Attributes are, simply put, the characteristics of entities. Some entities can have many attributes while others may only have a couple. As well, there are five categories that attributes are classified in. This simple table will be used to explain how each attribute can be a different type of attribute:
1) Student (stu_LastName, stu_MiddleName, stu_FirstName, stu_Age, stu_Phone, stu_Email).
Required or Optional AttributesEdit
A required attribute is an attribute that must have a value in it, while an optional attribute may not have a value in it and can be left blank. The reasoning for making an attribute required is to put emphasis on what is important in that entity and what makes it stand out from other entities.
Example: Consider the entity Student abovestud_LastName and studFirstName would be required attributes as it uniquely defines that table and we assume all students have a first and last name. Optional attributes in the table Student could be stu_MiddleName, stu_Email, and stu_Phone since some students may not have a middle name, a phone number, or an email address
Keys and non-keys AttributesEdit
In every entity an attribute or grouped attributes uniquely identify that entity. These attributes are the key attributes and range from Primary key (single attribute identifier) to a Composite Key (Multi attribute Identifier). The rest of the attributes after the identifier are considered the non-key attributes or descriptors, which just describe the entity.
Example: Above in the table Student there is only one unique identifier, stu_LastName, which is the primary key of the table. The rest of the attributes are descriptors.
Simple and Composite AttributesEdit
Attributes can be classified as having many parts to them or just a single unbreakable attribute. The composite attribute is an attribute that can be subdivided into other single attributes with meanings of their own. A simple attribute is just an attribute that cannot be subdivided into parts.
Example: Imagine from the entity Student that instead of having the three attributes: stu_LastName, stu_MiddleName, stu_FirstName it had one attribute called stu_Name. The attribute stu_Name would be considered a composite attribute since it can be subdivided into the other three attributes: stu_LastName, stu_MiddleName, stu_FirstName. The rest of attributes would be consider single attributes since they can't be subdivided into parts.
Single-valued and multi-valued AttributesEdit
Attributes can be classified as single or multi-value. The single-value attribute can only have one value, while the multi-valued attributes usually can store multiple data in them.
Example: In the entity Student, stu_Address could be considered a multi-value attribute since a student could have multiple addresses where he lives at. An example of a single-value attribute would be stu_LastName since a student usually has josiose last name that uniquely identifies him/her.
Derived Attributes Edit
The last category that attributes can be defined is called a derived attribute, where one attribute is calculated from another attribute. The derived attribute may not be stored in the database but rather calculated using algorithm.
Example: In the entity Student, stu_Age would be considered a derived attribute since it could be calculated using the student's date of birth with the current date to find their age.