Second normal form

Jump to: navigation, search

Second normal form (2NF) is a normal form used in database normalization. 2NF was originally defined by E.F. Codd[1] in 1971. A table that is in first normal form (1NF) must meet additional criteria if it is to qualify for second normal form. Specifically: a 1NF table is in 2NF if and only if, given any candidate key and any attribute that is not a constituent of a candidate key, the non-key attribute depends upon the whole of the candidate key rather than just a part of it.

In slightly more formal terms: a 1NF table is in 2NF if and only if none of its non-prime attributes are functionally dependent on a part (proper subset) of a candidate key. (A non-prime attribute is one that does not belong to any candidate key.)

Note that when a 1NF table has no composite candidate keys (candidate keys consisting of more than one attribute), the table is automatically in 2NF.


Consider a table describing employees' skills:

Employees' Skills
Employee Skill Current Work Location
Jones Typing 114 Main Street
Jones Shorthand 114 Main Street
Jones Whittling 114 Main Street
Bravo Light Cleaning 73 Industrial Way
Ellis Alchemy 73 Industrial Way
Ellis Juggling 73 Industrial Way
Harrison Light Cleaning 73 Industrial Way

Neither {Employee} nor {Skill} is a candidate key for the table. This is because a given Employee might need to appear more than once (he might have multiple Skills), and a given Skill might need to appear more than once (it might be possessed by multiple Employees). Only the composite key {Employee, Skill} qualifies as a candidate key for the table.

The remaining attribute, Current Work Location, is dependent on only part of the candidate key, namely Employee. Therefore the table is not in 2NF. Note the redundancy in the way Current Work Locations are represented: we are told three times that Jones works at 114 Main Street, and twice that Ellis works at 73 Industrial Way. This redundancy makes the table vulnerable to update anomalies: it is, for example, possible to update Jones' work location on his "Typing" and "Shorthand" records and not update his "Whittling" record. The resulting data would imply contradictory answers to the question "What is Jones' current work location?"

A 2NF alternative to this design would represent the same information in two tables: an "Employees" table with candidate key {Employee}, and an "Employees' Skills" table with candidate key {Employee, Skill}:

Employee Current Work Location
Jones 114 Main Street
Bravo 73 Industrial Way
Ellis 73 Industrial Way
Harrison 73 Industrial Way
Employees' Skills
Employee Skill
Jones Typing
Jones Shorthand
Jones Whittling
Bravo Light Cleaning
Ellis Alchemy
Ellis Juggling
Harrison Light Cleaning

Neither of these tables can suffer from update anomalies.

Not all 2NF tables are free from update anomalies, however. An example of a 2NF table which suffers from update anomalies is:

Tournament Winners
Tournament Year Winner Winner Date of Birth
Des Moines Masters 1998 Chip Masterson 14 March 1977
Indiana Invitational 1998 Al Fredrickson 21 July 1975
Cleveland Open 1999 Bob Albertson 28 September 1968
Des Moines Masters 1999 Al Fredrickson 21 July 1975
Indiana Invitational 1999 Chip Masterson 14 March 1977

Even though Winner and Winner Date of Birth are determined by the whole key {Tournament, Year} and not part of it, particular Winner / Winner Date of Birth combinations are shown redundantly on multiple records. This problem is addressed by third normal form (3NF).

2NF and candidate keys

A table for which there are no partial functional dependencies on the primary key is typically, but not always, in 2NF. In addition to the primary key, the table may contain other candidate keys; it is necessary to establish that no non-prime attributes have part-key dependencies on any of these candidate keys.

Multiple candidate keys occur in the following table:

Electric Toothbrush Models
Manufacturer Model Model Full Name Manufacturer Country
Forte X-Prime Forte X-Prime Italy
Forte Ultraclean Forte Ultraclean Italy
Dent-o-Fresh EZbrush Dent-o-Fresh EZBrush USA
Kobayashi ST-60 Kobayashi ST-60 Japan
Hoch Toothmaster Hoch Toothmaster Germany
Hoch Contender Hoch Contender Germany

Even if the designer has specified the primary key as {Model Full Name}, the table is not in 2NF. {Manufacturer, Model} is also a candidate key, and Manufacturer Country is dependent on a proper subset of it: Manufacturer.


  1. Codd, E.F. "Further Normalization of the Data Base Relational Model." (Presented at Courant Computer Science Symposia Series 6, "Data Base Systems," New York City, May 24th-25th, 1971.) IBM Research Report RJ909 (August 31st, 1971). Republished in Randall J. Rustin (ed.), Data Base Systems: Courant Computer Science Symposia Series 6. Prentice-Hall, 1972.

See also

Further reading

External links