The power of a database with the familiarity of a spreadsheet.
Published on April 18, 2021
Airtable is a modern spreadsheet tool with database functionalities. It is simple, user-friendly, and allows anyone to quickly create a database. It's one of the many no-code tools that are rapidly gaining traction. In this article, you will learn about the basics, what it's used for, and how you can take your Airtable game to the next level using Softr.
A spreadsheet that everyone's heard of is Excel. Spreadsheets are files that contain data in columns, rows, and cells. They help you collect, structure, sort, and filter data. Columns are on the X-axis and are sometimes referred to as Fields. Rows are on the Y-axis and are also referred to as records. Let's break that down with a simple example. Let's say you have a receipt for your groceries. In this example, the entire line from the product name to the product price is a row (blue). The names of the product are contained in a column (red).
In spreadsheet software like Excel and Google Sheets, columns are usually represented by letters, while rows are represented by numbers. Without a column title, it can be difficult to interpret data. That's why it's a good practice to name your columns. For our groceries receipt, that might look as follows:
Spreadsheets are an amazing way to collect, save and run calculations on data. There are also different use cases when there is a need to save huge amounts of data, apply more structure. In this case, you might want to use a database instead of a spreadsheet.
What is a database?
Literally, databases are places to store your data. By that definition, a spreadsheet is also a sort of database. However, when the database is referred to in a technical context, it means something else.
An important difference is that databases are a bit less flexible than spreadsheets. Databases require you to enter an expected data type for each property. To take our example from earlier, with spreadsheets you put can anything in the Amount column: decimal numbers, text or even images.
Databases expect values that match the existing structure, so for Amount only whole numbers can only be entered. This makes it harder for a human to enter data. It makes it safer for a computer to then do things with that data. Besides being safer, databases are also more scalable and reliable than spreadsheets.
Also, databases make it easy to programmatically manage your data. They are at the heart of most applications we use. Take Facebook for example they have databases for the users, groups, posts, events, and more.
The Basics of Airtable
Airtable is a combination of spreadsheets and databases; it's the best of both worlds. Airtable makes it easier to interact with your data, while at the same time enabling programmatic management of your data. First, you should know what a few things are to start using Airtable effectively.
Basesare collections of Tables. Airtable has existing templates like Content Calendar, Project Tracker, Event planning, and more. Of course, bases can also be built from scratch. Bases are like projects. For every new project you start, you'll likely create a new base. Bases are like a folder on your computer that holds an Excel file.
A workspace is a collection of Bases in Airtable. If bases are folders that hold Excel files, a workspace would be the hard drive that holds those folders.
Tables are where your data is stored. They are similar to spreadsheets. Tables have columns, rows, and fields (which we'll get to in a minute).
Viewsare a powerful Airtable feature that allows you to configure how you view the data in a table. The Grid view is probably most familiar because it is almost exactly like a spreadsheet. The Calendar view can be useful for Tables with dates, like deadlines. The Gantt view may be helpful if items have start and end dates, it shows them in a timeline.
Fields are what cells are in spreadsheets. This is where the individual pieces of data are kept. Fields can do more than just hold text. Currently, Airtable has 29 field types, including Single-line text, Long text, Attachment (which can be used to save images, audio, and other files), and Date.
Just like with databases and spreadsheets, records are the rows of Airtable.
Airtable apps are one of Airtable's more unique features. Apps extend Airtable's functionality significantly. It's a bit like the App store on your phone.
Just like apps, automations are a very powerful feature that extends what's possible with Airtable. As the name suggests, Airtable automations allow you to automate tasks based on your data. You can have Airtable take action based on various triggers such as when a new record is added to a view, or when a record changes. Automations will save time by automating repetitive, manual tasks and reducing the margin of error.
You can learn more about Airtable automation with Gareth Pronovost's tutorial on Airtable's amazing feature.
Is Airtable a Relational Database?
Yes. A powerful feature of Airtable is its ability to link records from one table to another. This will create a relationship between those two tables. Meaning, Airtable qualifies as a relational database.
For example, imaging creating a database for your soccer club. These are some of the tables you would likely need:
All of these tables will be related to at least one other table. A team consists of players and coaches. A game consists of two teams. In Airtable, you would create a link for each of those relationships.
What is Airtable used for?
With all of its features, Airtable is a powerful tool for many businesses. Here are some examples Airtable can be used for:
Marketing campaign management
And so much more!
To get a better view of what's possible with Airtable, you might want to take a look at Airtable's templates.
You can synchronize Airtable with popular apps and automate repetitive tasks. Using automation, you can:
Send emails using Airtable
Sync Airtable to Google Calendar
Update records based on changes in other applications
Send messages in Slack/Microsoft Teams
Register payments using Stripe
Manage files with Dropbox/Box
Empowering Airtable with Softr
Now that you know the ins and outs of Airtable, you can start using it to easily manage your data. If you want to present your data in a more customized way, or share your data with people that aren't in your Airtable workspace, or outside of your organization, you can use Softr.
Softr is an easy-to-use no-code platform that turns Airtable bases into powerful web apps and client portals. Softr offers a way for you to authenticate your end-users, control access to your content and data based on conditional rules like roles, logged-in status, subscription plans etc. If you're using Airtable as a product catalog you can use a Softr template to build your e-commerce website. Or maybe you'd like to build a custom website for your travel journal, there's a template for that too!