sc in Industrial and Production Engineering from Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology. Currently I am working as an Excel & VBA Content Developer in Softeko. With proper guideline and aid of Softeko I want to be a flexible data analyst. With my acquired knowledge and hard work, I want to contribute to the overall growth of this organization.

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