Database vs spreadsheet, which one is better?

Written by
Holly Meikle

Identifying the differences between a database and a spreadsheet is extremely important in order to manage your business’s data effectively. Furthermore, understanding their key features is essential in order to optimize their capabilities. In this article, we will explore the comparison of database vs. spreadsheet and identify which one is best for your business operations.

Database vs. spreadsheet: the fundamental difference

Many people often confuse databases and spreadsheets with one another. Possibly because they are both used to store and manage sets of data. However, the fundamental difference is 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, you can have a cell carrying out processing 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 tables can make up a relational database schema, which is how a database organizes related data.

database vs spreadsheets

What are the differences in technology?

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

Spreadsheet programs are usually computer applications with in-built data processing capabilities. 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.

For this reason, using database technology is a lot more technical and complex. It often requires a separate team or department to manage this separately.

database vs spreadsheets 2 BigQuery

Data storage: how do they vary?

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.

How do a spreadsheet and database differ in processing 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 automated, so a vast knowledge of how to write this code is vital, in order to retrieve and manipulate tables of data.

How do they contrast in accessing and presenting 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.

Is it possible to create a database with spreadsheets?

Now that we understand the different characteristics of both spreadsheets and databases, it may seem 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. More importantly, we also know that with Sheetgo, you can turn multiple spreadsheets into a relational database for a more accessible, flexible, and scalable solution!

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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