ER Model - Basic Concepts


The ER model defines the conceptual view of a database. It works around real-world entities and the associations among them. At view level, the ER model is considered a good option for designing databases.


An entity can be a real-world object, either animate or inanimate, that can be easily identifiable. For example, in a school database, students, teachers, classes, and courses offered can be considered as entities. All these entities have some attributes or properties that give them their identity.

An entity set is a collection of similar types of entities. An entity set may contain entities with attribute sharing similar values. For example, a Students set may contain all the students of a school; likewise a Teachers set may contain all the teachers of a school from all faculties. Entity sets need not be disjoint.


Entities are represented by means of their properties, called attributes. All attributes have values. For example, a student entity may have name, class, and age as attributes.

There exists a domain or range of values that can be assigned to attributes. For example, a student's name cannot be a numeric value. It has to be alphabetic. A student's age cannot be negative, etc.

Types of Attributes

  • Simple attribute − Simple attributes are atomic values, which cannot be divided further. For example, a student's phone number is an atomic value of 10 digits.

  • Composite attribute − Composite attributes are made of more than one simple attribute. For example, a student's complete name may have first_name and last_name.

  • Derived attribute − Derived attributes are the attributes that do not exist in the physical database, but their values are derived from other attributes present in the database. For example, average_salary in a department should not be saved directly in the database, instead it can be derived. For another example, age can be derived from data_of_birth.

  • Single-value attribute − Single-value attributes contain single value. For example − Social_Security_Number.

  • Multi-value attribute − Multi-value attributes may contain more than one values. For example, a person can have more than one phone number, email_address, etc.

These attribute types can come together in a way like −

  • simple single-valued attributes
  • simple multi-valued attributes
  • composite single-valued attributes
  • composite multi-valued attributes

Entity-Set and Keys

Key is an attribute or collection of attributes that uniquely identifies an entity among entity set.

For example, the roll_number of a student makes him/her identifiable among students.

  • Super Key − A set of attributes (one or more) that collectively identifies an entity in an entity set.

  • Candidate Key − A minimal super key is called a candidate key. An entity set may have more than one candidate key.

  • Primary Key − A primary key is one of the candidate keys chosen by the database designer to uniquely identify the entity set.


The association among entities is called a relationship. For example, an employee works_at a department, a student enrolls in a course. Here, Works_at and Enrolls are called relationships.

Relationship Set

A set of relationships of similar type is called a relationship set. Like entities, a relationship too can have attributes. These attributes are called descriptive attributes.

Degree of Relationship

The number of participating entities in a relationship defines the degree of the relationship.

  • Binary = degree 2
  • Ternary = degree 3
  • n-ary = degree

Mapping Cardinalities

Cardinality defines the number of entities in one entity set, which can be associated with the number of entities of other set via relationship set.

  • One-to-one − One entity from entity set A can be associated with at most one entity of entity set B and vice versa.

  • One-to-one relation
  • One-to-many − One entity from entity set A can be associated with more than one entities of entity set B however an entity from entity set B, can be associated with at most one entity.

  • One-to-many relation
  • Many-to-one − More than one entities from entity set A can be associated with at most one entity of entity set B, however an entity from entity set B can be associated with more than one entity from entity set A.

  • Many-to-one relation
  • Many-to-many − One entity from A can be associated with more than one entity from B and vice versa.

  • Many-to-many relation