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File:OOo-2.0-Base-ca.png Base database management system.

A computer database is a knowledge structure, a collection of records or data that is stored in a computer system. A database relies upon software to organize the storage of the data and to enable a person or program in computer search and information seeking tasks[1]. The term "database" refers to the collection of related records, and the software should be referred to as the database management system (DBMS); this is sometimes shortened to database manager or database system. Referring to the software as a database (as in "the OpenOffice database") is incorrect but not uncommon.

Typically, for a given data base, there is a structural description of the type of facts held in that database: this description is known as a schema. The schema describes the objects that are represented in the database, and the relationships among them. There are a number of different ways of organizing a schema, that is, of modeling the database structure: these are known as database models (or data models). The model in most common use today is the relational model. Other models such as the hierarchical model and the network model use a more explicit representation of relationships (see below for explanation of the various database models).

Database management systems are usually categorized according to the database model that they support. The data model tends to determine the query languages that are available to access the database. A great deal of the internal engineering of a DBMS, however, is independent of the data model, and is concerned with managing factors such as performance, concurrency, integrity, and recovery from hardware failures. In these areas there are large differences between products.


The earliest known use of the term data base was in November 1963, when the System Development Corporation sponsored a symposium under the title Development and Management of a Computer-centered Data Base[2]. Database as a single word became common in Europe in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade it was being used in major American newspapers. (The abbreviation DB, however, survives.)

The first database management systems were developed in the 1960s. A pioneer in the field was Charles Bachman. Bachman's early papers show that his aim was to make more effective use of the new direct access storage devices becoming available: until then, data processing had been based on punched cards and magnetic tape, so that serial processing was the dominant activity. Two key data models arose at this time: CODASYL developed the network model based on Bachman's ideas, and (apparently independently) the hierarchical model was used in a system developed by North American Rockwell later adopted by IBM as the cornerstone of their IMS product. While IMS along with the CODASYL IDMS were the big, high visibility databases developed in the 1960s, several others were also born in that decade, some of which have a significant installed base today. Two worthy of mention are the PICK and MUMPS databases, with the former developed originally as an operating system with an embedded database and the latter as a programming language and database for the development of healthcare systems.

The relational model was proposed by E. F. Codd in 1970. He criticized existing models for confusing the abstract description of information structure with descriptions of physical access mechanisms. For a long while, however, the relational model remained of academic interest only. While CODASYL products (IDMS) and network model products (IMS) were conceived as practical engineering solutions taking account of the technology as it existed at the time, the relational model took a much more theoretical perspective, arguing (correctly) that hardware and software technology would catch up in time. Among the first implementations were Michael Stonebraker's Ingres at Berkeley, and the System R project at IBM. Both of these were research prototypes, announced during 1976. The first commercial products, Oracle and DB2, did not appear until around 1980. The first successful database product for microcomputers was dBASE for the CP/M and PC-DOS/MS-DOS operating systems.

During the 1980s, research activity focused on distributed database systems and database machines, but these developments had little effect on the market. Another important theoretical idea was the Functional Data Model, but apart from some specialized applications in genetics, molecular biology, and fraud investigation, the world took little notice.

In the 1990s, attention shifted to object-oriented databases. These had some success in fields where it was necessary to handle more complex data than relational systems could easily cope with, such as spatial databases, engineering data (including software engineering repositories), and multimedia data. Some of these ideas were adopted by the relational vendors, who integrated new features into their products as a result. The 1990s also saw the spread of Open Source databases, such as PostgreSQL and MySQL.

In the 2000s, the fashionable area for innovation is the XML database. As with object databases, this has spawned a new collection of start-up companies, but at the same time the key ideas are being integrated into the established relational products. XML databases aim to remove the traditional divide between documents and data, allowing all of an organization's information resources to be held in one place, whether they are highly structured or not.

Database models

Main article: Database models

Various techniques are used to model data structure.

Most database systems are built around one particular data model, although it is increasingly common for products to offer support for more than one model. For any one logical model various physical implementations may be possible, and most products will offer the user some level of control in tuning the physical implementation, since the choices that are made have a significant effect on performance. An example is the relational model: all serious implementations of the relational model allow the creation of indexes which provide fast access to rows in a table if the values of certain columns are known.

Hierarchical model

In a hierarchical model, data is organized into a tree-like structure, implying a single upward link in each record to describe the nesting, and a sort field to keep the records in a particular order in each same-level list.

