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"Making It Work" vs "It Just Works"

Publish Date -- May 08, 2021


Why do experienced Access developers insist on normalizing the data in a relational database application? I've thought about that question a lot over the years. There are many good reasons for normalizing your data, which you can read about here.

Inexperienced developers sometimes hesitate to invest the time and effort required to learn what normalization is, and how to implement it, and then actually normalize their tables.


Why do experienced Access developers insist on normalizing the data in a relational database application? I've thought about that question a lot over the years. There are many good reasons for normalizing your data, which you can read about here.

Inexperienced developers sometimes hesitate to invest the time and effort required to learn what normalization is, and how to implement it, and then actually normalize their tables. One of the more common reasons for that is it can seem to complicate an interface. Another reason is that a lot of folks new to Access relational databases have a good deal of experience with Excel spreadsheets. The spreadsheet layout of data with an ever expanding series of columns on a single flat page seems familiar and comfortable to them. In fact, Access actually allows creation of tables that look like spreadsheets. The combination of apparently simple interfaces and familiarity other tools all too often lead to non-normalized Access databases. On the surface, an interface design based on a spreadsheet style table actually is simpler to create at the beginning. Unfortunately, that's where the simplicity ends.

Virtually every other aspect of an application built on non-normalized tables becomes harder, more complicated and more fragile. Over time, it can break down completely, in fact.

As a result, I've come up with a new mantra to express the difference between taking the easy route—spreadsheet style tables—and the proper route—properly normalized relational tables.

You can put in the extended, long-term effort to Make It Work with spreadsheet style tables, or you can invest the upfront work in normalization and from then on, your relational database application Will Just Work.


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Feedback is welcome and appreciated. ghepworth@gpcdata.com

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