Key Differences Between Excel and Coda


As started in the Moving from Excel to Coda thread, I have been working on building out content to help folks transition from Excel to Coda. I’ve got an early take at some of the key differences that I thought would be helpful to post here.

If you’ve been using Excel or Google Sheets, you’ll find a lot of familiar things inside of Coda, but there are some critical difference as you make the leap. Oftentimes in a traditional spreadsheet program, we need to force connections and relationships between data into existence and build reinforcements so that as our data changes, our spreadsheet can keep up (think duct tape and spit!). This manual process means it’s much easier to make a mistake which is why we’ve approached the problem of structured and unstructured data a little differently. Here are the core differences to be aware of:

1. No cell level formulas and no more dollar signs
In a traditional spreadsheet, each cell is independent of every other cell, and you have to manually construct connections using their coordinate in the grid. Coda is a bit more like a database so each row represents a “thing” (people, tasks, inventory, trip ideas, grocery items, etc.) and each column represents an “attribute” of that thing (gender, age, address, price, priority, and the list goes on). That’s because Coda docs are meant to help you answer questions you have rather than simply keeping a list of data.

This means that when you work with a row item, all of the column details come along for the ride because they are the metadata of that item. And, each column will have the same format (including formulas) because they represent the same object (e.g. Quantity x Price).

2. Goodbye VLOOKUP, hello lookup columns and formulas
Any traditional spreadsheet that’s of a certain size will most likely have a VLOOKUP formula under the hood. VLOOKUPs manufacture connections and can be a bit unstable as your spreadsheet grows. To make your life easier, you can accomplish a stable VLOOKUP-esque experience in 4 different ways in Coda:

  • Simply type the ‘@’ symbol to reference any person or row
  • Create a Lookup column
  • Use a Lookup formula
  • Use a Filter formula

3. Bi-directional updates
Beyond linking content together using Lookups, you can also create distinct Views of your Tables. Views let you create a filter to slice and dice your Table data for exactly what you want. The best part? Any updates you make in a View or the Table will be reflected in the other location.

4. Text, tables, and references
Inside of Coda you’ll be able to have your Tables live right next to your text and notes. In addition to the best of both worlds, remember that you can type ‘@’ to create a reference to Table content. When you hover over a reference, you’ll see all of the column data too. It’s a great way to connect your Table information to your text.

5. Formulas everywhere!
Just like references can be inside of your text, your formulas can also be there. Simply type = to write a formula anywhere inside of Coda.

Huge thanks to @Al_Chen and @florent_bouchy for their input!



I basically like the idea of having the same data-formats per row.
But I wonder, if it is possible to reference other table’s data.

For example I want to add/reference another table’s summed up column as a value in my table.
Currently I see no way to reference this without doing all the math in a formular again?

I think this is not a really a master/detail principle, but sometimes I just want to continue to calculate with an existing value.



You can address rows almost everywhere by typing
on the canvas

You can address columns almost everywhere by typing
an equal sign on the canvas

Can you post an example of what you are trying to do?



I have a table expenses for example with “per month” values adding up to per year values in another column.

One of the expenses (row) would be electricity bill.

But to calculate this value I would rather use a different table, because the calculation would be different (like kilowatt per hour multiplied by price) and than reuse the value in the expenses table.

I could use a lookup column, but then I would have to do all calculations in different tables, I guess?



Does something like this work?

The concept of the equals sign and formula as shown would work anywhere in the document, even in another Section



Yes, that is the solution I’m currently rolling with.
Though, I would prefer a solution where I could combine tables.

Text is German, but I think you get the idea with the columns.



Would a “Lookup from Table” column work?



That would be suitable as well, I guess. Thanks for sharing the idea!

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