What Is the Main Data Structure of a Relational Database?


Scott Campbell

A relational database is a type of database that organizes and stores data in a structured format. It uses a specific data structure called tables to represent and store information. Tables are composed of rows and columns, with each row representing a record or instance of data, and each column representing a specific attribute or field.

Tables: The Building Blocks

Tables are the fundamental building blocks of a relational database. They provide a way to organize and store data in a structured manner, allowing for efficient retrieval and manipulation of information. Each table is given a unique name and consists of columns and rows.

Columns: Attributes or Fields

In a table, columns represent attributes or fields that define the characteristics of the data. For example, in a table representing employees, columns could include attributes like employee ID, name, job title, department, and salary.

Columns are defined with specific data types such as text, numeric values, dates, or boolean values. These data types help ensure that the correct type of data is stored in each column.

Rows: Records or Instances

Rows in a table represent individual records or instances of data. Each row contains values for each column defined in the table’s schema. Going back to our employee example, each row would represent an individual employee and contain the corresponding values for their employee ID, name, job title, department, and salary.

The number of rows in a table can vary depending on the amount of data being stored. Tables can have thousands or even millions of rows.

Relationships: Connecting Tables

In addition to tables, relational databases also use relationships to connect related information across multiple tables. Relationships help eliminate data duplication by allowing us to split related information into separate tables while still being able to associate them.

Primary Keys: Unique Identifiers

One of the key concepts in relational databases is the use of primary keys. A primary key is a unique identifier for each record in a table. It ensures that each row is uniquely identifiable and provides a way to establish relationships between tables.

By using primary keys, we can create relationships between tables by referencing the primary key of one table in another table. This allows us to retrieve and combine data from multiple tables based on their relationships.

Foreign Keys: Linking Tables

Foreign keys are columns in a table that reference the primary key of another table. They establish the relationship between two tables, allowing us to link related information together.

For example, if we have a table for employees and another table for departments, we can use a foreign key in the employees’ table that references the department’s primary key. This way, we can associate each employee with their respective department.


In summary, the main data structure of a relational database is tables. Tables consist of columns that define attributes or fields and rows that represent records or instances. Relationships between tables are established using primary and foreign keys, enabling us to connect related information across multiple tables.

  • Tables: The building blocks of a relational database
  • Columns: Attributes or fields that define characteristics of data
  • Rows: Records or instances containing values for each column
  • Relationships: Connect related information across multiple tables
  • Primary Keys: Unique identifiers for each record in a table
  • Foreign Keys: Columns that reference the primary key of another table

Understanding the main data structure of a relational database is crucial for designing and working with databases effectively. By organizing data into tables and establishing relationships between them, relational databases provide a powerful and flexible way to store and retrieve information.

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