Data Modeling and Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD)

Data Modeling

Data modeling is a technique to document a software system using diagrams and symbols. It is used to represent communication of data.

The highest level of abstraction for the data model is called the Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD). It is a graphical representation of data requirements for a database.

Entity Relationship Diagram

The main value of carefully constructing an ERD is that it can readily be converted into a database structure.

There are three components in ERD.


Entities are the basic objects of ERDs. These are the tables of your database. Entity are nouns and the types usually fall into five classes. Concepts, location, roles, events or things. For example: students, courses, books, campus, employees, payment, projects. Specific example of an entity is called an instance. Each isntance becomes a record or a row in a table. For example, the student John Smith is a record in a table called students.


Relationships are the associations between the entities. Verbs often describe relationships between entities. We will use Crow's Foot Symbols to represent the relationships. Three types of relationships are discussed in this lab. If you read or hear cardinality ratios, it also refers to types of relationships.


One to One Relationship (1:1)

A single entity instance in one entity class is related to a single entity instance in another entity class.

For example:

One to Many Relationship (1:M)

A single entity instance in one entity class (parent) is related to multiple entity instances in another entity class (child)

For example:

Many to Many Relationship (M:M)

Each entity instance in one entity class is related to multiple entity instances in another entity class; and vice versa.

For example:

The detailed Crow's Foot Relationship symbols can be found here. Crow's Foot Relationship Symbols

Many to many relationships are difficult to represent. We need to decompose a many to many (M:M) relationship into two one-to-many (1:M) relationships.


Attributes are facts or description of entities. They are also often nouns and become the columns of the table. For example, for entity student, the attributes can be first name, last name, email, address and phone numbers.

Primary Key

Primary Key* or identifier is an attribute or a set of attributes that uniquely identifies an instance of the entity. For example, for a student entity, student number is the primary key since no two students have the same student number. We can have only one primary key in a table. It identify uniquely every row and it cannot be null.

Foreign key

A foreign key+ (sometimes called a referencing key) is a key used to link two tables together. Typically you take the primary key field from one table and insert it into the other table where it becomes a foreign key (it remains a primary key in the original table). We can have more than one foreign key in a table.

An example

The following document is a quick guide for the Crow's foot ERD symbol guide.

ERD Relationship Symbols Quick Reference

This diagram example was redrawn from using ConceptDraw PRO software enhanced with ConceptDraw ERD solution.

crow's foot


Attributes for Entity STUDENT are: Student_id (*Primary key), student_name and student_address

You can use this free software to draw ERD diagram online.

Once page is loaded, make sure to choose Entity Relation on the left hand side.

When you finished the ERD, File->Export asPDF document.

In Class Exercise Lab Assignment


Create an appropriate Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD) for the data associated with an online application. This ERD should include the user accounts, posts and re-posts tables. To get you started, you can follow the example given below.

User table

The User table collect attributes: user_id(*primary key), user_email, user_name, user_password user_DOB, User_image and etc.

Post table

The post table collect attributes: post_id(*primary key), user_id (+foreign key), post_detail, post_date, URL and etc.

Re-post table

What attributes should Re-post table collect?

Please export the file as a PDF document.

Upload the ERD on URcourses and link the ERD on the index.html

Be ready for next week, get your MySQL account setup.

Marks will be deducted if your MySQL account is not ready by next week's lab.

Creating a MySQL Account

For storing records or data sets, the CS215 labs use Hercules to work with a MySQL database. The following provides instructions to create your first MySQL database account.

  1. Go to the secure CS Web site
  2. Click on the "MySQL" link

    secure CS Web site

  3. Login with your CS username/ password


  4. Select your MySQL password (must be different from your CS password)
  5. Please make a note (on your phone or otherwise) of this password because you will be using it in a later lab
  6. If an account already exists, you can reset or drop your database

    reset or drop DB

  7. It takes 5 to 30 minutes to create a MySQL database.