A database is an organized collection of data, today typically in digital form. The data are typically organized to model relevant aspects of reality (for example, the availability of rooms in hotels), in a way that supports processes requiring this information (for example, finding a hotel with vacancies).
The term database is correctly applied to the data and their supporting data structures, and not to the database management system (DBMS). The database data collection with DBMS is called a database system.
The term database system implies that the data is managed to some level of quality (measured in terms of accuracy, availability, usability, and resilience) and this in turn often implies the use of a general-purpose database management system (DBMS). A general-purpose DBMS is typically a complex software system that meets many usage requirements, and the databases that it maintains are often large and complex. The utilization of databases is now spread to such a wide degree that virtually every technology and product relies on databases and DBMSs for its development and commercialization, or even may have such embedded in it. Also, organizations and companies, from small to large, heavily depend on databases for their operations.
Well known DBMSs include Oracle, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MySQL, WebDNA and SQLite. A database is not generally portable across different DBMS, but different DBMSs can inter-operate to some degree by using standards like SQL and ODBC to support together a single application. A DBMS also needs to provide effective run-time execution to properly support (e.g., in terms of performance, availability, and security) as many end-users as needed.
A way to classify databases involves the type of their contents, for example: bibliographic, document-text, statistical, or multimedia objects. Another way is by their application area, for example: accounting, music compositions, movies, banking, manufacturing, or insurance.
The term database may be narrowed to specify particular aspects of organized collection of data and may refer to the logical database, to physical database as data content in computer data storage or to many other database sub-definitions.
Basic technical terms
The design, construction, and maintenance of a complex database requires specialist skills: the staff performing these functions are referred to as database application programmers and database administrators. Their tasks are supported by tools provided either as part of the DBMS or as stand-alone software products. These tools include specialized database languages including data definition languages (DDL), data manipulation languages (DML), and query languages. These can be seen as special-purpose programming languages, tailored specifically to manipulate databases; sometimes they are provided as extensions of existing programming languages, with added database commands. Database languages are generally specific to one data model, and in many cases they are specific to one DBMS type. The most widely supported database language is SQL, which has been developed for the relational data model and combines the roles of both DDL, DML, and a query language.
The database concept has evolved since the 1960s to ease increasing difficulties in designing, building, and maintaining complex information systems (typically with many concurrent end-users, and with a large amount of diverse data). It has evolved together with database management systems which enable the effective handling of databases. Though the terms database and DBMS define different entities, they are inseparable: a database's properties are determined by its supporting DBMS and vice-versa. The Oxford English dictionary cites a 1962 technical report as the first to use the term "data-base." With the progress in technology in the areas of processors, computer memory, computer storage and computer networks, the sizes, capabilities, and performance of databases and their respective DBMSs have grown in orders of magnitudes. For decades it has been unlikely that a complex information system can be built effectively without a proper database supported by a DBMS. The utilization of databases is now spread to such a wide degree that virtually every technology and product relies on databases and DBMSs for its development and commercialization, or even may have such embedded in it. Also, organizations and companies, from small to large, heavily depend on databases for their operations.
No widely accepted exact definition exists for DBMS. However, a system needs to provide considerable functionality to qualify as a DBMS. Accordingly its supported data collection needs to meet respective usability requirements (broadly defined by the requirements below) to qualify as a database. Thus, a database and its supporting DBMS are defined here by a set of general requirements listed below. Virtually all existing mature DBMS products meet these requirements to a great extent, while less mature either meet them or converge to meet them.
Evolution of database and DBMS technology
- See also Database management system
The introduction of the term database coincided with the availability of direct-access storage (disks and drums) from the mid-1960s onwards. The term represented a contrast with the tape-based systems of the past, allowing shared interactive use rather than daily batch processing.
In the earliest database systems, efficiency was perhaps the primary concern, but it was already recognized that there were other important objectives. One of the key aims was to make the data independent of the logic of application programs, so that the same data could be made available to different applications.
The first generation of database systems were navigational, applications typically accessed data by following pointers from one record to another. The two main data models at this time were the hierarchical model, epitomized by IBM's IMS system, and the Codasyl model (Network model), implemented in a number of products such as IDMS.
