Today, almost any business has to store their information somewhere. Since we live in a digital era, that will probably be in some file on a computer or anywhere online. There are so many ways that you can store your information – the choice is yours to make. But what is the best option? What is the most useful solution for this? A spreadsheet, or perhaps a database? Read on to find out what are the pros and cons of spreadsheet vs. database.
What Is a Spreadsheet?
A spreadsheet is a file made out of cells or, more specifically, rows and columns. Its purpose is to store and organize data in it. So, it helps with arranging the data and also doing various mathematical calculations with it. What makes spreadsheets so unique are the diverse operations you can use over a cell or multiple cells. For instance, summing the value in specific cells, or counting cells, rows, et cetera.
The most common use of spreadsheets is with smaller sets of data (dozens or thousands). It’s not impossible to work with bigger data groups, but it is also not the wisest thing to do. We will come back to this later in the text.
Some of the most used spreadsheets are Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. Over time, storing data in spreadsheets has become the most popular way of storing data. The particular reason for the circumstance is because of how easy it is to use, its simplicity, and its accessibility.
What Is a Database?
We encounter databases in everyday life, sometimes without even realizing it. For instance, when you try to access your bank account and you type in your log-in info, the bank has to check whether you have access to it or not. What happens here is that a database operates with your log-in information (username and password) and provides you with the right access to your account.
Similar to spreadsheets, a database is a collection of data. Databases make it possible to store up data and manipulate it. For example, a company could have a database that would contain data on their employees. That database would include the employee’s name, phone number, salary, address, et cetera.
Constraints protect the data. It encourages the importance of integrity. Data integrity means that it is impossible to store different types of data in the same field. The indicated is why databases could be considered superior.
What Are the Differences Between a Spreadsheet and a Database?
We have seen similarities between spreadsheets and databases while describing them, but there are also some differences. We will list some of them along with the pros and cons of spreadsheet vs. database.
- You can share spreadsheets very easily amongst a group of people (or even, for example, an entire company). Even though they are not meant to be manipulated by multiple people, they make things easier for smaller projects. It is not the case for databases, though.
- Spreadsheets are beginner-friendly. No matter how much experience you have (maybe none), it is not too hard to learn how to use spreadsheets with popular software such as Excel or Sheets. It is an advantage because it allows a broader group of people to learn how to use spreadsheets.
- Spreadsheets are very flexible. If you decide through your project that you want to change certain things – it is much easier to do so with spreadsheets than databases.
- Databases are very strict when it comes to the type of data that you can insert. You can enter a number, a character, or a boolean. Spreadsheets aren’t as strict with data types. Having this kind of strictness with databases is an advantage. It allows you to avoid many errors. For instance, you can ensure that you won’t type a character into a number field.
- We have mentioned how you can share spreadsheets with ease. That can be an advantage for smaller projects, but for larger projects, it can, however, be a problem. Imagine someone ruining all of your hard work within seconds. It certainly isn’t the most pleasant feeling. With databases, you have the same accessibility, but they can’t get broken.
- One of the advantages that databases hold is that they work better with larger amounts of data. Spreadsheets can work exceptionally well with a few dozen rows, but what happens when that number becomes a million? It is wiser to use databases if you work with more data, especially if it’s an important project.
Is It Time to Upgrade Your Spreadsheet to a Database?
The answer to this question is: it depends. Are you working on a more significant project? Is it a project that will last a more extended period? Are you going to have to visualize it? Usually, it is better to use a database, but let’s elaborate more on that.
It is essential to understand that in the case of spreadsheet vs. database, it is wiser to use a database in the long run. So if you’d to invest in your company that needs to store data, a database would probably be a better choice. It’s harder to create a database, but the data is better protected and easier manipulated in bulk.
Just because spreadsheets and databases have their differences, it doesn’t mean that spreadsheets become useless once you start using databases. It is possible to import your spreadsheet data to your database. You may even need a database management expert, but they provide useful methods for handling various data types.
If you do start using databases, that doesn’t mean you have to stop using spreadsheets. Sometimes, the combination of the two can be very severe. You can store your data in the database and do more advanced operations with it. But you can also use spreadsheets for analysis and visualization.
We’ve mentioned that both spreadsheets and databases have their pros and cons. It implies that just because a particular solution is more popular than the other – doesn’t mean it is a perfect solution in general.
If you need to store your long-term data, then perhaps a database is a better option. However, if you need to do some calculations with the data you’ve gathered, a spreadsheet would be a good idea.
Both of these have their differences, which implies that they have been built differently. So it is essential to know how you want to use a spreadsheet vs. database and for what. You have to keep in mind these differences, which will make it easier to determine which option is better and more useful for you and your business.