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Databases are the beating heart of almost every app business app. CRMs, project management apps, content management systems, accounting tools, and more are often a database with a form to enter data and ways to view it. You could make your own that worked exactly like you want—though if you're not a developer, making your own database powered app is daunting. They may only be a way to store lists of data, but cryptic SQL commands and outdated admin interfaces make databases feel like the domain of those willing to invest significant time.
And so, for simpler lists, we reach for spreadsheets, copying and pasting data from other sheets as necessary. It's not perfect, but it is simple.
Airtable's hybrid spreadsheet and database tool changes that. Similar to Microsoft Access on PCs, it's an incredibly simple way to make a relational database.
The basic difference between a database and a table is that most databases are *relational*—they let you easily pull in data from parts of a data table into other views. Airtable takes that a step further, letting you pull in data from other tables and view it in a card-like popover without needing to open that other table. You can include images, checkmarks, tags, formatted text descriptions, and more in your tables to make a visual database that looks and work just like you want.
Adding your data is as simple as using a spreadsheet. Type in text, drag in photos, add checkboxes for tasks, link files from Dropbox, notes from Evernote, and more, and organize everything in cells. List locations, say, in one table, then lodging options that are tagged to those locations in another, and you can view the relevant data without switching between tables. Bring in your whole team to collaborate, just as you would in Google Sheets—complete with comments and discussions on every individual piece of data.
Then, use filters and sorting to drill down and find what you need. Instead of searching for items you need each time, you can filter by checked off items, show only items with a specific category, and stack filters to look for multiple things at once. Once you've found the data you need, you can save it as a view to jump back in and see that set of data again anytime in a click.
If you already have an idea for the database you need, it's simple to turn it into a working tool for your team in Airtable. Or, you can start out with with an Airtable template, for a simple way to start an HR database, task management tool, product tracker, and more. Each comes with pre-written data, so you can get an idea for how the database should work and then replace it with your own data.
Airtable can also work with your own apps. Using Zapier integrations, you can connect an Airtable database to automatically send emails, log customers, and more. Or, you can use their API to build your own integrations and add extensions to do even more with your data.
Microsoft Access doesn't have to be the only way to make a simple database. Airtable gives you a modern way to organize data as a team online, one that's simple enough for anyone to use but powerful enough to organize any data you need.
Originally published February 1, 2016; updated June 6, 2018 with new features and screenshots