Tabletop gives spreadsheets legs
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Tabletop! (gives spreadsheets legs)

Tabletop takes a Google Spreadsheet and makes it easily accessible through JavaScript. With zero dependencies!

Tabletop easily integrates Google Spreadsheets with Backbone.js, Handlebars, and anything else that is hip and cool. It will also help you make new friends and play jazz piano.

Like how easy?

function init() {
  Tabletop.init( { key: '0AmYzu_s7QHsmdDNZUzRlYldnWTZCLXdrMXlYQzVxSFE',
                   callback: function(data) { console.log(data) },
                   simpleSheet: true } )

Will give you

[ { name: "Carrot", category: "Vegetable", healthiness: "Adequate" }, 
  { name: "Pork Shoulder", category: "Meat", healthiness: "Questionable" }, 
  { name: "Bubblegum", category: "Candy", healthiness: "Super High"} ]

Yes, that easy.

Getting Started

1) Getting your data out there

The first step is to get your data out into a form Tabletop can digest

Take a Google Spreadsheet. Give it some column headers, give it some content.

Name            Category   Healthiness
Carrot          Vegetable  Adequate
Pork Shoulder   Meat       Questionable
Bubblegum       Candy      Super High

In Google Docs, then go up to the File menu and pick Publish to the web. Fiddle with whatever you want, then click Start publishing. A URL will appear, something like

Copy that! In theory you're interested in the part between key= and & but you can use the whole thing if you want.

2) Setting up Tabletop

Now you're going to feed your spreadsheet into Tabletop

Include Tabletop in your HTML, then try the following, substituting your URL for public_spreadshseet_url

<script type="text/javascript">
  window.onload = function() { init() };

  var public_spreadshseet_url = '';

  function init() {
    Tabletop.init( { key: public_spreadshseet_url,
                     callback: showInfo,
                     simpleSheet: true } )

  function showInfo(data) {
    alert("Successfully processed!")

Open up your console and check out the data that you got. All of those rows were turned right into objects! See how easy that was?

Please don't holdwindow.onload against me, you're free to use $(document).ready and all of that jQuery jazz.

3) Honestly, that's it.

Check out the reference and the examples, but basically you're set. The only thing to think about right now is if you want to deal with multiple sheets you can get rid of simpleSheet: true (more on that later).

You might also be interested in the publishing/republishing/publish-as-it-changes aspects of Google Spreadsheets, but you'll need to google that for any specifics.


The Moving Parts

Tabletop initialization

The simplest Tabletop initialization works like this

Tabletop.init( { key: public_spreadshseet_url, callback: showInfo } )

With a function living somewhere else called showInfo.

You pass in either key as the actual spreadsheet key, or just the full published-spreadsheet URL. It calls showInfo when done, passing an array of models. Options in general are

key is the key of the published spreadsheet or the URL of the published spreadsheet.

callback is the callback for when the data has been successfully pulled. It will be passed an object containing the models found in the spreadsheet (worksheets => models). Each of these models contains the rows on that worksheet (see Tabletop.Model). If simpleSheet is turned on it simply receives an array of rows of the first worksheet.

simpleSheet can be true or false (default false). It assumes you have one table and you don't care what it's called, so it sends the callback an array of rows instead of a list of models. Peek at the examples for more info.

parseNumbers can be true or false (default false). If true, Tabletop will automatically parse any numbers for you so they don't run around as strings.

postProcess is a function that processes each row after it has been created. Use this to rename columns, compute attributes, etc. See the TimelineSetter example below.

Tabletop itself

Once you've initialized Tabletop you can access its good parts.

.sheets() are the Tabletop.Models that were populated, one per worksheet. You access a sheet by its name.

.sheets(name) is how you access a specific sheet. Say I have a worksheet called Cats I Know, I'll access it via Tabletop.sheets("Cats I Know")

.model_names are the names of the models [read: sheets] that Tabletop knows about

.data() returns the rows of the first model if you're in simpleSheet mode. It's the same as .sheets() otherwise. This is just a little sugar.


Tabletop.Model is pretty boring, let's be honest.

.name is the name of the worksheet it came from (the tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet)

.column_names gives you the names of the columns in that table

.all() returns an array of the rows of the table, in the style of [ { name: "Tom", age: 5}, { name: "Liz", age: 12 } ]

.toArray() returns the rows of the table with numbered indices instead of named ones [ [ "Tom", 5] , [ "Liz", 12 ] ]

What the hell do I do with this?

Imagine it's a read-only, JavaScript CMS that you can edit through Google Docs. It's like Christmas up in here.

Working with Tabletop and Handlebars

Super easy. Just feed the models to Handlebars and you're all set to build the templates.

Working with Tabletop and Backbone.js

I've put together a Backbone.tabletopSync driver for Backbone collections and models. It's read-only, but you can't really complain if you're powering your Backbone app through Google Spreadsheets.

Source is, of course, in /src, and you can check it out in action in /examples/backbone/

Working with Tabletop and TimelineSetter

Tabletop was originally built to work with ProPublica's TimelineSetter, a JS+Ruby library that creates timelines. You need some specifically-formatted JSON which is created by a Ruby script from a CSV, which means your workflow is usually spreadsheet -> CSV -> Ruby -> JSON -> JS.

With Tabletop, though, you get to hook right into a Google Spreadsheet for all of your info! You just need to massage your data a little bit, thanks to Google's API messing with column names and you needing a timestamp.

You can see this in the examples directory, but here are the important parts.

<script type="text/javascript">
  var public_spreadshseet_url = ""

  $(document).ready( function() {
      Need to post-process elements because Google Spreadsheets abbreviates 
        'display_date' column as 'displaydate' and you need to parse the date
        into the 'timestamp' field for TimelineSetter
      simpleSheet: true sends array of rows to callback, so you don't need to
        do the whole Tabletop.sheets('Sheet1').all() thing.
    Tabletop.init( { key: public_spreadshseet_url,
                     callback: drawTimeline,
                     simpleSheet: true,
                     postProcess: function(element) {
                       element["display_date"] = element["displaydate"];
                       element["timestamp"] = Date.parse( element["date"] );

  function drawTimeline(data) {
    var currentTimeline = TimelineSetter.Timeline.boot(

See the postProcess call? That's called on every row after Tabletop.Model gets done working on it. It allows you to rename columns or edit data points without having to messily do it outside of Tabletop. I'm sure it has uses outside of TimelineSetter, too.

A sample lives in /examples/timeline_setter/


Bugs and TODO

  • Support multiple spreadsheets/keys
  • Error handling on injection of incorrect key
  • Lazy loading?

Let me know what you need, I have no clue.


Jonathan Soma, who would rather be cooking than coding. Inspired by the relentless demands of John Keefe of WNYC.