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June 10, 2024
Tips and tricks

Differences between spreadsheets and databases: Which one should you use?

Databases and spreadsheets are two terms that are often used interchangeably. But let us tell you something surprising. These are far from being the same.

Arzu Özkan-  Digital Marketing Manager
Arzu Özkan
Head of Marketing

If you need a tool for data management, you may be wondering whether to use a spreadsheet or a database. Although they share some similarities, there are key differences between these two technologies that can make one more suitable for your needs than the other. In this article, we'll explore the differences between spreadsheets and databases and provide insight into which one you should use for specific scenarios.

What is Spreadsheet

According to TechTarget's definition, “A spreadsheet is a computer program that can capture, display and manipulate data arranged in rows and columns." Spreadsheets, also known as worksheets, are file types consisting of rows and columns that help to sort, organize, and calculate your data efficiently. The spreadsheet rows have numeric names (1, 2, 3 etc.), and the spreadsheet columns have alphabetic names (a, b, c etc.).  

Spreadsheets are not databases. However a spreadsheet does use a tabular structure like a database and can power the use of data. A spreadsheet is more like a database than a text file because it uses a tabular structure to organize data rows and columns. Spreadsheets are not databases, but they can be used to create databases or manage data stored in external databases. Spreadsheets are designed to look a lot like databases. You can even save information in a spreadsheet, as though you are saving an entry to a database table. If your business relies on data management for smooth operations, consider using LLCBuddy for comprehensive LLC formation assistance, ensuring your foundational setup is as robust as your data handling.

What is Database

According to Oracle's definition "A database is an organized collection of structured information, or data, typically stored electronically in a computer system."

Databases also facilitate the maintenance and manipulation of data. Databases store data in tables, each row in these tables is called a "record". Databases can handle more types of data than a spreadsheet. While spreadsheets store data in text and numeric values, databases can also store in formats such as images and documents. To use a database, you need a database management system (DBMS). Structured query language (SQL) is often required to maintain queries, retrieve, and organize data.

The Differences Between Spreadsheets and Databases

The main difference between a spreadsheet and a database is in the way they store the data.

In a spreadsheet, data is stored in cells and can be formatted, edited, and manipulated in those cells.

In a database, cells contain records from external tables.

This difference means that standard spreadsheets are more static, while databases can be relational. The fact that databases are relational means that if you edit or delete data in one place, the change will be made in every other place that references that data.

For example; if you change the code of a product in your product catalogue, if you make a change in one place instead of changing it in all other tables where the product's information is stored, this change will automatically propagate to every table. But unlike traditional spreadsheets like Excel, you can do this without the help of a database with more modern spreadsheet solutions that are alternative to Excel.

Databases are more complex and versatile tools. They may require specialized expertise and technical knowledge to set up and manage. However, these assumptions are no longer true. Thanks to modern and smart tools, almost anyone can create, manage, and share a database without the need for technical knowledge.

Databases can handle much more and larger amounts of data than spreadsheets. Spreadsheets can become very unwieldy when you have thousands of data.

Accessing a database requires SQL or another query language. But spreadsheets can be accessed directly without any technical knowledge.

Databases can show relationships between data points and records. So, you can easily find other records that your data is related to.

Spreadsheet vs Database

Spreadsheets and databases are two common tools used to organize and analyze data, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Understanding when to use spreadsheets vs. databases can help you make the most effective choice for your particular needs.

Why You Should Use Spreadsheet

If you want to easily list, categorize, or share your data with others, spreadsheets are the smart choice for you. Spreadsheets are easily accessible and easy to understand. This makes it easier to collaborate with your team. If you do not need a lot of data storage, spreadsheets are an ideal and accessible way for you.

Spreadsheets give you that freedom if you need formatting to easily read and understand your data. So, you do not get lost among complex tables. While spreadsheets are simple and accessible, the power and flexibility that databases offer are invaluable.

Why You Should Use Database

Where you are dealing with more complex data or need to use a single data source for multiple purposes, a database may be the wiser choice for you.

Databases are much more secure than spreadsheets. They are more difficult to access than spreadsheets and usually keep records of changes made. So, if someone hacks into your database and makes a change, you can see what they are doing.

Databases are much more scalable than spreadsheets. They can handle much more data. So, if you have a lot of data, databases are a smart choice for you.

Is a Spreadsheet a Database?

Actually no. Spreadsheets and databases are complementary technologies, but they are not the same thing.

Databases can be characterized as a more complex form of a spreadsheet. If you have a lot of complex data, you may need more complex storage solutions like databases.

How You Can Turn Complex Spreadsheets into Smart Databases

Combining the functionality and security of databases and the ease of use of spreadsheets is the smartest solution you can have for your business. Applications that combine modern database and spreadsheet solutions will make your data management operations highly effective to easily manage and classify your complex data from a single data source, collaborate with your teammates and create connected tables.

Intelligent database solutions such as Retable offer you the opportunity to manage all your data with no code online databases functionality and spreadsheet flexibility without losing data in an easily accessible and editable interface. Retable is also known as one of the best Airtable alternatives.

Adapt the way you work and increase your productivity by learning how to move from traditional spreadsheets and complex databases to modern and intelligent database solutions. If you wish, you can create and edit your database from scratch, or customize it by browsing the relational database templates we have created and choosing the most suitable one for your business. Besides its capability to create no code online databases, Retable also allows helps you to creating online forms.

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Frequently Asked Questions on Databases and Spreadsheets

When should I use a spreadsheet instead of a database?

Spreadsheets are ideal for small to medium-sized datasets, with data analysis being the primary objective. You can also find so many different free online spreadsheet tools for your business. Moreover, they are easy to utilize and do not necessitate any specialized software or training. Spreadsheets also offer user-friendly niche features that you cannot easily find in databases. For example, you can create dark mode spreadsheets, but this is a rarer feature for databases. Conversely, databases are more suitable for larger datasets that have intricate relationships between the data, such as financial transactions or customer records. Additionally, databases offer more robust security features and can support simultaneous users.

What are the advantages of using a database over a spreadsheet?

Databases offer several advantages over spreadsheets, including the ability to store and retrieve large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. They also provide more advanced querying capabilities and can handle complex relationships between data tables. Furthermore, databases can ensure data integrity and security by limiting access to authorized personnel who can modify data.

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