5 Best Database Tips for Beginners

Tips to working with databases

If you're just getting started with databases, this rundown of the top things you need to know will help you move forward. These facts are guaranteed to make it easier to work with databases and increase productivity.

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SQL Forms the Core of Relational Databases

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The Structured Query Language (SQL) forms the core of all relational databases. It provides a uniform interface to Oracle, SQL Server, Microsoft Access, and other relational databases and is a "must learn" for all aspiring database users.

Take an introductory SQL course before you attempt to learn any specific database software. The time investment will help you build a proper foundation and get started on the correct foot in the world of databases.

W3Schools.com is a great starting place for beginners interested in SQL.

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Selecting Primary Keys Is an Important Decision

Database Planning

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The selection of a primary key is one of the most critical decisions you'll make while designing a new database. The most important constraint is that you must ensure that the selected key is unique.

If one value attribute may be in two records, the shared attribute is a poor choice for a primary key. You should probably also avoid sensitive values that raise privacy concerns, such as Social Security numbers.

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NULL Is Not Zero or the Empty String

NULL error in Excel

NULL is a special value in the world of databases, but it's something that often confuses beginners.

When you see a NULL value, interpret it as "unknown." For example, if a quantity is NULL, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's zero. Similarly, if a text field holds a NULL value, it doesn't mean that there isn't an appropriate value—it's simply unknown.

Consider a database containing information about children who attend a particular school. If the person entering the record doesn't know a student's age, a NULL value is used to indicate the "unknown" placeholder. The student certainly has an age; it's just not present in the database.

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Converting Spreadsheets to Databases Saves Time

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If you have tons of data stored in Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet format, you can save yourself time by converting those spreadsheets into database tables.

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All Database Platforms Are Not Created Equal

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There are many databases out there, and all offer unique features at different price points.

Some are full-featured enterprise databases designed to host huge data warehouses serving multinational enterprises. Others are ​desktop databases better suited to tracking inventory for a small store with one or two users.

Your business requirements will dictate the appropriate database platform for your needs, and there are several free online database creators to choose from.

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