Apache Software Foundation > Apache POI

Formula Support


This document describes the current state of formula support in POI. The information in this document currently applies to the 3.13 version of POI. Since this area is a work in progress, this document will be updated with new features as and when they are added.

The basics

In org.apache.poi.ss.usermodel.Cell setCellFormula("formulaString") is used to add a formula to a sheet, and getCellFormula() is used to retrieve the string representation of a formula.

We aim to support the complete excel grammar for formulas. Thus, the string that you pass in to the setCellFormula call should be what you expect to type into excel. Also, note that you should NOT add a "=" to the front of the string.

Please note that localized versions of Excel allow to enter localized function-names. However internally Excel stores the English names and thus POI only supports these and not the localized ones. Also note that only commas may be used to separate arguments, as per the Excel English style, alternate delimeters used in other localizations are not supported.

Supported Features

  • References: single cell & area, 2D & 3D, relative & absolute
  • Literals: number, text, boolean, error and array
  • Operators: arithmetic and logical, some region operators
  • Built-in functions: over 350 recognised, 280 evaluatable
  • Add-in functions: 24 from Analysis Toolpack
  • Array Formulas: via Sheet.setArrayFormula() and Sheet.removeArrayFormula()
  • Region operators: union, intersection

Not yet supported

  • Manipulating table formulas (In Excel, formulas that look like "{=...}" as opposed to "=...")
  • Parsing of previously uncalled add-in functions
  • Preservation of whitespace in formulas (when POI manipulates them)

Supported Functions

To get the list of formula functions that POI supports, you need to call some code!

The methods you need are available on org.apache.poi.ss.formula.eval.FunctionEval. To find which functions your copy of Apache POI supports, use getSupportedFunctionNames() to get a list of the implemented function names. For the list of functions that POI knows the name of, but doesn't currently implement, use getNotSupportedFunctionNames()


Formulas in Excel are stored as sequences of tokens in Reverse Polish Notation order. The open office XLS spec is the best documentation you will find for the format.

The tokens used by excel are modeled as individual *Ptg classes in the org.apache.poi.hssf.record.formula package.

The task of parsing a formula string into an array of RPN ordered tokens is done by the org.apache.poi.ss.formula.FormulaParser class. This class implements a hand written recursive descent parser.

Formula tokens in Excel are stored in one of three possible operand classes : Reference, Value and Array. Based on the location of a token, its class can change in complicated and undocumented ways. While we have support for most cases, we are not sure if we have covered all bases (since there is no documentation for this area.) We would therefore like you to report any occurrence of #VALUE! in a cell upon opening a POI generated workbook in excel. (Check that typing the formula into Excel directly gives a valid result.)

Check out the javadocs for details.

by Avik Sengupta