Relational Database Design

What Does Relational Database Design Mean?

Relational database design (RDD) models information and data into a set of tables with rows and columns. Each row of a relation/table represents a record, and each column represents an attribute of data. The Structured Query Language (SQL) is used to manipulate relational databases. The design of a relational database is composed of four stages, where the data are modeled into a set of related tables. The stages are:

  • Define relations/attributes
  • Define primary keys
  • Define relationships
  • Normalization

Techopedia Explains Relational Database Design

Relational databases differ from other databases in their approach to organizing data and performing transactions. In an RDD, the data are organized into tables and all types of data access are carried out via controlled transactions. Relational database design satisfies the ACID (atomicity, consistency, integrity and durability) properties required from a database design. Relational database design mandates the use of a database server in applications for dealing with data management problems.

The four stages of an RDD are as follows:

  • Relations and attributes: The various tables and attributes related to each table are identified. The tables represent entities, and the attributes represent the properties of the respective entities.
  • Primary keys: The attribute or set of attributes that help in uniquely identifying a record is identified and assigned as the primary key
  • Relationships: The relationships between the various tables are established with the help of foreign keys. Foreign keys are attributes occurring in a table that are primary keys of another table. The types of relationships that can exist between the relations (tables) are:
    • One to one
    • One to many
    • Many to many

An entity-relationship diagram can be used to depict the entities, their attributes and the relationship between the entities in a diagrammatic way.

  • Normalization: This is the process of optimizing the database structure. Normalization simplifies the database design to avoid redundancy and confusion. The different normal forms are as follows:
    • First normal form
    • Second normal form
    • Third normal form
    • Boyce-Codd normal form
    • Fifth normal form

By applying a set of rules, a table is normalized into the above normal forms in a linearly progressive fashion. The efficiency of the design gets better with each higher degree of normalization.


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Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.