How to create relational databases in Excel 2013

Excel used to be the poor schmuck’s database, with spreadsheets that just sort of sat there. You could create something more sophisticated with LOOKUP functions, but they were a huge hassle to set up.

Not anymore: Excel 2013’s table tools include features that make it easy to link charts and cells, perform searches, and create dynamically updated reports, just like—yes—a relational database. Excel can handle a lot of day-to-day office data this way, and we’ll show you how to set it up.

How Excel makes a relational database
Relational databases—databases structured to recognize relations among the information stored in them—are essential for working with large amounts of business data. They let you quickly search and retrieve specific information, view the same data set in multiple ways, and reduce data errors and redundancy. Try doing that with a spreadsheet.

To show you how Excel makes it easier, we will create two tables: the master table and the detail table. The master table is the primary table, which generally contains unique records (such as name, address, city, state, etc.). This table rarely changes except to, say, add or delete individuals.

For every record in the master table, there can be many records in the detail tables (also called slave or child tables) that link back to the master table. This is called a one-to-many relationship. The data in the detail tables—such as daily sales, product prices, quantities—usually changes constantly.

To avoid repeating all the master information in every detail table, you create relationships using one unique field, such as the Sales ID, then let Excel do the rest. For example, you have 10 sales people who all have unique, demographic information (master table). Each sales person has 200 products that he/she sells (detail or child table). At the end of each year, you need a report that provides the total yearly sales by person, but you also need a report that provides the total sales by city.

For this tutorial, we’ll create a master table with the salespersons’ information and a second table that provides their total sales, by quarter, for the year. The Sales ID is the relational field that connects the tables. Then, we’ll create a report (or pivot table) that shows which cities had the highest sales.

Open Excel and select a new, blank worksheet.

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