Unpivot In Google Sheets With Formulas (How To Turn Wide Data Into Tall Data)

Unpivot in Google Sheets is a method to turn “wide” tables into “tall” tables, which are more convenient for analysis.

Suppose we have a wide table like this:

Wide Data Table

Wide data like this is good for the Google Sheets chart tool but it’s not ideal for creating pivot tables or doing analysis. The main reason is that data is captured in the column headings, which prevents you using it in pivot tables for analyis.

So we want to transform this data — unpivot it — into the tall format that is the way databases store data:

Unpviot in Google Sheets

But how do we unpivot our data like that?

It turns out it’s quite hard.

It’s harder than going the other direction, turning tall data into wide data tables, which we can do with a pivot table.

This article looks at how to do it using formulas so if you’re ready for some complex formulas, let’s dive in…

Unpivot in Google Sheets

We’ll use the wide dataset shown in the first image at the top of this post.

The output of our formulas should look like the second image in this post.

In other words, we need to create 16 rows to account for the different pairings of Customer and Product, e.g. Customer 1 + Product 1, Customer 1 + Product 2, etc. all the way up to Customer 4 + Product 4.

Of course, we’ll employ the Onion Method to understand these formulas.

Template

Click here to open the Unpivot in Google Sheets template

Feel free to make your own copy (File > Make a copy…).

(If you can’t open the file, it’s likely because your G Suite account prohibits opening files from external sources. Talk to your G Suite administrator or try opening the file in an incognito browser.)

Step 1: Combine The Data

Use an array formula like this to combine the column headings (Customer 1, Customer 2, etc.) with the row headings (Product 1, Product 2, Product 3, etc.) and the data.

It’s crucial to add a special character between these sections of the dataset though, so we can split them up later on. I’ve used the fox emoji (because, why not?) but you can use whatever you like, provided it’s unique and doesn’t occur anywhere in the dataset.

=ArrayFormula(B1:E1&""&A2:A4&""&B2:E4)

The output of this formula is:

Unpivot Data In Google Sheets Step 1

Step 2: Flatten The Data

Before the introduction of the FLATTEN function, this step was much, much harder, involving lots of weird formulas.

Thankfully the FLATTEN function does away with all of that and simply stacks all of the columns in the range on top of each other. So in this example, our combined data turns into a single column.

=ArrayFormula(FLATTEN(B1:E1&""&A2:A4&""&B2:E4))

The result is:

Unpivot Data In Google Sheets Step 2

Step 3: Split The Data Into Columns

The final step is to split this new tall column into separate columns for each data type. You can see now why we needed to include the fox emoji so that we have a unique character to split the data on.

Wrap the formula from step 2 with the SPLIT function and set the delimiter to “”:

=ArrayFormula(SPLIT(FLATTEN(B1:E1&""&A2:A4&""&B2:E4),""))

This splits the data into the tall data format we want. All that’s left is to add the correct column headings.

Unpivot Data In Google Sheets Step 3

Unpivot With Apps Script

You can also use Apps Script to unpivot data.

Have a look at the example sheet from the first answer of this Stack Overflow post.

Further Reading

For more information on the shape of datasets, have a read of Spreadsheet Thinking vs. Database Thinking.

26 thoughts on “Unpivot In Google Sheets With Formulas (How To Turn Wide Data Into Tall Data)”

    1. Hi. This looks quite interesting. I tried to use it on the same example but couldn’t make it work. I get a message indicating “no data”: throw new Error(‘no data’); (line 21).
      Is there anything I’m missing? I don’t have much experience with GAS so sorry if this is a silly question. Thank you!

            1. So… it’s because I didn’t understand it being a custom function and you have to use it in the sheet where you want it to work. Data being the array you want to use.

              The original link for the function is on stack exchange and includes an example.

              https://stackoverflow.com/a/43681525

    2. Helmanfrowsays, that custom formula is awesome!!!

      Thanks, Ben, for your blog post about this advanced, but pretty important topic!

    1. Wow, very cool, S k srivastava! Thanks for sharing and to Pransanth for finding and documenting the FLATTEN function. I was not aware of that one!

  1. I modified the formula to Solution 4 a little bit to handle product names with double spaces (for example: Product Name). The original formula would trim those double spaces into single space.

    =ArrayFormula(SPLIT(REGEXREPLACE(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(TRANSPOSE(QUERY(TRANSPOSE(QUERY(TRANSPOSE(IF(Sheet1!B2:Z””, Sheet1!A2:A&”

  2. I added more columns and was having issues if not all columns had data in them. To fix this I modified solution 4 to put a space with each fish when creating the formula, as I found when there was an empty column of data (so you ended up with two fish next to each other before the final split), it would miss a column, but adding a space in (but not as the split identifier) made it work, and the columns all line up. Just need to add an additional trim to get rid of the extra spaces after the final split.

    =ArrayFormula(
    {
    “Product”,”Other”,”one more”,”Customer”,”Value”;
    QUERY(
    iferror(trim(split(TRIM(TRANSPOSE(SPLIT(TRANSPOSE(QUERY(TRANSPOSE(QUERY(TRANSPOSE(IF(Sheet1!D2:AA””, Sheet1!A2:A&”

    1. Actually, now i have an issue with the above, where the final trim is somehow turning all Numeric and date fields into “text” and gsheets doesn’t seem to want to let me format them as numbers? Any suggestions appreciated.

  3. This seems overly complicated to me. You can use & to do most of the work, like this:

    =arrayformula(split(flatten(arrayformula(A2:A4 &”

    1. This is great, but I have a question. What if your table has blank values, and in your “unpivoted” table you don’t want those rows to show up? Is there any way to remove them by altering this formula? For example, in the above table, B2 has a blank value (not 0, just blank). In my results, I do not want to see a row for Customer 1 – Product 1 since the Value would be blank.

  4. Thanks, Ben! I never thought this could be done without a lot of manual work!

    Small suggestion: perhaps you could update the article to include at the top the suggestion to use FLATTEN. I had to scroll down the stackoverflow link you included to find this beautifully simple solution that was all I needed:
    =ARRAYFORMULA(SPLIT(FLATTEN(A2:A12&”//”&B1:F1&”//”&B2:F12),”//”))

  5. Hi
    This is useful but the issue I am facing is I have data spread horizontally need to convert them vertically not able to find a solution anywhere used transpose function but suppose horizontal data is in row 1 2 and three it gave me output in 3 different columns A , B and C I want that to be in one single column also not getting if there is a space in between how to exclude that please help me out Ben .

  6. Hi, I was looking for something similar, however I have a more complicated data than this.
    Instead of just column A, I have Columns A to I, and then instead of just a single column of data, I have 4 columns each to append to data in A:I.
    Data gathered from forms with various sections.
    Can you help me with the same?

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