Databases are the foundation for any dynamic application. They let you store all data needed to power application output. Before you jump into the actual website coding you need to design the database to define the application’s workflow. If you’ve hired a development firm to design the site, the firm’s designers will create a layout for the database that works directly with your user interface. If you decide to create your own site, you must be able to design a database on your own. The wrong database design can kill your site’s performance, so here are some tips to help you get started with the right design.
Document Your Site Concept
Most new site owners don’t understand that a database drives the front-end website. The database is the foundation for all of your data. It doesn’t define your site’s logic, but it does help structure your site’s workflow. Before you design your database, you need to have a clear vision for your site. Document your site’s process the best that you can even if it’s just in the “idea” stage. This will help you understand what tables and stored procedures you need during the database design.
A good way to document your site during the “idea” stage is to use wireframes. Wireframes are sketches of the site’s pages, a general layout, and buttons that control the workflow. With each wireframe, explain the page’s purpose and the data that it displays and consumes. Once you sketch your site, you can then have a better idea of the data that must be stored in the database.
Create Tables That Don’t Store the Same Data in Multiple Places
One rule in database design is to create tables where information is stored in only one location. For instance, you don’t store the same order number in three different tables. If you change the number in one table, you must remember to change it in other tables. This can cause problems if you don’t update records in every location. This mistake causes bugs in your application.
Storing data in one place means you only need to update the data in one table. When your application retrieves the data, you don’t need to worry that the application pulls the wrong data from the wrong table. This will ensure accuracy when you display data to your users and reduce the number of bugs introduced from data redundancy.
Create Meaningful Column and Table Names
As you’re developing a database design, it’s tempting to use shorthand names or nicknames for table or column names. The problem with this type of design is that only you know the meaning behind the shorthand names. If your application grows and you need another developer to help, it will be difficult for them to understand your database design. Always make table and column names that are easy to understand. For instance, instead of naming a column “FN” for ‘first name,” name the column “First Name” or “First_Name.”
You should also have naming standards across all tables. For instance, a common naming standard is to always name the primary key the name of the table with an “Id” suffix such as “Customerld” for a customer table or “Orderld” for an order table. This makes the development process much easier as developers don’t need to figure out column names when programming queries.
Always Create Primary Keys in Every Table
Primary keys are a part of database design conventions that should never be ignored. Primary keys are automatically created as an index, and indexes speed up performance during table queries. Any column can be a primary key, but it must be a column that contains a unique value to distinguish the record among all other records in the table. You can set an auto-increment number as your primary key to ensure that every record has a unique value each time you insert new data. Each time you insert a new record, the database automatically increments the number, which makes it easier than creating your own.
Many developers use this technique for a primary key column to ensure that it is unique without first querying the database. Without primary keys, your table queries can take several minutes to finish compared to only several milliseconds when you properly design your table columns.
Use a Data Modeler to Draw the Tables
A data modeler gives you a visual representation of your tables. It can help you find design flaws as you map out tables, constraints, and relationships between them. Most database designers have the design mapped out in their head, but when they actually put it on paper they find the flaws quickly.
Database design is a complex process when you’re creating one for a large site. A database modeler will help you find any logic flaws since the tools map out the way your tables will look once they are deployed to production. You might find an orphaned table, or you can find tables that can be consolidated.
Design a Backup Strategy
Every database should have a backup strategy. Without backups, just one server crash can destroy your site’s integrity. You lose all of your orders, financial information and your customer’s data. With a backup, you can have your site running within a few hours after a crash. Without one, you are forced to call customers and explain why you lost their orders The best way to ensure that you never lose your data is to always plan a backup strategy with your design.
Once you have these six steps in place, you can physically create the database from the design. Designing the database using a modeler will save you time since you can just copy the table properties to your database server. When you don’t have a design, you could create a database only to find out that the design is flawed, which forces you to start over. Follow standard conventions and take plenty of time to define your table structure for a scalable database setup that will provide a strong foundation for your website.
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