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A flat file database is a collection of data stored in a two-dimensional database. These files are stored as plain text and have no markup, separating relational data with a comma. Flat file databases are not the same as relational databases, which use multiple tables to store information. However, you can import flat files into Microsoft Access

Let’s learn more about flat file databases, how they are structured and when you should use them. 

Understanding Flat File Databases 

A flat file is a simple database in which similar strings of data are stored as records in a table. Microsoft Excel is a great example of a flat file database. In fact, it accounts for 90 percent of flat file databases! 

In Excel, the columns of the table represent one dimension of the database, while each row is a separate record. Generally speaking, flat files contain information that is alphanumeric and requires very little formatting. 

To show the difference between Microsoft Excel and a relational database, let’s look at this example. 

  • A retail shop plans to store customer information in a database. If they choose Excel, they will only have a single table, with each record describing an individual order. 
  • If the retail business chooses a relational database, they can have multiple tables. One might have the order ID and another the customer information. Rather than duplicating customer data, each order refers to the corresponding entry in the customer table. 

How Microsoft Excel is Structured 

A flat file database has a simple structure. The first row contains the field name for each column, and each row after that represents a single record. Each row has the same type of information. This information is defined by the columns, which describe the type of data and sets a limit on the number of characters allowed to be in the field information. 

Columns are separated by a comma or tab, and there are no predetermined limits for the number of rows there may be. With its simple setup, Excel databases are best used for the following purposes: 

  • Name and address files 
  • Membership lists 
  • Class rosters 
  • Customer information 
  • Team players 
  • Call logs 

Is Microsoft Excel Right for You? Contact Arkware for a Consultation 

Data that has an uncomplicated structure and a smaller footprint can benefit from Excel. But if you have complex data or want to avoid redundancy and duplicate data, you’ll definitely need to upgrade to a relational database. To learn more about flat file databases like Excel, when to use them and how to import them to MS Access, contact Arkware today