Notion Foundations: Introduction To Databases

Databases are the crown jewel of Notion. They enable you to store pages as if you were storing pages in a folder or filing cabinet. Each entry is a unique record that can be linked and accessed anywhere across Notion.

Notion databases have been designed in a way that allows you to structure and view your information in various ways. Some views include a table, list, gallery, and kanban board view.

In this lesson, I’ll go through the basics of creating and utilizing databases in Notion.

Databases Are Not Spreadsheets

Before we dive into how to create a database in Notion, I’d like to clarify that you can’t use Notion like Excel and vice versa.

I won’t go into techy details of spreadsheets vs. databases, but databases are better for making connections, filtering, and querying data. Just make sure you’re using the right tool for the job!

Luckily, yours truly also geeks out about spreadsheets, and you can find tips on Excel here (shameless self-plug 😂).

How To Create A Database In Notion

With that out of the way, let’s create our first database in Notion. In this example, we will create a simple resources hub where you can store all your notes and ideas.

  • Start by creating a new page
New database setup
  • Select “Table” – this is the default view. We will be creating a full-page database. This means you cannot add any other types of content to this page. You can use an inline database if you would like to include other content. We discuss this further down the post.
  • When you create a database, you will be given the option to select an existing data source (i.e. create a linked database) or a new one. Since this is our first database, click “+ New database
Create a new database

You will then be presented with a table like the one below. Well done, you’ve created your first database!

First table

Now, let’s populate the databases with a few properties. For my personal resources hub, I have included the following:

  • Name – the name of the document, article, or course
  • Type – Is the page I want to store an online course, a web page, a YouTube video, or a podcast?
  • Status – Have I read the document? Is it something I want to come back to later, or have I read it, and it can now be archived
  • URL – the source of the page
  • Summary – a short one or two-liner about the document once I’ve read it so I can quickly search for it later

Properties are used to categorize information within a database and are set for each row. For example, I can now filter and sort the below database for all “Online Course” type pages. You can imagine how handy this feature is when you have a resource hub filled with hundreds of ideas you have stored over time!

To add properties, click on the + symbol on the top right of the table. For a full list and explanation of each property type, check out Notion’s full database properties list.

Populated database

With the database information populated, let’s move on to how to use this data.

Editing Records In A Notion Database

Each row we have created in the example above is a Notion page. This means you can open each row/record and populate it with information like any other Notion page.

  • Hover over the record and click on “Open in side peek
Open in side peek
  • You can see all the properties listed at the top of each page. If you go to the Page Menu (…) and click on the Customize page, you can choose to “Always show,” “Hide when empty,” or “Always hide” certain fields.
  • You can add text, images, or even links to Notion databases in the body.
Notion Foundations page

How Do Notion Pages And Databases Work Together

Now that we’ve created a Notion database, let’s explore how to incorporate this across your workspace.

As we went through above, we turned a new page into a database. You may also recall from the Starting Out With Notion lesson that you can just start typing on a new page, which will turn into a page. As you can see, a page can be a page or a database.

Since we chose the database option, that’s all you can have on the page – we have created a full-page database. However, if you choose a page, you can have multiple databases embedded in that page. There are a couple of ways of doing this.

Before I lose you, let’s go through an example.

Create A Linked Database On Your Page

  • Create another page – let’s call it Resources Hub and type /create into the body. This will create a link to the database we just created.
Create linked database
  • Under Select data source, find “My New Database
Select source for database
  • This has now created a link to the existing database. The original source will also reflect any new records you add or delete.
  • Along with the linked database on this page, you can add images, text, or even another database. Hopefully, you can now start to imagine how a dashboard of key information can start to come together.
Resources Hub
  • In the example Resources Hub dashboard above, I have added the new database we created, a file storage database link, and some new pages for other notes.

What Is An Inline Database In Notion?

  • The other way to mix a database with all other block types is to create an inline database. This means you need to nest your database within a page. To do this, you need to drag your full-page database and nest it under a new page
Nested database
  • Click on the 6 dots to the left of “My New Database” and click on “Turn into inline
Turn into inline
Inline database

When Should I Use A Page Or Database?

When deciding whether or not I should create a page or database, I ask myself if there are a number of different types of information that I want to include on the same page. 

I would start with a full-page database if I know the information needs to be referenced in various places, such as a task manager. For anything else, I would start with a page.

Another thing I would like to mention is that you can start with a database and then change your mind. You can always nest a database within a page to create an inline or a linked database.

Common Issues With Notion Databases

There’s a lot to learn when you are first introduced to Notion databases. Below is a list of common problems new Notion users encounter and how to solve them.

Unable to link two Notion databases

One of the most frequent issues is creating relations between databases without setting up a relation property type.

To link between databases, ensure you’ve set up a “Relation” property in one database that points to the other. This way, you can create connections between individual entries in each database.

Check out this video on building a relational database.

Database entries have missing properties

Notion doesn’t automatically populate properties for each new entry. If you want a consistent set of properties across entries, create a template for your database.

Using templates ensures every new entry has the same default properties, which you can adjust as needed.

Notion database not syncing between devices

Notion syncs automatically across devices. Check your internet connection on the original database if it’s not syncing.

If you’re online and still facing issues, try logging out and back in. Occasionally, clearing the cache on your device or browser or restarting the Notion app can help resolve syncing issues.

Final Thoughts

You are now equipped to start using databases in Notion (and we’re just scratching the surface)! I find that the best way to learn is by doing. Use this lesson as a guide, but try it out for yourself. Experiment and test things out – you can always undo changes in Notion.

In the next lesson, we dive deeper into using Notion databases and show you how to sort and filter databases along with creating different views.

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