Friendly Neighborhood Database
By James Monahan
For the lay person, the term database is just another
geek word that is just so prevalent in today’s society. From
the office, to the home, and to just about any industry, people
refer to their information as being kept in a ‘database’.
So somehow, we all get this idea that the database
is some cabinet that holds all the data for a given organization.
But what is a database, anyway?
A database is any collection of data organized for
storage in a computer memory and designed for easy access by authorized
users. The data may be in the form of text, numbers, dates, or encoded
Since databases made their debut 1950s, they have
become mightily important in the everyday operations of every major
and even minor industry.
Databases make the output of needed data and reports
easy, convenient, and almost instantaneous. This is a far cry from
the ‘barbaric’ methods once employed by every industry.
Those outdated methods included collating data from
paper files whenever a report was needed. That process wasted a
lot of time and effort. With the help of databases, these manual
methods quickly found their demise.
Small databases were first developed or funded by
the U.S. government for agency or professional use. But in the 1960s,
databases became commercially available to the public.
However, their use was channeled through a few so-called
research centers that collected information inquiries and performed
them in batches. Online databases—that is, databases available
to anyone who could link up to them by computer—first appeared
in the 1970’s.
Computer programs that manage and query a database
are known as database management systems (DBMS). Database systems
are actively studied in information science.
The overriding concept of databases is the idea
of a collection of facts, or pieces of information. Databases may
be structured in a number of ways, known as database models.
The flat (or table) model consists of a single,
two-dimensional array of data elements. All members of a given column
are assumed to be similar values, and all members of a row are assumed
to be related to one another. For instance, columns for name and
password might be used as a part of a system security database.
Each row would have the specific password associated
with a specific user. Columns of the table often have a type associated
with them, defining them as character data, date or time information,
integers, or floating point numbers.
This model is the basis spreadsheet systems such
as Lotus 123 or Microsoft Excel. However, these applications are
not typically thought of as databases per se.
The network model allows multiple datasets to be
used together through the use of pointers (or references). Some
columns contain pointers to different tables instead of data. Many
major industries adopted this model in the past few decades.
The relational model is the most popular of the
database models today. This model is the basis for such database
systems as Oracle, mySQL, and even Microsoft Access.
In this model, logically related data is kept in
tables not unlike the flat model. However, unlike the network model
in which tables are connected via pointers, the relational model
is interconnected using keys or values within data rows in tables
that point to other tables.
The SQL or Structured Query Language is used to
manipulate and derive data from such databases.
is the owner and Senior Editor of TopDatabaseSites.com
and writes expert articles about databases.