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Create Multiple tables

If you don't already have a database named "library", then make sure to run createdb library from the terminal before starting this chapter. The library database is needed to work through this chapter's content. The library database can be restored from a backup file. First download the backup file for this chapter from here.

Then run the following command: psql -d library < multi_tables.sql

When running the above command, you may see the following message: ERROR: relation "public.users" does not exist. This can be safely ignored. There are some commands in place at the start of the backup file for altering and removing the users table. These are included in case that table already exists. If the table doesn't exist, PostgreSQL will ignore the command and move on to executing the rest of the backup file.

More data

In the chapter on altering a table, we ended up changing our users database in various ways. With that in mind, we'll start fresh in this chapter. Follow the directions above in the info box to retrieve starter data for this chapter. We'll still be working with the familiar library database and users table from previous chapters, but with a blank users table to start with. In this chapter we want to add several more pieces of data to our database. We would like to store

  1. User addresses
  2. Books
  3. Book reviews

We could start adding these pieces to the users table, resulting in a table with many columns. First we need to add these columns using the ALTER TABLE command.

library=# ALTER TABLE
ADD COLUMN book_title VARCHAR(25),
ADD COLUMN review_content VARCHAR(50),
ADD COLUMN rating int,
ADD COLUMN address VARCHAR(255);

The users table now has 8 fields.

library=# \d users
                                       Table "public.users"
     Column     |            Type             |                     Modifiers
 id             | integer                     | not null default nextval('users_id_seq'::regclass)
 username       | character varying(25)       | not null
 enabled        | boolean                     | default true
 last_login     | timestamp without time zone | not null default now()
 book_title     | character varying(25)       |
 review_content | character varying(50)       |
 rating         | integer                     |
 address        | character varying(255)      |
    "users_pkey" PRIMARY KEY, btree (id)

Next, we need to insert some data into the table

INSERT into users(username, enabled, book_title, review_content, rating, address)
VALUES('John Smith', false, 'Chaos', 'What is the butterfly effect?', 5, '2 Market Street');

INSERT into users(username, enabled, book_title, review_content, rating, address)
VALUES('Jane Smith', true, 'Simple Taoism', 'About Living in balance', 5, '3 Market Street');

INSERT into users(username, enabled,book_title, review_content,rating,address)
VALUES('Jane Smith', true, 'The Storyteller', 'Memories of WWII', 4, '3 Market Street');

Let's see what the data looks like

library=# SELECT * FROM users;
 id | username   | enabled |         last_login         |   book_title    |       review_content          | rating |     address
  4 | John Smith | f       | 2016-03-26 19:01:52.341599 | Chaos           |  What is the butterfly effect? |      5 | 2 Market Street
  5 | Jane Smith | t       | 2016-03-26 19:05:55.439876 | Simple Taoism   |  About Living in balance       |      5 | 3 Market Street
  6 | Jane Smith | t       | 2016-03-26 19:08:06.039351 | The Storyteller |  Memories of WWII              |      4 | 3 Market Street
(3 rows)

Not pretty!!

With just 3 records, the data is cluttered with duplicate information. For instance, Jane Smith has to be inserted for every book and review for that user. Furthermore, we still need to add more information, such as author and checkout_date of the book. It makes sense to store them in separate tables and provide a link between the tables so we can figure out which review or book belongs to which user.

Designing additional tables

If we break out the data into separate tables, we need tables for Users, Addresses, Books and Reviews. We've mentioned relational databases a lot, but haven't talked a lot about what that relational part means. Now that we know which tables we need, we also need to map the relationships between these tables, sometimes known as entities.

The relationships we need to model are

  1. One User has MANY books that he/she may have checked out or returned.
  2. A Book is/has been checked out by MANY users.
  3. One Book has MANY reviews.
  4. One User has MANY reviews.
  5. A User has ONE address.

Let's take a look at the design of these four tables together, we will then explain how each of these relationships is modeled individually. To describe the overall design, we are using an entity relationship diagram or ERD, of the tables.

What is an ERD?

An entity relationship diagram is a graphical representation of entities and their relationships to each other. An entity represents a real world object, a piece of data that we want to model within our database.