The Relational model, first proposed in 1970 by Edgar F. Codd, departed from this tradition by insisting that applications should search for data by content, rather than by following links. This was considered necessary to allow the content of the database to evolve without constant rewriting of applications. Relational systems placed heavy demands on processing resources, and it was not until the mid 1980s that computing hardware became powerful enough to allow them to be widely deployed. By the early 1990s, however, relational systems were dominant for all large-scale data processing applications, and they remain dominant today (2012) except in niche areas. The dominant database language is the standard SQL for the Relational model, which has influenced database languages also for other data models.
Because the relational model emphasizes search rather than navigation, it does not make relationships between different entities explicit in the form of pointers, but represents them rather using primary keys and foreign keys. While this is a good basis for a query language, it is less well suited as a modeling language. For this reason a different model, the Entity-relationship model which emerged shortly later (1976), gained popularity for database design.
In the period since the 1970s database technology has kept pace with the increasing resources becoming available from the computing platform: notably the rapid increase in the capacity and speed (and reduction in price) of disk storage, and the increasing capacity of main memory. This has enabled ever larger databases and higher throughputs to be achieved.
The rigidity of the relational model, in which all data is held in tables with a fixed structure of rows and columns, has increasingly been seen as a limitation when handling information that is richer or more varied in structure than the traditional 'ledger-book' data of corporate information systems: for example, document databases, engineering databases, multimedia databases, or databases used in the molecular sciences. Various attempts have been made to address this problem, many of them gathering under banners such as post-relational or NoSQL. Two developments of note are the Object database and the XML database. The vendors of relational databases have fought off competition from these newer models by extending the capabilities of their own products to support a wider variety of data types.
A DBMS has evolved into a complex software system and its development typically requires thousands of person-years of development effort. Some general-purpose DBMSs, like Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM DB2, have been undergoing upgrades for thirty years or more. General-purpose DBMSs aim to satisfy as many applications as possible, which typically makes them even more complex than special-purpose databases. However, the fact that they can be used "off the shelf", as well as their amortized cost over many applications and instances, makes them an attractive alternative (Vs. one-time development) whenever they meet an application's requirements.
Though attractive in many cases, a general-purpose DBMS is not always the optimal solution: When certain applications are pervasive with many operating instances, each with many users, a general-purpose DBMS may introduce unnecessary overhead and too large "footprint" (too large amount of unnecessary, unutilized software code). Such applications usually justify dedicated development. Typical examples are email systems, though they need to possess certain DBMS properties: email systems are built in a way that optimizes email messages handling and managing, and do not need significant portions of a general-purpose DBMS functionality.
Types of people involved
Three types of people are involved with a general-purpose DBMS:
DBMS developers - These are the people that design and build the DBMS product, and the only ones who touch its code. They are typically the employees of a DBMS vendor (e.g., Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Sybase), or, in the case of Open source DBMSs (e.g., MySQL), volunteers or people supported by interested companies and organizations. They are typically skilled systems programmers. DBMS development is a complicated task, and some of the popular DBMSs have been under development and enhancement (also to follow progress in technology) for decades.
Application developers and Database administrators - These are the people that design and build a database-based application that uses the DBMS. The latter group members design the needed database and maintain it. The first group members write the needed application programs which the application comprises. Both are well familiar with the DBMS product and use its user interfaces (as well as usually other tools) for their work. Sometimes the application itself is packaged and sold as a separate product, which may include the DBMS inside (see Embedded database; subject to proper DBMS licensing), or sold separately as an add-on to the DBMS.
Application's end-users (e.g., accountants, insurance people, medical doctors, etc.) - These people know the application and its end-user interfaces, but need not know nor understand the underlying DBMS. Thus, though they are the intended and main beneficiaries of a DBMS, they are only indirectly involved with it.
Database machines and appliances
In the 1970s and 1980s attempts were made to build database systems with integrated hardware and software. The underlying philosophy was that such integration would provide higher performance at lower cost. Examples were IBM System/38, the early offering of Teradata, and the Britton Lee, Inc. database machine. Another approach to hardware support for database management was ICL's CAFS accelerator, a hardware disk controller with programmable search capabilities. In the long term these efforts were generally unsuccessful because specialized database machines could not keep pace with the rapid development and progress of general-purpose computers. Thus most database systems nowadays are software systems running on general-purpose hardware, using general-purpose computer data storage. However this idea is still pursued for certain applications by some companies like Netezza and Oracle (Exadata).
