The larger your database, the higher the possibility of data repetition and inaccuracies that compromise the results you pull from the database. Normalization in DBMS exists to counteract those problems by helping you to create more uniform databases in which redundancies are less likely to occur.
Mastering normalization is a key skill in DBMS for the simple fact that an error-strewn database is of no use to an organization. For example, a retailer that has to deal with a database that has multiple entries for phone numbers and email addresses is a retailer that can’t see as effectively as one that has a simple route to the customer. Let’s look at normalization in DBMS and how it helps you to create a more organized database.
The Concept of Normalization
Grab a pack of playing cards and throw them onto the floor. Now, pick up the “Jack of Hearts.” It’s a tough task because the cards are strewn all over the place. Some are facing down and there’s no rhyme, reason, or pattern to how the cards lie, meaning you’re going to have to check every card individually to find the one you want.
That little experiment shows you how critical organization is, even with a small set of “data.” It also highlights the importance of normalization in DBMS. Through normalization, you implement organizational controls using a set of principles designed to achieve the following:
- Eliminate redundancy – Lower (or eliminate) occurrences of data repeating across different tables, or inside individual tables, in your DBMS.
- Minimize data anomalies – Better organization makes it easier to spot datasets that don’t fit the “norm,” meaning fewer anomalies.
- Improve data integrity – More accurate data comes from normalization controls. Database users can feel more confident in their results because they know that the controls ensure integrity.
The Process of Normalization
If normalization in DBMS is all about organization, it stands to reason that they would be a set process to follow when normalizing your tables and database:
- Decompose your tables – Break every table down into its various parts, which may lead to you creating several tables out of one. Through decomposition, you separate different datasets, eliminate inconsistencies, and set the stage for creating relationships and dependencies between tables.
- Identify functional dependencies – An attribute in one table may be dependent on another to exist. For example, a “Customer ID” number in a retailer’s “Customer” table is functionally dependent on the “Customer Name” field because the ID can’t exist without the customer. Identifying these types of dependencies ensures you don’t end up with empty records (such as a record with a “Customer ID” and no customer attached to it).
- Apply normalization rules – Once you’re broken down your table and identified the functional dependencies, you apply relevant normalization rules. You’ll use Normal Forms to do this, with the six highlighted below each having its own rules, structures, and use cases.
Normal Forms in DBMS
There isn’t a “single” way to achieve normalization in DBMS because every database (and the tables it contains) is different. Instead, there are six normal forms you may use, with each having its own rules that you need to understand to figure out which to apply.
First Normal Form (1NF)
If a relation can’t contain multiple values, it’s in 1NF. In other words, each attribute in the table can only contain a single (called “atomic”) value.
If a retailer wants to store the details of its customers, it may have attributes in its table like “Customer Name,” “Phone Number,” and “Email Address.” By applying 1NF to this table, you ensure that the attributes that could contain multiple entries (“Phone Number” and “Email Address”) only contain one, making contacting that customer much simpler.
Second Normal Form (2NF)
A table that’s in 2NF is in 1NF, with the additional condition that none of its non-prime attributes depend on a subset of candidate keys within the table.
Let’s say an employer wants to create a table that contains information about an employee, the skills they have, and their age. An employee may have multiple skills, leading to multiple records for the same employee in the table, with each denoting a skill while the ID number and age of the employee repeat for each record.
In this table, you’ve achieved 1NF because each attribute has an atomic value. However, the employee’s age is dependent on the employee ID number. To achieve 2NF, you’d break this table down into two tables. The first will contain the employee’s ID number and age, with that ID number linking to a second table that lists each of the skills associated with the employee.
Third Normal Form (3NF)
In 3NF, the table you have must already be in 2NF form, with the added rule of removing the transitive functional dependency of the non-prime attribute of any super key. Transitive functional dependency occurs if the dependency is the result of a pair of functional dependencies. For example, the relationship between A and C is a transitive dependency if A depends on B, B depends on C, but B doesn’t depend on A.
Let’s say a school creates a “Students” table with the following attributes:
- Student ID
- Zip Code
In this case, the “State,” “District,” and “City” attributes all depend on the “Zip Code” attribute. That “Zip” attribute depends on the “Student ID” attribute, making “State,” “District,” and “City” all transitively depending on “Student ID.”
To resolve this problem, you’d create a pair of tables – “Student” and “Student Zip.” The “Student” table contains the “Student ID,” “Name,” and “Zip Code” attributes, with that “Zip Code” attribute being the primary key of a “Student Zip” table that contains the rest of the attributes and links to the “Student” table.
