Relational Database Design
When designing Microsoft Access databases, the importance of fundamental relational database design cannot be overlooked. The beginning of database normalization is only the first step - relational database design is the most important aspect of every database project whether it's in Microsoft Access or any other platform.
With fundamental relational database design techniques, you end up shaping your database into the perfect relational model and you end up gaining the benefits of that good design. While at first it may seem a little strange to split up certain fields or tables, the end result is what counts and if it's not designed properly you're simply asking for trouble.
There are a few primary benefits you obtain with proper fundamental relational database design:
Organization is what makes your database operate at it's peak level of performance. Relational database design is all about storing your data according to the rules of normalization so that it operates smoothly within a relational model. Duplicate values don't appear, blanks and null records don't wreak havoc in your database, and you don't have to code for hours just to do something simple with your data.
Databases are all about organization, it's the reason for storing your data in the first place. With proper relational database design, organization will simply happen. Your data goes into the right place because there's nowhere else for it to go. Proper relational database design means perfect organization.
With an organized relational database comes the benefit of understanding. If you've ever been handed a database from a co-worker or peer you likely know how difficult it can be to understand what the original designer was thinking when developing the database. There may be small issues like tables feeding directly into reports, or there could be problematic issues like missing primary keys or duplicated records and senseless relationships.
Fundamental Relational Database Design is a sort of universal language. If you understand it, and the previous database developer understood it, the pieces easily fall into place. When laid out properly and following all of the proper rules of database normalization, fundamental database design tells you about the database you're looking at. Relationships make sense, the data makes sense and there is so much understanding you can achieve by simply looking at the structure of the tables and queries.
When you're database is designed properly, worlds of statistical data open their doors to your curious eyes. Proper relational database design, with the benefits of organization and understanding bring about the ability to dig into your data at it's truest form.
When a database hasn't been designed appropriately, certain natural "blocks" appear in front of you and your data. It's possible that you'd have to spend hours constructing work-arounds to find specific facts from your data, or perhaps it's a much more serious problem - the statistics are wrong, and you don't know why or how.
Always remember that one of the primary things you do with a database is ask questions. You ask your database a new question every time you create a new query or report. You are essentially asking your database to put together certain pieces of data to get a specific answer to what you're looking for. Whether it's how many items were sold in the past week or year, or something more complicated such as trend analysis over the past 5 years on days that had a full moon, these are all questions that you want responses to.
Creating a database that's not normalized, or isn't following fundamental relational database design really limits your database's vocabulary. The answers to your questions might be in there somewhere, but your database will have a very difficult time getting those answers for you. Or it might be nearly impossible, in extreme cases. If you need your database to speak to you, you must have it designed properly.
Databases store data, and by that simple fact the result is they can get very large. With new data comes the ability to ask new questions of your database and obtain greater and more meaningful statistics and analisys from what you put in. Eventually, that data may need to move or shift around.
When you have a properly designed relational database, you immediately have the ability to export, import, update or upscale your data any number of ways. Proper relational database design gives you the ultimate freedom with your data. Do you need to migrate to a larger platform than you are currently on? Perhaps you want to move all of your data to the web? As long as your database follows the rules of normalization and fundamental relational database design, it will work. Providing, of course, that you don't want to stick it into a giant flat-file that you'll be storing in PowerPoint slides. Nobody's that crazy.
The flexibility you gain from having a properly designed relational database is fantastic because it provides more opportunity for better management and analysis of your data. If you have colleagues that are more comfortable looking at their data in Microsoft Excel, an easy export will have them on their way. Everything is organized, meaningful, and adaptable. That kind of flexibility speeds up tasks and gives you a dynamic structure to work with. Your data will be ready for anything.
There is nothing more important than fundamental relational database design when you're working with any database project. Understanding the details of relational database design can save you hours of work, and can give you every edge you need when working with your own data. If it's not normalized, and it's not a properly designed relational database, you will have problems!
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