Google Apps Script (GAS) is an extension for some Google Suite applications that allow for customisation. It could be compared to macros for Office or ExtendScript for Adobe. My experience of using it is mostly through Google Sheets so that’ll be my focus.

It’s incredibly versatile allowing you to read and write data, create your own functions, menus, pop ups, side bars and even entire web sites. This combined with integration that’s readily available with other Google services makes for an impressive toolkit for creating solutions for a wide range of tasks.

Why should you use it? Being cloud based with the ability to save versions as you work there’s no worry about losing anything, plus you can edit from anywhere. If you regularly do repetitive tasks, part of, or perhaps the entire task could be automated. Google forms don’t have the functionality you’re after? Build your own that can also populate a sheet. Trying to work out post dates? A custom function can automate that based on another cell’s data. Perhaps the most compelling reason to give it a try, taken from “7 Reasons Why Google Apps Script is a Great First Programming Language to Learn”; there’s no setup required and it’s completely free. 

If you are already familiar with front end web development then it is quick and easy to pick up. GAS is entirely written in JavaScript. It’s very well documented so finding your way around is easy. There’s also sites such as Stack Overflow for assistance as more often than not, someone else has already asked the question you have.

I know there have been other cases in the University where it has been used to email all users on a spreadsheet or simply whichever row you’re on. Personally, as a follower of Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) principles I use GAS or similar tools anytime I have a repetitive task.

To give a very specific case where publishing a Google Sheet as a web application has helped. In our team as we handle all the drop boxes, instead of having administrators update a spreadsheet and send us emails of changes each time or not at all, we have them fill out a form and overnight the developers are sent a single email with a list of requests.

If you’re ever thinking “there’s got to be a better way,” Apps Script might be your answer.

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Feature image: Photo by Arthur Osipyan on Unsplash