Drop Down Lists vs. Linked Tables


I understand the idea of normalizing a database - and I see that I can create a column type for a drop down list.

Why use a drop down list instead of a linked table? Is there a configuration/structural reason to do so, or is it just easier?

I don’t think there’s a single answer to this, as it will depend on your base design, but as a rule:

  1. Drop down if the field doesn’t need linked to another table
  2. Link it if it does

I also find that the way Airtable has built their product makes it easy for me to first create a whole table with drop-downs when needed and then convert seamlessly to a linked table. It’s these little features that just make it a joy to use


I guess my question is why use a drop down list if it’s more proper to normalize the tables?

That’s because not everything is important enough to become its own table.

You only want to create extra tables if the records in those tables are important enough to become separate entities in your system. For example, if those entities ALSO have further information about THEM that you need to manage or keep track of.

In order for something to be elevated from a lowly field to an entire table, it has to be a very important part of your system that you would want to track separately so it can have a life of its own. :wink:

In some cases, an extra table enables you to perform functions in Airtable which aren’t otherwise possible to accomplish, due to Airtable limitations — so you’re actually required to create an extra table. For example, Airtable’s summary functions are completely inaccessible to us unless we are linked to another table.

Thanks for this - I’ll use it as the rule of thumb.

You’re welcome! :slight_smile:

If you enjoyed my answer above & you found it helpful, would you mind marking my comment as the solution? This will help other people who have a similar question in the future. :slight_smile:

I agree that Airtable is a real joy to use! It’s the most “fun” platform that I’ve found so far.

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To provide a little further context to some of the above answers, I don’t think that everyone using Airtable is concerned with table normalization. In fact, it’s very safe to say that some Airtable users don’t even know what table/database normalization is.

For example: me!

I think I’ve only heard the term “normalization” a handful of times, and I had to look up what it meant in the context of databases when I saw it mentioned in this thread. I’ll fully admit that I came into Airtable a little over a year ago with only a casual understanding of databases. I haven’t studied database design best practices, but I’ve learned a lot by observing things here. While I’m a lot better than I was when I started, I’m still pretty casual about some things.

Anyway, I think you’ll find that many people using Airtable are also casual database users. That’s part of Airtable’s appeal: it takes the concept of a database and makes it approachable, and (as others have said) actually fun to use. While some database power users may be disappointed with Airtable’s current feature set and “casual” approach to some database concepts, others are thrilled to have a tool to track their old record collection that doesn’t make them want to tear their remaining hair out. :slight_smile:

In the end, I feel that it’s okay to be casual. Not every database has to be fully normalized per the standards of database normalization (which I still don’t completely know). I can’t speak for anyone else, but at this point I simply try to guide people toward what I understand to be strong database design, while continuing to learn more about that design myself, all while realizing that some people don’t really care and just want to have fun with their record collections.

As far as the topic of drop-down fields vs extra tables, @ScottWorld nailed it. :slight_smile:


Thanks, everyone - that’s a lot of good feedback. I just wanted to make sure I was approaching this the best way possible!

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