Network model

The network model tends to store records with links to other records. Associations are tracked via "pointers". These pointers can be node numbers or disk addresses. Most network databases tend to also include some form of hierarchical model.

Examples of database engines that have network model capabilities are RDM Embedded and RDM Server.

Relational model

Three key terms are used extensively in relational database models: relations, attributes, and domains. A relation is a table with columns and rows. The named columns of the relation are called attributes, and the domain is the set of values the attributes are allowed to take.

The basic data structure of the relational model is the table, where information about a particular entity (say, an employee) is represented in columns and rows (also called tuples). Thus, the "relation" in "relational database" refers to the various tables in the database; a relation is a set of tuples. The columns enumerate the various attributes of the entity (the employee's name, address or phone number, for example), and a row is an actual instance of the entity (a specific employee) that is represented by the relation. As a result, each tuple of the employee table represents various attributes of a single employee.

All relations (and, thus, tables) in a relational database have to adhere to some basic rules to qualify as relations. First, the ordering of columns is immaterial in a table. Second, there can't be identical tuples or rows in a table. And third, each tuple will contain a single value for each of its attributes i.e. each tuple has an atomic value.

A relational database contains multiple tables, each similar to the one in the "flat" database model. One of the strengths of the relational model is that, in principle, any value occurring in two different records (belonging to the same table or to different tables), implies a relationship among those two records. Yet, in order to enforce explicit integrity constraints, relationships between records in tables can also be defined explicitly, by identifying or non-identifying parent-child relationships characterized by assigning cardinality (1:1, (0) 1:M, M:M). Tables can also have a designated single attribute or a set of attributes that can act as a "key", which can be used to uniquely identify each tuple in the table.

A key that can be used to uniquely identify a row in a table is called a primary key. Keys are commonly used to join or combine data from two or more tables. For example, an Employee table may contain a column named Location which contains a value that matches the key of a Location table. Keys are also critical in the creation of indices, which facilitate fast retrieval of data from large tables. Any column can be a key, or multiple columns can be grouped together into a compound key. It is not necessary to define all the keys in advance; a column can be used as a key even if it was not originally intended to be one.

Relational operations

Users (or programs) request data from a relational database by sending it a query that is written in a special language, usually a dialect of SQL. Although SQL was originally intended for end-users, it is much more common for SQL queries to be embedded into software that provides an easier user interface. Many web sites, such as Wikipedia, perform SQL queries when generating pages.

In response to a query, the database returns a result set, which is just a list of rows containing the answers. The simplest query is just to return all the rows from a table, but more often, the rows are filtered in some way to return just the answer wanted. Often, data from multiple tables are combined into one, by doing a join. There are a number of relational operations in addition to join.

Normal forms

Main article: Database normalization

Relations are classified based upon the types of anomalies to which they're vulnerable. A database that's in the first normal form is vulnerable to all types of anomalies, while a database that's in the domain/key normal form has no modification anomalies. Normal forms are hierarchical in nature. That is, the lowest level is the first normal form, and the database cannot meet the requirements for higher level normal forms without first having met all the requirements of the lesser normal form.

Post-relational database models

Several products have been identified as post-relational because the data model incorporates relations but is not constrained by the Information Principle, requiring that all information is represented by data values in relations. Products using a post-relational data model typically employ a model that actually pre-dates the relational model. These might be identified as a directed graph with trees on the nodes.

Examples of models that could be classified as post-relational are PICK aka MultiValue, and MUMPS.

Object database models

In recent years, the object-oriented paradigm has been applied to database technology, creating a new programming model known as object databases. These databases attempt to bring the database world and the application programming world closer together, in particular by ensuring that the database uses the same type system as the application program. This aims to avoid the overhead (sometimes referred to as the impedance mismatch) of converting information between its representation in the database (for example as rows in tables) and its representation in the application program (typically as objects). At the same time, object databases attempt to introduce the key ideas of object programming, such as encapsulation and polymorphism, into the world of databases.

A variety of these ways have been tried for storing objects in a database. Some products have approached the problem from the application programming end, by making the objects manipulated by the program persistent. This also typically requires the addition of some kind of query language, since conventional programming languages do not have the ability to find objects based on their information content. Others have attacked the problem from the database end, by defining an object-oriented data model for the database, and defining a database programming language that allows full programming capabilities as well as traditional query facilities.

Semantic model

Semantic model has been indipendently proposed by various researchers and analysts, but no real implementation exists yet [3][4].

