Data and Business Intelligence Glossary Terms

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Normalization

What is normalization?

Data normalization is the process of structuring information within a relational database to reduce redundancy. Normalizing data ensures that the tables in a database function as efficiently as possible, eliminating ambiguity so that each table serve a singular purpose.

When moving from a denormalized database to a normalized one, you’ll probably need to break out your existing tables to create additional, smaller tables. Those new tables will have a narrower focus, and will link to other tables through entity and foreign keys. With normalization comes the added benefit of reducing your overall database size and easing database maintenance, since you’re no longer storing the same information in several places.

Example of data normalization

The normalization process is carried out according to rules that build upon each other, known as normal forms. First normal form (1NF) states that fields should not store multiple values within a single cell, and that each field within a table should be unique. Here’s an example:

Denormalized table

Product_ID Product_name Product_color1 Product_color2
P001 Knit cardigan Pink Maroon
P002 Bootcut jeans Navy  
P003 Linen vest Camel Off-white
P004 Running sneakers Orange  

You’ll notice that we have two fields containing similar information, about product color. To bring this table in accordance with 1NF, we need to break this table out into two separate tables that can be joined together.

Normalized product name table

Product_ID Product_name
P001 Knit blazer
P002 Bootcut jeans
P003 Linen vest
P004 Running sneakers

Normalized product color table

Product_ID Product_color
P001 Pink
P001 Maroon
P002 Navy
P003 Camel
P003 Off-white
P004 Orange

Check out our Learn lesson for examples of 2NF and 3NF. While normal forms beyond these three exist, their use is largely theoretical and the first three should be sufficient for most practical database needs.

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