Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Attachments/file links in Numbers

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be spending a surprising amount of time in spreadsheets in the future, well, I probably would have responded with a sad emoticon. But here I am, managing much of my income and expenses in Apple’s Numbers. And as much as I like the program–it makes great-looking charts, is generally pretty easy to use, and mainly does what I need it to do–I’ve run into a few places where it could use a little bit of juicing up.

One thing in particular that I’ve run into while creating a system for tracking my expenses is the need to attach or link to files. I’ve created a table that itemizes expenses, in which I can record the amount, the date, and so on–but in many of these cases I also need to provide a receipt.

At present, I’ve made an end-run around this by creating a unique identifier for each receipt (based on the year, month, source of expenses, and an index number), and then storing a PDF of the receipt in a Dropbox folder with the same filename as the unique identifier. It’s functional enough, but it’s not particularly elegant. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I could simply create a link in the spreadsheet cell to the local document.

Hyperlinks in Numbers

Numbers does allow for hyperlinks, but it only permits web or mailto links.1 I could use the Dropbox links, but I don’t particularly want to enable public URLs for all of my receipts, and programmatically generating private URLs is difficult, if not impossible. (I could also store the files somewhere other than Dropbox, enable local web hosting, and link to the files that way, but that seems like overkill.) Moreover, since I’m automatically generating the unique identifier based on a formula, there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to apply a hyperlink to the resulting text.

Granted, what I probably need here is a more generic database program. I check every few months to see if there’s an app out there that will offer the features I want, but so far I’ve come up short. For now, Numbers still offers the best bang for my buck–which is exactly what my expenses are meant to track.

  1. I tried using the file:/// scheme, via which you can often get a browser to open a local document, but it didn’t really work. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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