Tables may look like simple two-dimensional grids of simple values, but a well-defined table has a fair amount of structure. Different columns can play different roles. Some columns act as unique identifiers that define the intent and purpose of each row. Other columns hold supporting data. Still other columns act as external references that link rows in one table to rows in another table. When designing a table, it is important to understand why each column is there, and what role each column is playing.
When designing a table, you usually start by specifying the primary key. The primary key consists of one or more columns that uniquely identify each row of a table. In a sense, the primary key values represent the fundamental identity of each row in the table. The primary key columns identify what the table is all about. All the other columns should provide supporting data that is directly relevant to the primary key.
Sometimes the primary key is an actual unique data value, such as a room number or a hostname. Very often the primary key is simply an arbitrary identification number, such as an employee or student ID number. The important point is that primary keys must be unique over every possible entry in the table, not just the rows that happen to be in there right now. This is why names are normally not used as primary keys—in a large group of people, it is too easy to end up with duplicate (or very similar) names.
While there is nothing particularly ...