Database vs spreadsheet, which one is better?

Identifying the differences between database vs. spreadsheet is extremely important in order to manage your business’s data effectively. Furthermore, understanding their key features is essential in order to make the most of each one.

In this article, we will break down the difference between spreadsheet and database to help you identify which one is best for your needs. We will go over how they store and present data, what different applications you need to work with each one, and how they handle security.

Database vs. spreadsheet, an overview

Many people often confuse databases and spreadsheets. Possibly because they are both used to store and manage sets of data. However, the difference lies in how they store and manipulate this data.

A spreadsheet stores data values in cells, which are arranged in rows and columns. These cells can interact with each other. For example, one cell can make calculations based on other cell values.

On the other hand, a database stores data in tables made up of one or more columns and rows. We refer to each row of data as a record. Multiple interconnected tables can make up a relational database schema, which is how a database organizes related data.

database vs spreadsheets

Differences of databases vs. spreadsheets

Databases and spreadsheets usually use different technologies because of the way they store and manipulate data.

A spreadsheet is a software program for storing, managing, and retrieving information. There are many spreadsheet programs available, the most widely used being Microsoft’s Excel. Other programs include Apache OpenOffice’s Calc and Google’s web-based program, Google Sheets. In general, this technology is a lot more basic and user-friendly.

database vs spreadsheets 1 sheets

There are many types of database technologies that offer different operations. However, databases are usually made up of a server and a database management system (DBMS) that allows users to access the data.

The most popular databases include Microsoft’s SQL Server, Google’s BigQuery and Oracle Database. There are different programming languages that are used to write database applications, including Java, PHP, and ASP. Usually, software programmers or web developers write, develop, and manage databases.

Often times, using database technology is a lot more technical and complex. It often requires a separate team or department to manage this separately. One way to easily access database information, is by using BigQuery to link a database to Google Sheets. We have a detailed guide on how to achieve this.

database vs spreadsheets 2 BigQuery

Two different approaches to data storage

When it comes to how you want to analyze and store your data, databases and spreadsheets are very different.

We generally use spreadsheets for smaller sets of data, of which you can analyze the data and sort list items. The types of data storage which you would use spreadsheets for include inventory, statistical data modeling, and computing data.

Databases are better for storing large amounts of raw data over a long period of time. They are particularly useful if you have multiple users accessing the data at one time, as well as having constant data updates. Databases are powerful enough to maintain data integrity whilst carrying out simultaneous data inputs and updates.

Data security compared

In the realm of data management, data security for spreadsheets and databases are fundamentally different due to their structural and operational differences.

Spreadsheets, often utilized for their simplicity and user-friendliness, lack sophisticated built-in security features, making them more susceptible to unauthorized access and data breaches, especially when shared or stored without adequate protection measures.

Databases, on the other hand, are designed with advanced security functionalities, including user authentication, encryption, and access controls, allowing for granular permission settings and secure data transactions.

This inherent difference make databases the ideal choice for sensitive or large-scale data needs, ensuring robust security measures are in place to protect against potential threats.

Spreadsheet and database functions

Although both databases and spreadsheets offer a variety of processing functions, databases offer a lot more complex functions that only more advanced users can carry out.

Spreadsheets are great for users with less technical experience, as most of the processing functions are automated. There is a long list of formulas you can input for specific results. Usually, spreadsheets are better for those who require more basic functions that don’t require extensive knowledge.

Databases offer a wider range of data manipulation, however, this is only possible through programming or SQL code. These processes cannot be easily automated, so a vast knowledge of how to write this code is vital to retrieve and manipulate data.

Differences in how they access and present data

In most cases, only one user can access spreadsheets at a time. There are exceptions to this, such as Google Sheets, which allow collaboration within the same spreadsheet file. Furthermore, spreadsheet programs have a fantastic range of visual analytical tools to present your data. These include graphs, charts, and maps that are automatically generated by the program for immediate results.

In contrast, one of the main characteristics of a database is that it can be accessed by numerous people at the same time. The DBMS ensures that no one can edit the same data value and at the same time, thus maintaining data integrity. However, presenting this data is not possible with a database. Usually, this is something that the application supporting the database would manage. In any case, presenting data from a database requires more technological expertise.

Create a database using spreadsheets

Now that we understand the differences of  databases vs. spreadsheets, it may seem like a shame that we can’t combine the two for the ultimate result. Or can we? Sheetgo’s web app offers spreadsheet-based workflows that can act as a relational database of your own. With Sheetgo, you can easily input your data into multiple spreadsheet files and create connections between the related data.

database vs spreadsheets 3 database

For example, let’s say you have one spreadsheet dedicated to your inventory. You can create a map of connections with related data, such as product orders, customer information, invoices, and company sales.

As a result, you have a fully developed workflow that has successfully connected your various spreadsheet files through related data. What’s more, Sheetgo provides automatic data updates for the latest insights into your operations.

database vs spreadsheets 4. Relational database Sheetgo

Database vs. spreadsheets: conclusion

And there you have it! We now understand the differences between databases and spreadsheets and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

What’s better, we also learned to use Sheetgo to build a relational database with spreadsheets for added accessibility and flexibility.

If you are interested in using Sheetgo to create a spreadsheet-based relational database, discover our range of workflow templates here. Alternatively, you can learn more about spreadsheet best practices in our related blog posts below!

Editor’s note: This is a revised version of a previous post that has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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