What Are the Differences Between Spreadsheets and Databases?

by Carson
database vs spreadsheet

Spreadsheets and databases might seem similar as they are all common containers of data, but do you know why they can’t replace each other and have significant differences? In this article, you’ll find out about three key differences between these containers of data, and why one might be preferred for a certain purpose.

The Differences in Efficiency

First and foremost, databases are more efficient than spreadsheets. While spreadsheet stores data in cells, like addresses for your data, databases relate more between data points. Instead of storing the data themselves, which might be large, the data point instead tells the computer to refer to another data point and do some calculations. However, although spreadsheets have now picked up this feature, it’s still relatively static. The manipulation of data is usually done before the data is saved but not after requesting the data.

This means that databases can handle much more information than a spreadsheet would. Essentially, databases are being compressed by the relationships between different variables, but spreadsheets are just pieces of raw data. For this reason, spreadsheets are recommended for handling a small amount of data but are not suitable for tackling enormous amounts of data at once.

The Differences in The Ways They Store Data

Do you notice differences between how spreadsheets and databases store information? While spreadsheets almost always store data in rows and columns, databases can store data in any format, such as key-value pairs, items in an array, or even in tables like spreadsheets.

This discrepancy, once again, comes down to how users will analyze these two formats of data. Spreadsheets usually store only small amounts of data that are easily manageable and maintainable by humans. That’s why spreadsheets use rows and columns to store and present data. However, databases are so enormous that computers take the responsibility of collecting data and managing the database.

The Differences in Reliability

The automation mentioned above also makes databases much more reliable than spreadsheets. When we fill out spreadsheets, we can fill in pretty much any data. There is no such thing as auto-correction in spreadsheets as the program might think that data points might be “wrong” by intention. As a result, human error might emerge from them, potentially hampering the analysis of data and producing erroneous results.

On the other hand, databases are more flexible and thus allow more custom settings. This can help the database determine whether the data point is right or wrong. For example, the data filtering process can search for the compliance of regular expressions in the data point and escape special characters before introducing the information to the database. These precautions help avoid costly errors.

The flexibility also includes custom file permissions that are different for each table. This limits access to the database so that only related people and servers can read or write to a certain part of the database, which reduces the amount of human error that might damage the database.


In this article, we’ve mentioned three critical differences between spreadsheets and databases, two common types of tools for storing, processing, and retrieving data. Remember to choose which container to use wisely, and follow other data analysis tips on this website. If you have come up with more points to include in our article, please leave a comment below, and make sure you check the webpages in the references for more information.

References and Credits

  1. Ganchev, M. (2022, May 3). Database vs Spreadsheet: What’s the Difference? Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://365datascience.com/tutorials/sql-tutorials/database-vs-spreadsheet/
  2. (2020, December 21). Database vs Spreadsheet – Which is Better? Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://blog.airtable.com/database-vs-spreadsheet/
  3. (2021, February 25). Databases vs Spreadsheets: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://stackby.com/blog/spreadsheets-vs-database-everything-you-need-to-know/
  4. Chapple, M. (2020, July 16). Spreadsheets vs. Databases. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.lifewire.com/spreadsheets-vs-databases-1019747
  5. Meikle, H. (n.d.). Database vs spreadsheet, which one is better? Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://blog.sheetgo.com/data-science/database-vs-spreadsheet/

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