Don’t forget to share this post

Online tools are offering more advanced features for data structuring and analysis as more businesses are using cloud-based environments to store data. Spreadsheet applications such as Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel allow users to perform basic mathematical calculations and solve problems in finance or statistics, which usually require large amounts of data.

In this article, you’ll learn about Google Sheets as a cost-effective alternative to standard database management systems, practical examples of Google Sheets as a database, and a step-by-step illustration of how to use Google Sheets as a database.

Can Google Sheets be used as a database?

Although it’s mainly known for its spreadsheet capabilities, you can use Google Sheets as a database for websites or smaller apps. Unlike more complex database management systems (DBMS) — PostgreSQL and MySQL —, Google is flexible, it doesn’t require installation, it lets you store a decent amount of data, and it’s free.

As your business grows, so will your data, and this may require you to start considering a full DBMS. Now, let’s see why users opt for Google as a spreadsheet database.

Why use Google Sheets as a database?

There are many reasons to use Google Sheets as a database, but they mainly relate to the following aspects:

  • Data loss won’t be an issue: Google Sheets is a web application, which means that your data will always be accessible online. If you need to recover data or quickly restore to a previous version, it won't be an issue.
  • Easily manage user rights: Managing access rights in Google Sheets is possibly the easiest of all. In a few steps, you control which users can view, edit, or comment on your data.
  • Use it for free without limit: Similar to other Google products, Google Sheets is free and offers unlimited usage.
  • It doesn’t require training: If you haven’t used a spreadsheet application yet, you’ll find that most apps are straightforward to use. As Google Sheets offers unlimited use for free, your team can leverage its functions to the fullest at zero cost.
  • Benefit from cost-effective data visualization: The difference between data and a database is the structure. Google Sheets offers built-in features to format and structure data in quick and easy ways.

Why not use Google Sheets as a database?

Although there are many reasons why Google Sheets can be used as a database, there are also a set of drawbacks that you’ll need to consider:

  • It’s not fully scalable: If you’re starting with a small database, you might find Google Sheets as the best solution. However, as your data grows, you may begin to encounter issues that slow down the response time.
  • Query options fall short of a DBMS: Although the query format in Google Sheets is similar to regular SQL queries, the overall query mechanism is limited compared to most DBMS.
  • Simultaneous work is limited: Although Google Sheets allows for multiple editing, the response time and overall performance will be affected when several users work on data simultaneously.

All in all, Google Sheets offers a wide range of database functions that can help you build databases for various purposes, including a client database or a website.

Google Sheets Database Examples

Google Sheets as Database for a Website. Let’s say you have a blog site and would like to keep all content in Google Sheets, so you can automatically upload it to your blog site. You simply need to access Google Sheets API to connect your website to the spreadsheet. This flow makes it easy to add, edit, or remove posts. Below, is an example of using Google Sheets as a database for a blog site:

Linking Google Sheets How to Reference Another Sheet
Linking Google Sheets: How to Reference Another Sheet?

Sometimes you have to reference or merge data from multiple sheets or spreadsheets. Here's how to easily link multiple Google Sheets

READ MORE

Why not use Google Sheets as a database?

Although there are many reasons why Google Sheets can be used as a database, there are also a set of drawbacks that you’ll need to consider:

  • It’s not fully scalable: If you’re starting with a small database, you might find Google Sheets as the best solution. However, as your data grows, you may begin to encounter issues that slow down the response time.
  • Query options fall short of a DBMS: Although the query format in Google Sheets is similar to regular SQL queries, the overall query mechanism is limited compared to most DBMS.
  • Simultaneous work is limited: Although Google Sheets allows for multiple editing, the response time and overall performance will be affected when several users work on data simultaneously.

All in all, Google Sheets offers a wide range of database functions that can help you build databases for various purposes, including a client database or a website.