Database research has been an active and diverse area, with many specializations, carried out since the early days of dealing with the database concept in the 1960s. It has strong ties with database technology and DBMS products. Database research has taken place at research and development groups of companies (e.g., notably at IBM Research, who contributed technologies and ideas virtually to any DBMS existing today), research institutes, and Academia. Research has been done both through Theory and Prototypes. The interaction between research and database related product development has been very productive to the database area, and many related key concepts and technologies emerged from it. Notable are the Relational and the Entity-relationship models, the Atomic transaction concept and related Concurrency control techniques, Query languages and Query optimization methods, RAID, and more. Research has provided deep insight to virtually all aspects of databases, though not always has been pragmatic, effective (and cannot and should not always be: research is exploratory in nature, and not always leads to accepted or useful ideas). Ultimately market forces and real needs determine the selection of problem solutions and related technologies, also among those proposed by research. However, occasionally, not the best and most elegant solution wins (e.g., SQL). Along their history DBMSs and respective databases, to a great extent, have been the outcome of such research, while real product requirements and challenges triggered database research directions and sub-areas.
The database research area has several notable dedicated academic journals (e.g., ACM Transactions on Database Systems-TODS, Data and Knowledge Engineering-DKE, and more) and annual conferences (e.g., ACM SIGMOD, ACM PODS, VLDB, IEEE ICDE, and more), as well as an active and quite heterogeneous (subject-wise) research community all over the world.
Database type examples
The following are examples of various database types. Some of them are not main-stream types, but most of them have received special attention (e.g., in research) due to end-user requirements. Some exist as specialized DBMS products, and some have their functionality types incorporated in existing general-purpose DBMSs.
- An active database is a database that includes an event-driven architecture which can respond to conditions both inside and outside the database. Possible uses include security monitoring, alerting, statistics gathering and authorization.
- Most modern relational databases include active database features in the form of database trigger.
- A Cloud database is a database that relies on cloud technology. Both the database and most of its DBMS reside remotely, "in the cloud," while its applications are both developed by programmers and later maintained and utilized by (application's) end-users through a Web browser and Open APIs. More and more such database products are emerging, both of new vendors and by virtually all established database vendors.
- Data warehouses archive data from operational databases and often from external sources such as market research firms. Often operational data undergoes transformation on its way into the warehouse, getting summarized, anonymized, reclassified, etc. The warehouse becomes the central source of data for use by managers and other end-users who may not have access to operational data. For example, sales data might be aggregated to weekly totals and converted from internal product codes to use UPCs so that it can be compared with ACNielsen data. Some basic and essential components of data warehousing include retrieving, analyzing, and mining data, transforming,loading and managing data so as to make it available for further use.
- Operations in a data warehouse are typically concerned with bulk data manipulation, and as such, it is unusual and inefficient to target individual rows for update, insert or delete. Bulk native loaders for input data and bulk SQL passes for aggregation are the norm.
- The definition of a distributed database is broad, and may be utilized in different meanings. In general it typically refers to a modular DBMS architecture that allows distinct DBMS instances to cooperate as a single DBMS over processes, computers, and sites, while managing a single database distributed itself over multiple computers, and different sites.
- Examples are databases of local work-groups and departments at regional offices, branch offices, manufacturing plants and other work sites. These databases can include both segments shared by multiple sites, and segments specific to one site and used only locally in that site.
- Document-oriented database
- Utilized to conveniently store, manage, edit and retrieve documents.
- An embedded database system is a DBMS which is tightly integrated with an application software that requires access to stored data in a way that the DBMS is hidden from the application s end-user and requires little or no ongoing maintenance. It is actually a broad technology category that includes DBMSs with differing properties and target markets. The term "embedded database" can be confusing because only a small subset of embedded database products is used in real-time embedded systems such as telecommunications switches and consumer electronics devices.
- These databases consist of data developed by individual end-users. Examples of these are collections of documents, spreadsheets, presentations, multimedia, and other files. Several products exist to support such databases. Some of them are much simpler than full fledged DBMSs, with more elementary DBMS functionality (e.g., not supporting multiple concurrent end-users on a same database), with basic programming interfaces, and a relatively small "foot-print" (not much code to run as in "regular" general-purpose databases). However, also available general-purpose DBMSs can often be used for such purpose, if they provide basic user-interfaces for straightforward database applications (limited query and data display; no real programming needed), while still enjoying the database qualities and protections that these DBMSs can provide.
