Writing efficient VBA UDFs (Part 6) – Faster string handling and Byte arrays

None of  the previous posts on writing efficient VBA UDfs (Part1,Part2,Part3,Part4,Part5) talked about handling strings in VBA.
This could be a major omission since string-handling is one of VBAs slowest “features”.

Suppose you want to find the position of the first capital letter in a string.

Array Formula

You could use an array formula like this:


My test data is 2000 rows, each containing 25 lower-case characters and one randomly placed upper-case character.

2000 calls to this array formula takes 250 milliseconds.

So lets try some VBA UDFs.

Using LIKE

One way is to use the VBA LIKE statement:

Function FirstCap2(Cell As Range)
For FirstCap2 = 1 To Len(Cell.Value)
If Mid(Cell.Value, FirstCap2, 1) Like "[A-Z]" Then
Exit For
End If
Next FirstCap2
End Function

The code loops across the string using Mid to look at each character in turn, and then uses LIKE to see if the character is one of upper-case A to upper-case Z.
2000 calls to this UDF takes 50 milliseconds – a factor of 5 faster, but we can make it faster (of course).

Function FirstCap3(Rng As Range) As Long
Dim theString As String
theString = Rng.Value2
For FirstCap3 = 1 To Len(theString)
If Mid$(theString, FirstCap3, 1) Like "[A-Z]" Then
Exit For
End If
Next FirstCap3
End Function

I changed the code to only get the string out of the cell once, and to use Mid$ rather than Mid. All the VBA string handling functions have 2 versions: versions without the $ work with variant arguments, whereas versions with the $ suffix only work on string arguments, but are slightly faster.
2000 calls to this version of the UDF takes 17 milliseconds, nearly 3 times faster.

Using MID$

But maybe using LIKE is slow? Lets try comparing a lower-case version of the string and stopping when the characters don’t match:

Function FirstCap4(strInp As String) As Long
Dim tmp As String
Dim i As Long
Dim pos As Long
tmp = LCase$(strInp)
pos = -1
For i = 1 To Len(tmp)
If Mid$(tmp, i, 1) <> Mid$(strInp, i, 1) Then
pos = i
Exit For
End If
FirstCap4 = pos
End Function

Well surprisingly this is slower than the optimised version using LIKE:
2000 calls to this version of the UDF takes 36 milliseconds.

Using Byte Arrays

Using Byte arrays with strings is one of VBAs less well known secrets, but its often an efficient way of handling strings when you need to inspect each character in turn.

Public Function FirstCap5(theRange As Range) As Long
Dim aByte() As Byte
Dim j As Long
FirstCap5 = -1
aByte = theRange.Value2
For j = 0 To UBound(aByte, 1) Step 2
If aByte(j) < 91 Then
If aByte(j) > 64 Then
FirstCap5 = (j + 2) / 2
Exit For
End If
End If
Next j
End Function

This version of the UDF is slightly faster: 2000 calls takes 15 milliseconds.

So how does this work?

First create an undimensioned array of Bytes : Dim aByte() as Byte
Then assign a string to it: aByte=”abEfg”
You can use the Locals window to see what the resulting Byte array looks like:

Each character in the string has resulted in 2 bytes which are the Unicode code points for the character. Since I am working in a UK English Locale using the Windows Latin-1 codepage the first byte is the ANSI number for the character and the second byte is always zero.

Unaccented english upper-case characters are ANSI numbers 65 to 90, so I can loop down the byte array, looking at every other byte, and do a numeric test directly on the character to see if it is upper-case. You can see that only the third character is upper-case.

Another surprising feature of  this kind of Byte array is that you can assign a byte array directly back to a string:

Dim str1 as string

Str1 now contains “abEfg”

Array version of the Byte UDF

As discussed in Part 5 of writing efficient UDFs, Array Formulae go faster. So here is an array formula version of the Byte UDF.

Public Function AFirstCap(theRange As Range) As Variant
Dim aByte() As Byte
Dim j As Long
Dim L As Long
Dim vRange As Variant
Dim jAnsa() As Long
Dim NumCells As Long
vRange = theRange.Value2
NumCells = UBound(vRange, 1)
ReDim jAnsa(NumCells - 1, 0)
For L = 0 To NumCells - 1
jAnsa(L, 0) = -1
aByte = vRange(L + 1, 1)
For j = 0 To UBound(aByte, 1) Step 2
If aByte(j) < 91 Then
If aByte(j) > 64 Then
jAnsa(L, 0) = (j + 2) / 2
Exit For
End If
End If
Next j
Next L
AFirstCap = jAnsa
End Function

This version, entered into 2000 rows as an array formula using Control/Shift/Enter, takes just 4.8 milliseconds.


Here is a table comparing the speed of these different approaches.



Array Formula




Optimised LIKE UDF




Byte Array UDF


Array Formula version of Byte Array UDF


So the fastest VBA is just over 10 times faster than the slowest VBA solution, and a whopping 52 times faster than the array formula solution.

Using Byte arrays for strings can be a good solution for string handling where you need to inspect or manipulate many individual characters.

So what do you use Byte arrays for?

This entry was posted in UDF, VBA. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Writing efficient VBA UDFs (Part 6) – Faster string handling and Byte arrays

  1. Oscar says:

    Interesting post!!

    How fast is this array formula?

    =MATCH(TRUE, CODE(MID(A1, ROW($1:$255), 1))<=90, 0)

  2. fastexcel says:

    Hi Oscar,
    Takes 117 millisecs, so .. faster than the previous arry formula but slower than all the UDFs.

  3. Jeff Weir says:

    Out of curiosity, does VBA work out what UBound(aByte, 1) is for each pass of the For j = 0 To UBound(aByte, 1) loop? If so, I wonder what kind of speed improvement you’d get from caching the value of UBound(aByte, 1)

  4. Jeff Weir says:

    None. Makes no difference whether you assign the UBOUND to a variable or not, over 1,048,576,000 loops

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