Chapter 8. Denormalization

What’s normal, anyway?

Anon.: Where Bugs Go

I want to say a few words about denormalization. Now, I haven’t considered, so far in this book, any level of normalization higher than BCNF (at least, not in detail). But denormalization, if it means anything at all, can’t apply just to BCNF specifically; I mean, it can’t refer just to dropping back to some level of normalization that’s lower than BCNF specifically. Rather, it has to mean dropping back from any given level of normalization to some lower one.

That said, however, I need to say too that relvars that are in BCNF and not in some higher normal form are comparatively unusual (though not completely unknown, I hasten to add). In practice, therefore, denormalization does usually refer quite specifically to dropping back to some level of normalization below BCNF; hence the inclusion of this chapter in this part of the book.


Ever since SQL products first came on the market, the claim that it’s necessary to “denormalize for performance” has been widely promulgated. The (specious!) supporting argument goes something like this:

  1. Normalization means lots of relvars.

  2. Lots of relvars means lots of stored files.

  3. Lots of stored files means lots of I/O.

In the case of suppliers and parts, for example, a request to get details for suppliers who supply red parts involves two dyadic joins—suppliers to shipments first, perhaps, and then the result of that join to parts. And if the three relvars ...

Get Database Design and Relational Theory now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.