Best practices for storing postal addresses in a database (RDBMS)


Are there any good references for best practices for storing postal addresses in an RDBMS? It seems there are lots of tradeoffs that can be made and lots of pros and cons to each to be evaluated — surely this has been done time and time again? Maybe someone has at least written done some lessons learned somewhere?

Examples of the tradeoffs I am talking about are storing the zipcode as an integer vs a char field, should house number be stored as a separate field or part of address line 1, should suite/apartment/etc numbers be normalized or just stored as a chunk of text in address line 2, how do you handle zip +4 (separate fields or one big field, integer vs text)? etc.

I'm primarily concerned with U.S. addresses at this point but I imagine there are some best practices in regards to preparing yourself for the eventuality of going global as well (e.g. naming fields appropriately like region instead of state or postal code instead of zip code, etc.

Best Answer

For more international use, one schema to consider is the one used by Drupal Address Field. It's based on the xNAL standard, and seems to cover most international cases. A bit of digging into that module will reveal some nice pearls for interpreting and validating addresses internationally. It also has a nice set of administrative areas ( province, state, oblast, etc ) with ISO codes.

Here's the gist of the schema, copied from the module page:

country => Country (always required, 2 character ISO code)
name_line => Full name (default name entry)
first_name => First name
last_name => Last name
organisation_name => Company
administrative_area => State / Province / Region (ISO code when available)
sub_administrative_area => County / District (unused)
locality => City / Town
dependent_locality => Dependent locality (unused)
postal_code => Postal code / ZIP Code
thoroughfare => Street address
premise => Apartment, Suite, Box number, etc.
sub_premise => Sub premise (unused)

A lessons I've learned:

  • Don't store anything numerically.
  • Store country and administrative area as ISO codes where possible.
  • When you don't know, be lax about requiring fields. Some country may not use fields you take for granted, even basic things like locality & thoroughfare.