Database internals

Storage and physical database design

Main article: Database storage structures

This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it. Database tables/indexes are typically stored in memory or on hard disk in one of many forms, ordered/unordered flat files, ISAM, heaps, hash buckets or B+ trees. These have various advantages and disadvantages discussed further in the main article on this topic. The most commonly used are B+ trees and ISAM.

Other important design choices relate to the clustering of data by category (such as grouping data by month, or location), creating pre-computed views known as materialized views, partitioning data by range or hash. As well memory management and storage topology can be important design choices for database designers. Just as normalization is used to reduce storage requirements and improve the extensibility of the database, conversely denormalization is often used to reduce join complexity and reduce execution time for queries. [5]


All of these databases can take advantage of indexing to increase their speed, and this technology has advanced tremendously since its early uses in the 1960s and 1970s. The most common kind of index is a sorted list of the contents of some particular table column, with pointers to the row associated with the value. An index allows a set of table rows matching some criterion to be located quickly. Typically, indexes are also stored in the various forms of data-structure mentioned above (such as B-trees, hashes, and linked lists). Usually, a specific technique is chosen by the database designer to increase efficiency in the particular case of the type of index required.

Relational DBMSs have the advantage that indexes can be created or dropped without changing existing applications making use of it. The database chooses between many different strategies based on which one it estimates will run the fastest. In other words, indexes are transparent to the application or end-user querying the database; while they affect performance, any SQL command will run with or without indexes existing in the database.

Relational DBMSs utilize many different algorithms to compute the result of an SQL statement. The RDBMS will produce a plan of how to execute the query, which is generated by analyzing the run times of the different algorithms and selecting the quickest. Some of the key algorithms that deal with joins are nested loop join, sort-merge join and hash join. Which of these is chosen depends on whether an index exists, what type it is, and its cardinality.

An index speeds up access to data, but it has disadvantages as well. First, every index increases the amount of storage on the hard drive necessary for the database file, and second, the index must be updated each time the data are altered, and this costs time. (Thus an index saves time in the reading of data, but it costs time in entering and altering data. It thus depends on the use to which the data are to be put whether an index is on the whole a net plus or minus in the quest for efficiency.)

A special case of an index is a primary index, or primary key, which is distinguished in that the primary index must ensure a unique reference to a record. Often, for this purpose one simply uses a running index number (ID number). Primary indexes play a significant role in relational databases, and they can speed up access to data considerably.

Transactions and concurrency

In addition to their data model, most practical databases ("transactional databases") attempt to enforce a database transaction . Ideally, the database software should enforce the ACID rules, summarized here:

  • Atomicity: Either all the tasks in a transaction must be done, or none of them. The transaction must be completed, or else it must be undone (rolled back).
  • Consistency: Every transaction must preserve the integrity constraints — the declared consistency rules — of the database. It cannot place the data in a contradictory state.
  • Isolation: Two simultaneous transactions cannot interfere with one another. Intermediate results within a transaction are not visible to other transactions.
  • Durability: Completed transactions cannot be aborted later or their results discarded. They must persist through (for instance) restarts of the DBMS after crashes

In practice, many DBMS's allow most of these rules to be selectively relaxed for better performance.

Concurrency control is a method used to ensure that transactions are executed in a safe manner and follow the ACID rules. The DBMS must be able to ensure that only serializable, recoverable schedules are allowed, and that no actions of committed transactions are lost while undoing aborted transactions .


Replication of databases is closely related to transactions. If a database can log its individual actions, it is possible to create a duplicate of the data in real time. The duplicate can be used to improve performance or availability of the whole database system. Common replication concepts include:

  • Master/Slave Replication: All write requests are performed on the master and then replicated to the slaves
  • Quorum: The result of Read and Write requests are calculated by querying a "majority" of replicas.
  • Multimaster: Two or more replicas sync each other via a transaction identifier.

Parallel synchronous replication of databases enables transactions to be replicated on multiple servers simultaneously, which provides a method for backup and security as well as data availability.


Database security denotes the system, processes, and procedures that protect a database from unintended activity.

In the United Kingdom legislation protecting the public from unauthorized disclosure of personal information held on databases falls under the Office of the Information Commissioner. United Kingdom based organizations holding personal data in electronic format (databases for example) are required to register with the Data Commissioner. (reference: [1])


This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it.Locking is the act of putting a lock (access restriction) on an aspect of a database which at a particular given instance is being modified. Such locks can be applied on a row level, or on other levels such as an entire table. This helps maintain the integrity of the data by ensuring that only one user at a time can modify the data. Databases can also be locked for other reasons, like access restrictions for given levels of user. Databases are also locked for routine database maintenance, which prevents changes being made during the maintenance. See IBM for more detail.


