Differences Between Fields & Records in a Database

By Peter Syslo

Fields and records are two basic components of a database, which is an organized collection of information, or data. The term "fields" refers to columns, or vertical categories of data; the term "records" refers to rows, or horizontal groupings of unique field data. Examples of both database components are seen in older, printed databases and also in modern, computer-based databases.

Database Structure

Common examples of a database are a phone book, library catalog or the search engine of a retail website. A database is typically constructed in a grid-like format with rows and columns. For example, a telephone book has a last name, first name, address and phone number for each entry; those categories form the "columns" of the database. Each entry in the phone book has a unique identifying quality, which is the person's name; each named entry in the phone book forms a row, which contains unique data in each of those four columns.

Database Function

Databases are organized according to fields and records so that they are easily searched. To find a phone number in the phone book, you simply have to locate the person's name, which is unique; once the person's name is located, the correct phone number is found in the "phone number" column of that same row. Most databases follow these basic organizing and functional principles.

Field

In the phone book example, the four data categories of last name, first name, address and phone number are called "fields." A field is single unit of data that is unique within each entry/row, but the overall data category is common to all entries. For instance, "address" is a field that is common to all named entries in the phone book; however, the content of the address field will be unique for each named entry. As a guideline, a database field refers to the columns, or data categories, that are used by all entries/rows.

Record

A record is a row of a database, a horizontal grouping of fields; the content of those fields is unique to that row. In the phone book example, each last name begins a record/row which contains data in the name, address and phone number fields. A record is often used in a database search because each record has a unique, identifying quality (or value). A database record is, basically, a row that contains unique data in each of the fields. A database will usually contain a large number of records but only a small number of fields.