- Federated database and multi-database
- A federated database is an integrated database that comprises several distinct databases, each with its own DBMS. It is handled as a single database by a federated database management system (FDBMS), which transparently integrates multiple autonomous DBMSs, possibly of different types (which makes it a heterogeneous database), and provides them with an integrated conceptual view. The constituent databases are interconnected via computer network, and may be geographically decentralized.
- Sometime the term multi-database is used as a synonym to federated database, though it may refer to a less integrated (e.g., without an FDBMS and a managed integrated schema) group of databases that cooperate in a single application. In this case typically middleware for distribution is used which typically includes an atomic commit protocol (ACP), e.g., the two-phase commit protocol, to allow distributed (global) transactions (vs. local transactions confined to a single DBMS) across the participating databases.
- A graph database is a kind of NoSQL database that uses graph structures with nodes, edges, and properties to represent and store information. General graph databases that can store any graph are distinct from specialized graph databases such as triplestores and network databases.
- The World Wide Web can be thought of as a database, albeit one spread across millions of independent computing systems. Web browsers "process" this data one page at a time, while Web crawlers and other software provide the equivalent of database indexes to support search and other activities.
- An in-memory database (IMDB; also main memory database or MMDB) is a database that primarily resides in main memory, but typically backed-up by non-volatile computer data storage. Main memory databases are faster than disk databases. Accessing data in memory reduces the I/O reading activity when, for example, querying the data. In applications where response time is critical, such as telecommunications network equipment, main memory databases are often used.
- A knowledge base (abbreviated KB, kb or ) is a special kind of database for knowledge management, providing the means for the computerized collection, organization, and retrieval of knowledge. Also a collection of data representing problems with their solutions and related experiences.
- These databases store detailed data about the operations of an organization. They are typically organized by subject matter, process relatively high volumes of updates using transactions. Essentially every major organization on earth uses such databases. Examples include customer databases that record contact, credit, and demographic information about a business' customers, personnel databases that hold information such as salary, benefits, skills data about employees, Enterprise resource planning that record details about product components, parts inventory, and financial databases that keep track of the organization's money, accounting and financial dealings.
- A parallel database, run by a parallel DBMS, seeks to improve performance through parallelization for tasks such as loading data, building indexes and evaluating queries. Parallel databases improve processing and input/output speeds by using multiple central processing units (CPUs) (including multi-core processors) and storage in parallel. In parallel processing, many operations are performed simultaneously, as opposed to serial, sequential processing, where operations are performed with no time overlap.
- The major parallel DBMS architectures (which are induced by the underlying hardware architecture are:
Shared memory architecture, where multiple processors share the main memory space, as well as other data storage.
Shared disk architecture, where each processing unit (typically consisting of multiple processors) has its own main memory, but all units share the other storage.
Shared nothing architecture, where each processing unit has its own main memory and other storage.
- Unstructured-data database
- An unstructured-data database is intended to store in a manageable and protected way diverse objects that do not fit naturally and conveniently in common databases. It may include email messages, documents, journals, multimedia objects etc. The name may be misleading since some objects can be highly structured. However, the entire possible object collection does not fit into a predefined structured framework. Most established DBMSs now support unstructured data in various ways, and new dedicated DBMSs are emerging.
Major database usage requirements
The major purpose of a database is to provide the information system (in its broadest sense) that utilizes it with the information the system needs according to its own requirements. A certain broad set of requirements refines this general goal. These database requirements translate to requirements for the respective DBMS, to allow conveniently building a proper database for the given application. If this goal is met by a DBMS, then the designers and builders of the specific database can concentrate on the application's aspects, and not deal with building and maintaining the underlying DBMS. Also, since a DBMS is complex and expensive to build and maintain, it is not economical to build such a new tool (DBMS) for every application. Rather it is desired to provide a flexible tool for handling databases for as many as possible given applications, i.e., a general-purpose DBMS.
Certain general functional requirements need to be met in conjunction with a database. They describe what is needed to be defined in a database for any specific application.
Defining the structure of data: Data modeling and Data definition languages
The database needs to be based on a data model that is sufficiently rich to describe in the database all the needed respective application's aspects. A data definition language exists to describe the databases within the data model. Such language is typically data model specific.