Depending on the intended use, there are a number of database architectures in use. Many databases use a combination of strategies. On-line Transaction Processing systems (OLTP) often use a row-oriented datastore architecture, while data-warehouse and other retrieval-focused applications like Google's BigTable, or bibliographic database(library catalogue) systems may use a column-oriented datastore architecture.

Document-Oriented, XML, Knowledgebases, as well as frame databases and rdf-stores (aka Triple-Stores), may also use a combination of these architectures in their implementation.

Finally it should be noted that not all database have or need a database 'schema' (so called schema-less databases).

Applications of databases

Databases are used in many applications, spanning virtually the entire range of computer software. Databases are the preferred method of storage for large multiuser applications, where coordination between many users is needed. Even individual users find them convenient, and many electronic mail programs and personal organizers are based on standard database technology. Software database drivers are available for most database platforms so that application software can use a common Application Programming Interface to retrieve the information stored in a database. Two commonly used database APIs are JDBC and ODBC.

Database as Cultural Form

Media theorist Lev Manovich has described how the database, although originally a computer technology, is becoming a new cultural form in its own right and a genre of new media [6]. A cultural form is one of many ways that people represent the world—art and literature, for example. Manovich believes that contemporary culture is being gradually “computerized,” and traditional cultural forms are being replaced with new ones that derive from the computer. The database, he claims, is the computer age’s correlate to the novel (or narrative) as the key form of cultural expression.

Katherine Hayles has argued, in response, that narrative and database are not in opposition but rather are natural symbionts. [7]

Literary critic Ed Folsom has extended Manovich’s discussion of database to argue that database is becoming a new literary genre, “the genre of the twenty-first century,” a contemporary equivalent to the ancient epic. [8]

Database development platforms

See also


  1. What is a Database?. The University of Queensland, Australia.
  2. Swanson, Kenneth. Development and Management of a Computer-Centered Database. URL accessed on 2007-07-20.
  3. Dario de Judicibus, Semantic Database, 2008, ISSN 1824-8950
  4. Samir Mishra, Semantic Database
  5. S. Lightstone, T. Teorey, T. Nadeau, Physical Database Design: the database professional's guide to exploiting indexes, views, storage, and more, Morgan Kaufmann Press, 2007. ISBN 0123693896
  6. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001, {{{title}}}, [[{{{publisher}}}|{{{publisher}}}]], [[{{{date}}}|{{{date}}}]].
  7. N. Katherine Hayles, “Narrative and Database: Natural Symbionts.” PMLA 122:5 (2007): 1603-08., {{{title}}}, [[{{{publisher}}}|{{{publisher}}}]], [[{{{date}}}|{{{date}}}]].
  8. Ed Folsom,, “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,”, PMLA 122:5 (2007): 1571-1612., [[{{{date}}}|{{{date}}}]].
  • Connolly, Thomas, and Caroln Begg. Database Systems. New York: Harlow, 2002.
  • Date, C. J. An Introduction to Database Systems, Eighth Edition, Addison Wesley, 2003.
  • Galindo, J., Urrutia, A., Piattini, M., Fuzzy Databases: Modeling, Design and Implementation (FSQL guide). Idea Group Publishing Hershey, USA, 2006.
  • Galindo, J., Ed. Handbook on Fuzzy Information Processing in Databases. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference (an imprint of Idea Group Inc.), 2008.
  • Gray, J. and Reuter, A. Transaction Processing: Concepts and Techniques, 1st edition, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1992.
  • Kroenke, David M. Database Processing: Fundamentals, Design, and Implementation (1997), Prentice-Hall, Inc., pages 130-144.
  • Kroenke, David M., and David J. Auer. Database Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Prentice, 2007.
  • Lightstone, S., T. Teorey, and T. Nadeau, Physical Database Design: the database professional's guide to exploiting indexes, views, storage, and more, Morgan Kaufmann Press, 2007. ISBN 0-12369-389-6.
  • Teorey, T.; Lightstone, S. and Nadeau, T. Database Modeling & Design: Logical Design, 4th edition, Morgan Kaufmann Press, 2005. ISBN 0-12-685352-5
  • Tukey, John W. Exploratory Data Analysis. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1977.

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