Home > Articles > Data > SQL Server

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Getting Started with Solid Database Design

The Microsoft Books Online (BOL) documentation seems to fall a bit short in this important subject, so this chapter might be helpful for those who need a more complete understanding of how to create a best-practice relational database. The problem faced by any database designer is knowing what's going to be stored ahead of time—before the first table is created. That's always been (and always will be) a problem. As I've said before, a customer rarely knows what they want until they don't get it.

To get started on the right foot, I recommend a good course in relational theory like Extended Relational Analysis. This can do a world of good—but its depth is well beyond the scope of this book. In courses like this, you learn how to ask the right questions for each "entity" you expect to store in the database.

I also think that using a (big) whiteboard to lay out the database with your team (or customer) can help visualize the data. Getting everyone who is going to consume the data is essential. How I design a database for a single-focused project is very different than the way it's designed for projects where a small multitude of groups expect to consume the data. Admittedly, database development by committee is tough, and one should try to avoid those situations, but leaving town might not be an option.

Before we get into the academics of normalization, let's spend a few moments in quiet contemplation and focus on a few guiding principles. As you design your database, you should keep these basic tenants in mind:

  • Each table needs a unique identifier. That is, you need to choose one or more columns to permit SQL Server to find specific rows to return or update without including other irrelevant rows. In SQL Server, this typically means each table should have an "ID" column (typically cast as an Identity integer) that gives the row a unique (SQL Server–generated) value. You should define this column using the Primary Key (PK) constraint (as discussed in Chapter 2, "How Does SQL Server Work?"). For example Au_ID is the unique identifier for the Authors table in the sample Biblio database.
  • Each table should store only one kind of information and not repeat information in multiple columns. As I discuss next, this is where normalization comes in. SQL Server is tuned to work with small, tight rows that contain relatively few columns. If you find your table has more than a dozen columns, you're treading off the boards and into the swamp. Remember, the largest row you can define is only 8K (not counting BLOB columns).
  • Microsoft feels that you should avoid columns that can be set to NULL—I'm not so sure. That is, they feel that you should avoid columns where you might not have access to the data at all and cannot (logically) assign an arbitrary default. Each time you define a column as permitting NULL (making it "nullable"), SQL Server incurs extra overhead. It makes sense to move these columns to another table and cross-reference them to the table's PK as long as the database complexity does not get out of hand.
  • Each column needs to be defined both with the content in mind and with the constraints needed to keep it pure. It's not enough to type a column as integer and hope that the data entered therein is going to be pure. All columns, especially numeric columns, need to have (at least) CHECK constraints defined, if not TSQL rules. Columns should be defined to hold what's expected to be saved—and no more. Needlessly bloating data type capacity simply chews up memory to no good purpose. If you have columns that contain text, but that text is never expressed in Unicode, don't use a Unicode type. If you have a date column but don't need to store time with 3.33-millisecond accuracy, use smalldatetime instead of datetime. You get the idea. In this case, less is more—more space saved, more memory available to store other pertinent stuff. I'll show you how much each column costs in memory near the end of this chapter.
  • Start thinking about a concurrency strategy from the beginning. Determine how data is to be shared (if at all). Consider that many "single-user" databases are doomed to failure once they are "converted" to multi-user. Think about the mechanism you're planning to use to determine if a row has changed once it's fetched. For example, you might (perhaps ought) to use a "Rowversion" or "TimeStamp" column to help track access—it can make Visual Studio's job a lot easier (and yours, too) when it comes time to write action commands to change the database.
  • Avoid BLOBs in the database. I have been suggesting this for over a decade, and those who have listened have been able to build a smaller, faster, and simpler database. If you have BLOBs, store them in files (or on RO media) and use the database to store the path.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, for less-experienced developers, I think that you should strive to keep your database simple—simple to understand, support, and maintain. Excessive complexity is the bane of many a mature and amateur database designer.
  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020