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I've been using this file-format below as an alternative for flat-text files, and I'm wondering if there is a name for it...

Say you have this data in a CSV:

Bob,Smith,,bsmith,Bob likes chicken
Steve,Jobs,,STEVE,Steve Jobs likes things that start with "i"

In this "other" file format, there are 3 columns:

  1. Unique ID
  2. Attribute Name
  3. Value

The above data would look like this:,FirstName,Bob,LastName,Smith,Email,,UserName,bsmith,Notes,Bob likes chicken,FirstNameJohn,LastName,Doe,Email,,UserName,jdoe,FirstName,Steve,LastName,Jobs,Email,,UserName,STEVE,Notes,Steve Jobs likes things that start with "i"

I actually delimit on tab, but comma is easier to read for this. And in this example, any of the attributes could be used as a unique identifier.

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Just wondering why you would use this format? There's a lot of redundant information using this method. – pelms Jul 29 '10 at 15:54
I updated the example to be more complete... the benefit it you don't need to have all of the attributes in a header row (so you could have thousands of attribute names with still having 3 columns...), and you don't end up with NULLs if a row doesn't have a specific attribute... you just omit that line – Jason Coon Jul 29 '10 at 15:57
up vote 8 down vote accepted


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This seems like it. Just, using tabs instead of commas as stated. – Ryan Jul 29 '10 at 16:33
yes this is what I couldn't find - thanks! – Jason Coon Jul 29 '10 at 17:52

What you're doing is pretty much the epitome of a flat-file database organized in a tabular form.

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not exactly though, I made the example more complete. It will never be more then 3 columns, where in flat-form it has to have as many columns as there are attributes – Jason Coon Jul 29 '10 at 15:52
Modern NoSQL databases have many forms, and one of them is the key-value database. It is usually maintained using a special DBMS and not by using a flat file, but I'd still label this as a flat-file database, specifically as a flat-file key-value database. – rumtscho Jul 29 '10 at 16:11

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