Boyce-Codd Normal Form (BCNF)
Often referred to as 3.5NF, BCNF is a stricter version of 3NF. So, this normalization in DBMS rule occurs if your table is in 3NF, and for every functional dependence between two fields (i.e., A -> B), A is the super key of your table.
Sticking with the school example, every student in a school has multiple classes. The school has a table with the following fields:
- Student ID
- Class Type
- Number of Students in Class
You have several functional dependencies here:
- Student ID -> Nationality
- Class -> Number of Students in Class, Class Type
As a result, both the “Student ID” and “Class” attributes are candidate keys but can’t serve as keys alone. To achieve BCNF normalization, you’d break the above table into three – “Student Nationality,” “Student Class,” and “Class Mapping,” allowing “Student ID” and “Class” to serve as primary keys in their own tables.
Fourth Normal Form (4NF)
In 4NF, the database must meet the requirements of BCNF, in addition to containing no more than a single multivalued dependency. It’s often used in academic circles, as there’s little use for 4NF elsewhere.
Let’s say a college has a table containing the following fields:
- College Course
- Recommended Book
Each of these attributes is independent of the others, meaning each can change without affecting the others. For example, the college could change the lecturer of a course without altering the recommended reading or the course’s name. As such, the existence of the course depends on both the “Lecturer” and “Recommended Book” attributes, creating a multivalued dependency. If a DBMS has more than one of these types of dependencies, it’s a candidate for 4NF normalization.
Fifth Normal Form (5NF)
If your table is in 4NF, has no join dependencies, and all joining is lossless, it’s in 5NF. Think of this as the final form when it comes to normalization in DBMS, as you’ve broken your table down so much that you’ve made redundancy impossible.
A college may have a table that tells them which lecturers teach certain subjects during which semesters, creating the following attributes:
- Lecturer Name
Let’s say one of the lecturers teaches both “Physics” and “Math” for “Semester 1,” but doesn’t teach “Math” for Semester 2. That means you need to combine all of the fields in this table to get an accurate dataset, leading to redundancy. Add a third semester to the mix, especially if that semester has no defined courses or lecturers, and you have to join dependencies.
The 5NF solution is to break this table down into three tables:
- Table 1 – Contains the “Semester” and “Subject” attributes to show which subjects are taught in each semester.
- Table 2 – Contains the “Subject” and “Lecturer Name” attributes to show which lecturers teach a subject.
- Table 3 – Contains the “Semester” and “Lecturer Name” attributes so you can see which lecturers teach during which semesters.
Benefits of Normalization in DBMS
With normalization in DBMS being so much work, you need to know the following benefits to show that it’s worth your effort:
- Improved database efficiency
- Better data consistency
- Easier database maintenance
- Simpler query processing
- Better access controls, resulting in superior security
Limitations and Trade-Offs of Normalization
Normalization in DBMS does have some drawbacks, though these are trade-offs that you accept for the above benefits:
- The larger your database gets, the more demands it places on system performance.
- Breaking tables down leads to complexity.
- You have to find a balance between normalization and denormalization to ensure your tables make sense.
Practical Tips for Mastering Normalization Techniques
Getting normalization in DBMS is hard, especially when you start feeling like you’re dividing tables into so many small tables that you’re losing track of the database. These tips help you apply normalization correctly:
- Understand the database requirements – Your database exists for you to extract data from it, so knowing what you’ll need to extract indicates whether you need to normalize tables or not.
- Document all functional dependencies – Every functional dependence that exists in your database makes the table in which it exists a candidate for normalization. Identify each dependency and document it so you know whether you need to break the table down.
- Use software and tools – You’re not alone when poring through your database. There are plenty of tools available that help you to identify functional dependencies. Many make normalization suggestions, with some even being able to carry out those suggestions for you.
- Review and refine – Every database evolves alongside its users, so continued refining is needed to identify new functional dependencies (and opportunities for normalization).
- Collaborate with other professionals – A different set of eyes on a database may reveal dependencies and normalization opportunities that you don’t see.
Make Normalization Your New Norm
Normalization may seem needlessly complex, but it serves the crucial role of making the data you extract from your database more refined, accurate, and free of repetition. Mastering normalization in DBMS puts you in the perfect position to create the complex databases many organizations need in a Big Data world. Experiment with the different “normal forms” described in this article as each application of the techniques (even for simple tables) helps you get to grips with normalization.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.