Google Sheets Database Examples

Google Sheets as Database for a Website. Let’s say you have a blog site and would like to keep all content in Google Sheets, so you can automatically upload it to your blog site. You simply need to access Google Sheets API to connect your website to the spreadsheet. This flow makes it easy to add, edit, or remove posts. Below, is an example of using Google Sheets as a database for a blog site:

How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Database for Blog Site example
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Database for Blog Site example

Google Sheets Client Database. If you’re a small business, then Google Sheets might do the trick since you get the main spreadsheet functionalities and online features. Using Google Sheets to create and keep track of your customers can be done automatically. Google Sheets API can also help you to add, delete, or update your customer base with new information.

How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Database for Customers
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Database for Customers

How to use Google Sheets as a Database?

To use Google Sheets as a database, you need to make sure you fulfill these requirements:

  • You have a Google Cloud Platform Account
  • You use Python 3.6 or later
  • You have a basic understanding of programming languages

Enable Google Sheets API

  1. 1. Go to Google Cloud Console and click on “Select a project” from the top-right corner.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click on Select Project
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click on Select Project
  1. 2. Click “New Project”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click on New Project
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click on New Project
  1. 3. Name your project and click “Create”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Name the project
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Name the project
  1. 4. Type in “Google Sheets” in the search bar and click on the “Google Sheets API”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click on Google Sheets API
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click on Google Sheets API
  1. 5. Click on “Enable”. When the API is enabled, you’ll get a confirmation message.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Enable Google Sheets API
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Enable Google Sheets API

How To Merge Google Sheets (Manually & Automatically)

Oftentimes we need to combine data from multiple sheets into one master sheet. Here’s how to merge Google Sheets manually and automatically.

READ MORE
How To Merge Google Sheets Manually Automatically

Create a Service Account

  1. 1. In the “Credentials” section on the left, click “Create Credentials”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Create Credentials
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Create Credentials
  1. 2. Select “Service Account”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Select Service Account
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Select Service Account
  1. 3. Name the service account and click “Create and Continue”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Select Service Account 2
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Select Service Account
  1. 4. Click on “Select a role”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Select Service Account 3
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Select Service Account
  1. 5. Then Project > Editor. Click “Continue”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Select Service Account 4
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Select Service Account
  1. 6. Optionally, you can grant access to users or groups, so they can perform actions on this service account. Once finished, click “Done”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click Done
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click Done

Once you create your service account, you need to create a key. This allows you to connect to the API automatically.

Create a Service Key

  1. 1. In “Credentials”, click on your service account name.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click Done 2
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click Done
  1. 2. Go to Keys > Add Key > Create new key.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click Done 3
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click Done
  1. 3. Select the option “JSON” and then “Create”.
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database Click Done 4
How To Use Google Sheets As A Database - Click Done

You should see how this action has downloaded a JSON file to your computer. Rename this file to protect it further. Take into account that it contains confidential information which allows your app to authenticate with Google and access the API. What’s more, make sure that this file is safely stored so only you can access it.

How to use Google Sheets as a database with Layer?

Layer adds productivity features to your Google Sheets. Share parts of your spreadsheet, request input, and accept or reject changes to make collaboration seamless and more efficient while keeping full control over your data.

Using Layer, you can:

  • Manage Access: Give spreadsheet access to relevant stakeholders on a tab or cell level.
  • Review & Track: Consolidate input, and easily track changes.
  • Collaborate: Define, assign, and automate tasks and set deadlines.

Sign up for early access and start automating your Google Sheets workflows with Layer!

Conclusion

Creating a database in Google Sheets is the most suitable option for small businesses, as it’s free and offers the basic features for a database through the Google Sheets API. However, if you need to work on a larger database, you’ll soon notice disadvantages such as scalability, query mechanisms, and simultaneous editing.

As you’ve seen, Google Sheets API allows you to use Google spreadsheets as a database for your website or customer base. This allows you to add, edit, or remove data in your spreadsheet connected to your external source. You’ll simply need to enable the Google Sheets API, create a service account, and create a service key. Alternatively, Layer can also work on top of your spreadsheet files, so you can store, transform, and monitor data directly within the platform.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jul 19 2022, Updated Jul 18 2022