Can Güney Aksakalli

Can Güney Aksakalli

Notes from my journey

Database Normalization and Normal Forms with an Example

This article aims to explain database normalization in a nutshell by giving a simple and effective example.

Concept of normalization and normal forms were introduced, after the invention of relational model. Database normalization is essential procedure to avoid inconsistency in a relational database management system. It should be performed in design phase. To achieve this, redundant fields should be refactored into smaller pieces.

Normal forms

Normals forms are defined structures for relations with set of constraints that relations must satisfy in order to detect data redundancy and correct anomalies. There can be following anomalies while performing a database operation:

  • insert: data is known but can not be inserted
  • update: updating data requires modifications in multiple tuples (rows)
  • delete: deleting some data causes some other data to be lost

First Normal Form has initial constraints, further normal forms like 2NF, 3NF, BCNF, 4NF, 5NF would add new constraints cumulatively. In other words, every 2NF is also in 1NF; every relation in 3NF is also in 2NF. If all group of relations are represented as sets, following figure can be drawn:

Levels of normalization

As it can be seen, the relations satisfy 5NF also would satisfy all other normal forms.

1NF - First Normal Form

This is the most basic form of relation. Constraints:

  • Attribute values have to be atomic
  • Each record should be unique and have a primary key as identifier

As an example, we have movies and actors to be store in a relational database. We have following dependency model:

Dependency diagram for 1NF

Here is the table for 1NF:

6 Usual Suspects UK EN 308 Gabriel Byrne 2
228 Ed Wood US EN 26 Johnny Depp 1
70 Being John Malkovich US EN 282 Cameron Diaz 2
1512 Suspiria IT IT 745 Udo Kier 9
70 Being John Malkovich US EN 503 John Malkovich 14

Anomaly examples for this model:

  • inserting a new movie record without an actor information is not possible
  • updating the language of the movie Being John Malkovich requires two rows to be updated
  • deleting that Gabriel Byrne acts in the movie “Usual Suspects” also deletes that the movie was made in the UK

2NF - Second Normal Form

To correct these anomalies, the new constraint is introduced:

  • Every non-key attribute functionally should depend on the primary key

Regarding this new constraint, the table should be divided into three tables that every attribute has only functional primary key. Now dependency model became like this:

Dependency diagram for 2NF

Here are the three tables for 2NF:

6 Usual Suspects UK EN
228 Ed Wood US EN
70 Being John Malkovich US EN
1512 Suspiria IT IT
308 Gabriel Byrne
26 Johnny Depp
282 Cameron Diaz
745 Udo Kier
503 John Malkovich
6 308 2
228 26 1
70 282 2
1512 745 9
70 503 14

2NF can correct anomalies listed for 1NF but there are some remaining anomalies:

  • inserting the information that movies made in Germany are in German, is not possible if there exists no German movie record.
  • updating the language of movies made in the US requires three rows to be updated
  • deleting the record for the movie “Suspiria” also deletes that movies made in Italy are in Italian.

3NF - Third Normal Form

For this form following constraint is added:

  • All non key attributes should only depends on a primary key

With this new constraint, country and language should be part of an individual table and country field should be the primary key of this new table. Here is the new dependency model:

Dependency diagram for 3NF

Here are all tables for 3NF. (There is no change for Actor and Actor-Movie Matching table.)

6 Usual Suspects UK
228 Ed Wood US
70 Being John Malkovich US
1512 Suspiria IT

3NF can correct anomalies listed for 2NF. Although 3NF is sufficient to avoid delete, update and insert conflicts in most cases, there are some further normal forms like BCNF, 4NF and 5NF.


  • Date, C. J., An Introduction to Database Systems. Addison-Wesley, 2004.
  • Uyar, H. T. and Oguducu, S., Database Management Systems [lecture slides].