What Is a Lookup Table?

Malcolm Tatum

A lookup table is a type of information table that is commonly employed in a number of different software products. The main purpose of this type of table is to allow the program to use specified search criteria to find data contained in the right matrix and successfully retrieve it for use. Many different types of software products make use of a lookup table, including sales databases and accounting software used to create invoices that are ultimately forwarded to customers.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

The actual configuration of the lookup table will govern how the matrix or array of data is accessed and the right information is retrieved. Many designs call for retrieving the right data by entering a certain range of characters into a given field. Based on the string of characters, the software scans the stored data and retrieves whatever is needed to complete the query. For example, an invoice program may allow a user to enter the first three letters of a customer name, triggering the retrieval of that customer’s billing address and contact information. The use of codes for specific products may also lead to the retrieval of a product description and a unit cost that is associated with that customer, making the process of creating an invoice much easier.

Along with billing functions, a lookup table can also be used in a number of other applications. The same general approach can be used to call up client information in a sales database, or search for various files found on a hard drive, using a specified search criteria. This approach can allow a salesperson to quickly identify notes and other information relevant to a given customer order and check the current status, or even call up a completed order and place a duplicate order at the request of a client. Educational databases also make use of the lookup table approach, making it easy for students and instructors to retrieve information with relative ease.

In some cases, a lookup table is structured to function by the entering of a specific code by an end user. At other times, the code used to create and structure the table will allow for an automatic process that helps to fulfill information in fields without requiring a series of manual queries on the part of the user. In any scenario, the lookup table serves as a quick and easy way to get to stored data without having to go through a complicated process, allowing end users to manage different tasks with a greater level of efficiency.

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