Manipulating the data: Data manipulation languages and Query languages
A database data model needs support by a sufficiently rich data manipulation language to allow all database manipulations and information generation (from the data) as needed by the respective application. Such language is typically data model specific.
Protecting the data: Setting database security types and levels
The DB needs built-in security means to protect its content (and users) from dangers of unauthorized users (either humans or programs). Protection is also provided from types of unintentional breach. Security types and levels should be defined by the database owners.
Describing processes that use the data: Workflow and Business process modeling
Manipulating database data often involves processes of several interdependent steps, at different times (e.g., when different people's interactions are involved; e.g., generating an insurance policy). Data manipulation languages are typically intended to describe what is needed in a single such step. Dealing with multiple steps typically requires writing quite complex programs. Most applications are programmed using common programming languages and software development tools. However the area of process description has evolved in the frameworks of workflow and business processes with supporting languages and software packages which considerably simplify the tasks. Traditionally these frameworks have been out of the scope of common DBMSs, but utilization of them has become common-place, and often they are provided as add-on's to DBMSs.
Operational requirements are needed to be met by a database in order to effectively support an application when operational. Though it typically may be expected that operational requirements are automatically met by a DBMS, in fact it is not so in most of the cases: To be met substantial work of design and tuning is typically needed by database administrators. This is typically done by specific instructions/operations through special database user interfaces and tools, and thus may be viewed as secondary functional requirements (which are not less important than the primary).
A DB should maintain needed levels of availability, i.e., the DB needs to be available in a way that a user's action does not need to wait beyond a certain time range before starting executing upon the DB. Availability also relates to failure and recovery from it (see Recovery from failure and disaster below): Upon failure and during recovery normal availability changes, and special measures are needed to satisfy availability requirements.
Users' actions upon the DB should be executed within needed time ranges.
Isolation between users
When multiple users access the database concurrently the actions of a user should be uninterrupted and unaffected by actions of other users. These concurrent actions should maintain the DB's consistency (i.e., keep the DB from corruption).
Recovery from failure and disaster
All computer systems, including DBMSs, are prone to failures for many reasons (both software and hardware related). Failures typically corrupt the DB, typically to the extent that it is impossible to repair it without special measures. The DBMS should provide automatic recovery from failure procedures that repair the DB and return it to a well defined state.
Backup and restore
Sometimes it is desired to bring a database back to a previous state (for many reasons, e.g., cases when the database is found corrupted due to a software error, or if it has been updated with erroneous data). To achieve this a backup operation is done occasionally or continuously, where each desired database state (i.e., the values of its data and their embedding in database's data structures) is kept within dedicated backup files (many techniques exist to do this effectively). When this state is needed, i.e., when it is decided by a database administrator to bring the database back to this state (e.g., by specifying this state by a desired point in time when the database was in this state), these files are utilized to restore that state.
Data independence pertains to a database's life cycle (see Database building, maintaining, and tuning below). It strongly impacts the convenience and cost of maintaining an application and its database, and has been the major motivation for the emergence and success of the Relational model, as well as the convergence to a common database architecture. In general the term "data independence" means that changes in the database's structure do not require changes in its application's computer programs, and that changes in the database at a certain architectural level (see below) do not affect the database's levels above. Data independence is achieved to a great extent in contemporary DBMS, but it is not completely attainable, and achieved at different degrees for different types of database structural changes.
Major database functional areas
The functional areas are domains and subjects that have evolved in order to provide proper answers and solutions to the functional requirements above.
A data model is an abstract structure that provides the means to effectively describe specific data structures needed to model an application. As such a data model needs sufficient expressive power to capture the needed aspects of applications. These applications are often typical to commercial companies and other organizations (like manufacturing, human-resources, stock, banking, etc.). For effective utilization and handling it is desired that a data model is relatively simple and intuitive. This may be in conflict with high expressive power needed to deal with certain complex applications. Thus any popular general-purpose data model usually well balances between being intuitive and relatively simple, and very complex with high expressive power. The application's semantics is usually not explicitly expressed in the model, but rather implicit (and detailed by documentation external to the model) and hinted to by data item types' names (e.g., "part-number") and their connections (as expressed by generic data structure types provided by each specific model).
Early data models
These models were popular in the 1960s, 1970s, but nowadays can be found primarily in old legacy systems. They are characterized primarily by being navigational with strong connections between their logical and physical representations, and deficiencies in data independence.
