Many years ago I believe Apple included a copy of Hypercard with it's OS. That's before my time, and I have never used it.

But, I do have occasional requirements for very simple databases. I am not talking full relational database systems necessarily, a flat file "cardview" system would be suitable for most of my needs.

My question is simply what tools does are provided that enable simple database style data files to be created and accessed. Graphical would be preferred, (although I am fairly sure that no such thing exists) but command line tools may be fine also, and there are a vast range of Unix/Linux style tools included so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that some are either suitable, or at least able to be co-opted with a bit of scripting to provide a minimal database app.

I am aware of (and indeed own) third party database software such as Bento, and I am not looking to replace it or acehive it's levels of customisation. They key is that the tool must be pre-installed with Mac os X 10.7, and not require me to download anything extra.

I have experimented with creating a custom Address book datafile with custom fields and using the Address Book front end for entering data and searchign etc, but with limited success (mainly in that I cannot subsquently use my real address book easily).

3 Answers 3


Sadly, the database tools that ship with OS X Lion are special purpose tools and lack an interface building toolkit. Apple implemented Core Storage for developers and not end users to use and a similar path seems to be likely for iCloud in the next year. The address book is the only card like storage GUI and adapting it for purposes other than storing contacts is painful to say the least.

Let's look over the open source projects included with OS X v10.7.3 that ship and call out the candidate database and key-value store frameworks you could possibly bend to your wishes:

I'll leave the various programming languages off the list since that's more of a Stack Overflow answer, but none of these is ready to go with a simple card based graphical user interface. If I had to pick one tool to re-implement hypercard, I would start with WebKit's implementation of HTML 5's client side database storage and use Safari for layout / user interface. This would likely need javascript knowledge as well as HTML / CSS to pull off a workable solution.

In a similar way, you could take tk and one of the programming languages to build up your database and UI logic and hook into your favorite data store listed above. Also, don't overlook iCloud's key-value store since it could arguably be considered "shipping with Lion."

Your constraint of not needing to install additional software is limiting since Apple no longer ships a tool that both stores data and has any sort of usable UI. Even automator can store variables, but you'd be hard pressed to make something of it in practice.

Leaving the run only what is installed constraint opens the gates to many solutions. The best (as of today) card based studying app seems to be Mental Case, but it lacks the database aspect and simple programmability of Hypercard. I haven't seen a single viable hypercard replacement that ships on the App Store, so perhaps some developer will provide exactly the tool needed to fill the gap left by Hypercard.

  • Thanks - a commendable list of the back end technologies I can look at, such a shame that there is no front end tool to complement them. I wonder how many people will ever use the included tools given that they remain largely hobbled in such a way. I suppose they are only there to provide services to existing apps, rather than be used by an end user.
    – stuffe
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 16:19

MySQL used to be installed on Mac OS X by default but it is gone with Lion*. PostgreSQL is now installed standard but it is only available from the command line.

Of course with Xcode you have the ability to use Core Data also, for development - built on sqlite as are many OS X internals.

For users wanting something graphical, buying Bento or something similar is probably the best option. I you choose to work with PostgreSQL then pgAdmin is a good configuration GUI, and free.

Bottom line, if you don't want to install anything else, learn to love PostgreSQL command line.

*since Oracle now own it, licensing has tightened up. I downloaded it to use for a Rails project and very soon after had an email from Oracle asking which license I was thinking of buying... This new ownership is maybe what prompted the change for Apple.


If Bento is too powerful for you, perhaps you can keep your information in a text file. I would have suggested a spreadsheet, but you specify that you want to work only with pre-installed software.

  • I would hardly say that it's too powerful, but it's overkill to start/stop when all I need to do is either lookup or enter small pieces of data for which I don't need to have fancy options like themes and drag and drop image uploading etc etc. A spreadsheet may well pretty much work, but as you say I am looking to see what OSX offers by default.
    – stuffe
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:45
  • There are almost countless excellent solutions available for free if you are willing to install software. For a preinstalled lightweight note-taking tool, perhaps you can use Stickies. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:50
  • I'm well aware of the possibilities with choosing external software, I already own some, but I am currently experimenting with running nothing but the software that a preinstalled OS environment provides me with, which is why I specifically ruled it out of my question.
    – stuffe
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 15:53

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