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Re: Are custom frontends for Airtable feasible?

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4N
6 - Interface Innovator
6 - Interface Innovator

Hi everyone!

I was wondering how easy/complicated it is to have a programmer build a custom frontend for an Airtable Database. 

I am still looking to build a Report tool, where workers can create a Report for the day and choose from a number of project specific Tasks and document how long they worked on each task for that day. 
Each project specific task also has an underlaying task template and is part of a project specific task List at the same time. Basically its a bunch of tables linked with each other and then in the End I can see how long each task has been worked on etc. 

I already build the structure in Airtable and you can add contents but its obviously not userfriendly at all with the standard airtable interface. 

Now if I hire someone to build a custom frontend build for this, is that something thats doable relatively easy or is it just going to be a giant pain in the ass for whoever builds it? 
There is some extra stuff too. For example each report has a start and end time and thus a number of hours worked. Now the hours specified in the tasks worked cannot be greater than the number of hours worked from the report. So there is some very basic logic required here. 
And there are options to upload receipts within all this and some other stuff like uploading photos, writing notes etc. 

Can anyone roughly tell me if this is even worth pursuing in Airtable or are there obstacles that I am not aware of that make all this impossible? 

I basically really like the idea of using airtable for this, because building the Data structure for this worked like a charm. I just need a way for end users to also get the data in there. 

Thanks 🙂 

Edit: I attached a rough visualisation of the Tables and their relations

15 Replies 15
Dan_Montoya
Community Manager
Community Manager

Hi 4N,  There are 3rd party interface tools that some of the Partners can point you to.  Your requirements sound pretty basic however,  and would seem that the standard Airtable Interfaces should be able to provide these for you.

4N
6 - Interface Innovator
6 - Interface Innovator

I tried to do it with the Standard Airtable Interface but the problem is that I need to there are multiple steps involved: 
1. create report according to chosen proj/date/user
2. create "work done" item thats linked to the previously created report
3. "work done" item needs to be linked to a contract position but only contract positions that are part of the project the report is linked to should be shown 
etc. 

So in terms of data its quite straight forwards but its importat the UX is good here. It seemed to be impossible with the standard Interface builder. 

I'm happy to pay for a custom solution, im not sure where to look/ask tho. 
And if its generally easy enough to connect a custom frontend to an Airtable Database

I went through a similar process about 15 months ago, and ended up being very frustrated trying to find a developer who wanted to build something other than a copy of what they had previously done, and something that would be remotely supportable moving forward.  I believe there are a lot of options in between the Airtable interfaces and building totally from scratch, and you might want to look into some of those.  Noloco is mentioned often here, and they have a one month free trial, so its and example of a good place to start looking if you haven't already done so.  There are many others, I know Softr is also popular with many, but you're mention of reporting by user might require something more robust.

You might want to check out the Built on Air podcasts for some insights as well.  https://builtonair.com/

Good luck either way.

Here are some thoughts off the top of my head.

You could use a third party portal system combined with an automation system. However, it may be difficult to get the exact look and feel you want. It may also run slower or need more refreshing than you want.

You can try a native Airtable interface combined with automations and automation scripts. However, you said that you tried this and did not like the result. 

You could hire a developer to build a custom web app that uses the Airtable Web API. This is the same Web API that the third-party portal systems use. While the system could be completely customized to your use case, it would be very expensive to build and maintain. I would recommend against this choice unless you have money to burn and a good relationship with a developer. 

You can also try hiring a developer to build a custom extension using Airtable’s custom extension SDK. This could be used in conjunction with Airtable’s existing grid views. However, all users would need direct access to the entire base. It also requires a developer familiar with React. This could be more affordable and easier to maintain than a system that requires outside servers, but is also likely to be expensive. 

You say you are “happy to pay” for a custom solution, but that can mean different things to different people. I would expect complete custom (from the ground up) development job to start at tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Alex_N
6 - Interface Innovator
6 - Interface Innovator

Bubble.io is a good front-end builder for Airtable due to it's Airtable plugin which I've used. There are many options out there but Bubble.io already has a plugin to connect to Airtable's API so it makes the most sense in my opinion.

4N
6 - Interface Innovator
6 - Interface Innovator

Thanks for the responses and input so far!

@BillH Did you manage to get what you need in the end or did you choose a different path? 
I'll definitely have a look into Noloco, this might be interesting for some other things too. 

@kuovonne I guess I haven't tried native Airtable Interfaces + Scripts/Automations yet, i was under the impression it would not be possible anyways. But to be fair i probably need to dig deeper in that direction anyways. 

As for paying for a custom solution, I would potentially be willing to spend a couple thousand but not tens of thousands of dollars considering all I need is a more sophisticated Form with some extra steps. I might very well underestimate the workload that comes with a fully custom solution though. 
The extension is not an option unfortunately because of the access level needed.

@Alex_N Thanks for the tip, gonna check that one out aswell!

Seems like my best bet for now is to dig into some tools mentioned here and get familiar with airtable scripting


ScottWorld
18 - Pluto
18 - Pluto

A few of the leading Airtable portals are:

Noloco
JetAdmin
Softr
Glide

JetAdmin is probably my favorite for sheer simplicity & user-friendliness, while Noloco is probably the most powerful & customizable one.

The CEO of Noloco gave a demonstration of his product on this Airtable podcast episode.

I also give a brief tutorial of Noloco on this Airtable podcast episode.

And I also presented a full one-hour webinar on Noloco called Building a Client Portal on Noloco powered by Airtable.

p.s. If you have a budget for your project and you’d like to hire an expert Airtable consultant to help you with any of this, please feel free to contact me through my website: Airtable consulting — ScottWorld 

4N
6 - Interface Innovator
6 - Interface Innovator

Thanks for the List @ScottWorld 

I am having a look at these now, particularly Noloco looks quite interesting. 

I did also find https://web.miniextensions.com/ . With their Form Builder it is actually possible create an Item via form and create additional linked items within the previously created item without leaving the form.

There are some small issues still but this is definitely a good step in the right direction. 

For the project I was speaking of I needed to get something in place quickly, so I used used Airtable's interfaces to create a prototype which worked far better than I expected but still had limitations.  So I ended up using another third party product, Stacker (or Stackerhq to be more accurate), which actually works well.  It's been around for a while and has a mostly dependable reputation, but changes and updates come far too slowly for my liking.  

In my case some additional parties got involved, and based on the products already approved I made the best choice at the time, but given the opportunity to start over I'd say there's a 99% chance I would use Noloco.