In the Hierarchical model different record types (representing real-world entities) are embedded in a predefined hierarchical (tree-like) structure. This hierarchy is used as the physical order of records in storage. Record access is done by navigating through the data structure using pointers combined with sequential accessing.
This model has been supported primarily by the IBM IMS DBMS, one of the earliest DBMSs. Various limitations of the model have been compensated at later IMS versions by additional logical hierarchies imposed on the base physical hierarchy.
In this model a hierarchical relationship between two record types (representing real-world entities) is established by the set construct. A set consists of circular linked lists where one record type, the set owner or parent, appears once in each circle, and a second record type, the subordinate or child, may appear multiple times in each circle. In this way a hierarchy may be established between any two record types, e.g., type A is the owner of B. At the same time another set may be defined where B is the owner of A. Thus all the sets comprise a general directed graph (ownership defines a direction), or network construct. Access to records is either sequential (usually in each record type) or by navigation in the circular linked lists.
This model is more general and powerful than the hierarchical, and has been the most popular before being replaced by the Relational model. It has been standardized by CODASYL. Popular DBMS products that utilized it were Cincom Systems' Total and Cullinet's IDMS.
Inverted file model
An inverted file or inverted index of a first file, by a field in this file (the inversion field), is a second file in which this field is the key. A record in the second file includes a key and pointers to records in the first file where the inversion field has the value of the key. This is also the logical structure of contemporary database indexes. The related Inverted file data model utilizes inverted files of primary database files to efficiently directly access needed records in these files.
Notable for using this data model is the ADABAS DBMS of Software AG, introduced in 1970. ADABAS has gained considerable customer base and exists and supported until today. In the 1980s it has adopted the Relational model and SQL in addition to its original tools and languages.
In , the object-oriented paradigm has been applied in areas such as engineering and spatial databases, telecommunications and in various scientific domains. The conglomeration of object oriented programming and database technology led to this new kind of database. 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 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 side, 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 provide language-level functionality for finding 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.
Object relational model
XML as a database data model
Other database models
Products offering a more general data model than the relational model are sometimes classified as post-relational. Alternate terms include "hybrid database", "Object-enhanced RDBMS" and others. The data model in such products incorporates relations but is not constrained by E.F. Codd's Information Principle, which requires that
Some of these extensions to the relational model integrate concepts from technologies that pre-date the relational model. For example, they allow representation of a directed graph with trees on the nodes. The German company sones implements this concept in its GraphDB.
Some post-relational products extend relational systems with non-relational features. Others arrived in much the same place by adding relational features to pre-relational systems. Paradoxically, this allows products that are historically pre-relational, such as PICK and MUMPS, to make a plausible claim to be post-relational.
The resource space model (RSM) is a non-relational data model based on multi-dimensional classification.
Database languages are dedicated programming languages, tailored and utilized to
- define a database (i.e., its specific data types and the relationships among them),
- manipulate its content (e.g., insert new data occurrences, and update or delete existing ones), and
- query it (i.e., request information: compute and retrieve any information based on its data).
Database languages are data-model-specific, i.e., each language assumes and is based on a certain structure of the data (which typically differs among different data models). They typically have commands to instruct execution of the desired operations in the database. Each such command is equivalent to a complex expression (program) in a regular programming language, and thus programming in dedicated (database) languages simplifies the task of handling databases considerably. An expressions in a database language is automatically transformed (by a compiler or interpreter, as regular programming languages) to a proper computer program that runs while accessing the database and providing the needed results. The following are notable examples:
SQL for the Relational model
A major Relational model language supported by all the relational DBMSs and a standard.
SQL was one of the first commercial languages for the relational model. Despite not adhering to the relational model as described by Codd, it has become the most widely used database language. Though often described as, and to a great extent is a declarative language, SQL also includes procedural elements. SQL became a standard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1986, and of the International Organization for Standards (ISO) in 1987. Since then the standard has been enhanced several times with added features. However, issues of SQL code portability between major RDBMS products still exist due to lack of full compliance with, or different interpretations of the standard. Among the reasons mentioned are the large size, and incomplete specification of the standard, as well as vendor lock-in.
OQL for the Object model
An Object model language standard (by the Object Data Management Group) that has influenced the design of some of the newer query languages like JDOQL and EJB QL, though they cannot be considered as different flavors of OQL.