Library Database Entity-Relationship Diagram

The arrows between these tables indicate the relationships that are linking them together. The links in the tables are formed with Primary Keys and Foreign Keys. We are leveraging these keys to create relationships. You will notice an additional table users_books, which we have not mentioned so far. The user and books relationship suggests that, the user has many books and a book has many users. We need to capture the data of this many-to-many relationship in the users_books table.

Table relationships

There are 3 types of table relationships in a relational database. Our library database modeled in the ER diagram above has all 3 of these, shown in the table below.

Relationship Notes
One-to-One A User has ONE address
One-to-Many A Book has MANY reviews
Many-to-Many A user has MANY books and a book has MANY users

Let's look at each relationship and how to create them in SQL.


A one-to-one relationship between two entities exists when a particular entity instance exists in one table, and it can have only one associated entity instance in another table.

Example: A user has only one address, and an address belongs to only one user.

In the database world, this sort of relationship is implemented like this: the id that is the PRIMARY KEY of the users table is used as both the FOREIGN KEY and PRIMARY KEY of the addresses table.

  id serial,
  username VARCHAR(25) NOT NULL,
  enabled boolean DEFAULT TRUE,
  last_login timestamp NOT NULL DEFAULT NOW(),

 one to one: User has one address

CREATE TABLE addresses (
  user_id int NOT NULL,
  street VARCHAR(30) NOT NULL,
  city VARCHAR(30) NOT NULL,
  state VARCHAR(30) NOT NULL,
  PRIMARY KEY (user_id),
  CONSTRAINT fk_user_id FOREIGN KEY (user_id) REFERENCES users (id)

Notice the last two lines in the CREATE addresses command. These two lines create the constraint that makes the user_id the Primary Key of the addresses table and also the Foreign Key of the users table.

One-to-One schema


A one-to-many relationship exists between two entities if an entity instance in one of the tables can be associated with multiple records (entity instances) in the other table. The opposite relationship does not exist; that is, each entity instance in the second table can only be associated with one entity instance in the first table.

Example: A book has many reviews. A review belongs to only one book.

In the database world, this sort of relationship is implemented by ensuring that the book_id that is the PRIMARY KEY of the books table is a FOREIGN KEY of the reviews table

  id serial,
  title VARCHAR(100) NOT NULL,
  author VARCHAR(100) NOT NULL,
  published_date timestamp NOT NULL,
  isbn int,
  UNIQUE (isbn)

 one to many: Book has many reviews

CREATE TABLE reviews (
  id serial,
  book_id int NOT NULL,
  user_id int NOT NULL,
  review_content VARCHAR(255),
  rating int,
  published_date timestamp DEFAULT CURRENT_TIMESTAMP,

NOTE: CURRENT_TIMESTAMP is an alias for the NOW() function. They can both be used to set the default of a timestamp as the current date and time. Notice how CURRENT_TIMESTAMP doesn't use parentheses while NOW() does. This has to do with keeping certain functions compatible with SQL standard. You'll almost always find that functions not specific to PostgreSQL use parentheses. PostgreSQL specific functions may have functions with or without parentheses.

Notice the last lines in the CREATE reviews command. The FOREIGN KEY constraint maps the book_id from the reviews table to the Primary Key id of the books table.

One-to-Many schema


A many-to-many relationship exists between two entities if for one entity instance there may be multiple records in the other table and vice versa.

Example: A user has many books checked out or may have checked them out in the past. A book has many users that have checked a book out.

In the database world, this sort of relationship is implemented by introducing a third cross-reference table, that holds the relationship between the two entities, which is the PRIMARY KEY of the books table and the PRIMARY KEY of the user table.

Look at the line PRIMARY KEY (user_id, book_id). The primary key is not a single key, but a composite key based on user_id and book_id. Therefore, the pair has to be unique.

CREATE TABLE users_books (
  user_id int NOT NULL,
  book_id int NOT NULL,
  checkout_date timestamp,
  return_date timestamp,
  PRIMARY KEY (user_id, book_id),

Many-to-Many schema

We have used the terms Primary Key and Foreign Key throughout this chapter for ids. In the next chapter, we will take a look at a bit of theory on keys and constraints.