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I'm having trouble with an appropriate DB design for flashcards that display their data with one of numerous templates.

A user has many flashcards. They pick the card template during creation. There are only 4 templates, but up to infinity in the future.

My current DB design is as follows (all id fields are indexed with a foreign key - but not all will be filled on every flashcard):

create_table "flashcards", force: :cascade do |t|
  t.datetime "created_at"
  t.datetime "updated_at"
  t.text "fields_n_data"
  t.integer 'template_type'
  t.integer 'word_id'
  t.integer 'example_sentence_id'
  t.integer 'meaning_id'
  t.integer 'grammar_id'
  t.integer 'image_id'
  t.integer 'user_id'
end

Some use user-inputted data, some use data from our DB. Some have just 2 fields (front, back), while others have numerous (up to infinity in theory). Some pertain to a combo (or none) of: 1) a word, 2) a meaning, 3) a grammar point (from which information can be auto-filled).

fields_n_data stores all manually inputted information in an array of key/value pairs, where each key is the name of the field, and each value is the data to be filled in that field.

When time to display, I retrieve the appropriate template, iterate through the display fields - for each, I first check if the foreign key object is present, and if so I retrieve and fill using that info; if not, I go to the fields_n_data to get the value of the appropriate key.

This is working, but feels quite wrong, is a pain in the butt, and won't allow a user to create their own template in the future. Is there a better way?

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Your app requires an an infinite amount of ways to store an infinite amount of arbitrary data. At that point you're critically limiting what you can do with a schema. You may as well just store the environment, and an array of templates.

CREATE TABLE flashcards (
  id          serial  PRIMARY KEY,
  environment jsonb,
  templates   jsonb   CHECK ( jsonb_typeof(templates) = 'ARRAY' )
);

Now, in the client (browser/javascript), you call (using pugs but you could also use Handlebars or even compile in into an Angular Component)

pug.compile(templates[a])(environment)

Using this kind of schema you can meet the requirements of your application in storing and rendering flashcards, but I have no idea what kind of data querying you'll be doing on them.

  • Interesting... thanks for pointing out this complexity, I'd rather avoid this. I'll assume no custom templates until we get there, and just store the appropriate fields needed for the 4 templates. – michaelsking1993 Oct 13 '17 at 5:21

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