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 just 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

Ok, 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 that you cannot add any other types of content to this page. You can use an inline database if you could 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 they 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 of the property types, check out Notion’s full database properties list.

Populated database

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

Editing Records In A Notion Database

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

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

How Do Notion Pages And Databases Work Together

Now that we’ve created a Notion database, let’s go through how you can start incorporating this across the rest of 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 and it will turn into a page. As you can see, a page can either 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. Any new records your add or delete will also be reflected in the original source.
  • Along with the linked database on this page, you are also free to add any 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 A Inline Database In Notion?

  • The other way of mixing a database with all other types of blocks is creating an inline database. What this means is that 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. 

If I know that the information needs to be referenced in various places, for example, a task manager, then I would start with a full-page database. For anything else, I would start with a page.

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

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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