Chen's Notation, also known as Entity-Relationship (ER) notation or Chen's ERD notation, is a diagramming technique used in database design and software engineering to represent the relationships between entities in a database. It was developed by Dr. Peter Chen in the 1970s as part of his work on the Entity-Relationship Model (ERM). The purpose of Chen's Notation is to visually represent the structure of a database and help developers understand how data is organized, stored, and accessed within the system.
Chen's Notation uses a set of symbols and conventions to represent the key components of a database:
- Entities: Entities are objects or concepts that can be distinctly identified in the database. They are typically represented by rectangles, with the name of the entity type written inside the rectangle. Examples of entities could be "Customer," "Product," or "Order."
- Attributes: Attributes are properties or characteristics of entities that help to define or describe them. Attributes are represented by ovals connected to the entity rectangle by a line. Examples of attributes for a "Customer" entity could include "First Name," "Last Name," and "Email Address."
- Relationships: Relationships describe how entities are related to one another. They are represented by diamonds, with the name of the relationship written inside the diamond. Lines connect the diamond to the rectangles representing the related entities. For example, a relationship between the "Customer" and "Order" entities might be called "Places."
- Cardinality: Cardinality describes the nature of the relationship between entities in terms of the number of occurrences. In Chen's Notation, cardinality is represented by placing numbers or symbols (such as "1," "M," or "N") next to the lines connecting entities and relationships. For example, a "1" next to the "Customer" entity and an "N" next to the "Order" entity in the "Places" relationship would indicate that one customer can place many orders. Still, each order can only be placed by one customer.
Chen's Notation is widely used in the field of database design due to its simplicity and ease of understanding. It allows developers to create a visual representation of a database's structure, which can be used as a blueprint for implementing the database in a specific software system. Other notations have been developed over the years, such as Crow's Foot notation and UML notation, but Chen's Notation remains popular and widely used in the industry.