XQuery for the XML model
XQuery is an XML based database language (also named XQL).
Database architecture (to be distinguished from DBMS architecture; see below) may be viewed, to some extent, as an extension of Data modeling. It is used to conveniently answer requirements of different end-users from a same database, as well as for other benefits. For example, a financial department of a company needs the payment details of all employees as part of the company's expenses, but not other many details about employees, that are the interest of the human resources department. Thus different departments need different views of the company's database, that both include the employees' payments, possibly in a different level of detail (and presented in different visual forms). To meet such requirement effectively database architecture consists of three levels: external, conceptual and internal. Clearly separating the three levels was a major feature of the relational database model implementations that dominate 21st century databases.
- The external level defines how each end-user type understands the organization of its respective relevant data in the database, i.e., the different needed end-user views. A single database can have any number of views at the external level.
- The conceptual level unifies the various external views into a coherent whole, global view. It provides the common-denominator of all the external views. It comprises all the end-user needed generic data, i.e., all the data from which any view may be derived/computed. It is provided in the simplest possible way of such generic data, and comprises the back-bone of the database. It is out of the scope of the various database end-users, and serves database application developers and defined by database administrators that build the database.
- The Internal level (or Physical level) is as a matter of fact part of the database implementation inside a DBMS (see Implementation section below). It is concerned with cost, performance, scalability and other operational matters. It deals with storage layout of the conceptual level, provides supporting storage-structures like indexes, to enhance performance, and occasionally stores data of individual views (materialized views), computed from generic data, if performance justification exists for such redundancy. It balances all the external views' performance requirements, possibly conflicting, in attempt to optimize the overall database usage by all its end-uses according to the database goals and priorities.
All the three levels are maintained and updated according to changing needs by database administrators who often also participate in the database design.
The above three-level database architecture also relates to and being motivated by the concept of data independence which has been described for long time as a desired database property and was one of the major initial driving forces of the Relational model. In the context of the above architecture it means that changes made at a certain level do not affect definitions and software developed with higher level interfaces, and are being incorporated at the higher level automatically. For example, changes in the internal level do not affect application programs written using conceptual level interfaces, which saves substantial change work that would be needed otherwise.
In summary, the conceptual is a level of indirection between internal and external. On one hand it provides a common view of the database, independent of different external view structures, and on the other hand it is uncomplicated by details of how the data is stored or managed (internal level). In principle every level, and even every external view, can be presented by a different data model. In practice usually a given DBMS uses the same data model for both the external and the conceptual levels (e.g., relational model). The internal level, which is hidden inside the DBMS and depends on its implementation (see Implementation section below), requires a different level of detail and uses its own data structure types, typically different in nature from the structures of the external and conceptual levels which are exposed to DBMS users (e.g., the data models above): While the external and conceptual levels are focused on and serve DBMS users, the concern of the internal level is effective implementation details.
Database security deals with all various aspects of protecting the database content, its owners, and its users. It ranges from protection from intentional unauthorized database uses to unintentional database accesses by unauthorized entities (e.g., a person or a computer program).
The following are major areas of database security (among many others).
Database access control deals with controlling who (a person or a certain computer program) is allowed to access what information in the database. The information may comprise specific database objects (e.g., record types, specific records, data structures), certain computations over certain objects (e.g., query types, or specific queries), or utilizing specific access paths to the former (e.g., using specific indexes or other data structures to access information).
Database access controls are set by special authorized (by the database owner) personnel that uses dedicated protected security DBMS interfaces.
The definition of data security varies and may overlap with other database security aspects. Broadly it deals with protecting specific chunks of data, both physically (i.e., from corruption, or destruction, or removal; e.g., see Physical security), or the interpretation of them, or parts of them to meaningful information (e.g., by looking at the strings of bits that they comprise, concluding specific valid credit-card numbers; e.g., see Data encryption).
Database audit primarily involves monitoring that no security breach, in all aspects, has happened. If security breach is discovered then all possible corrective actions are taken.
Database design is done before building it to meet needs of end-users within a given application/information-system that the database is intended to support. The database design defines the needed data and data structures that such a database comprises. A design is typically carried out according to the common three architectural levels of a database (see Database architecture above). First, the conceptual level is designed, which defines the over-all picture/view of the database, and reflects all the real-world elements (entities) the database intends to model, as well as the relationships among them. On top of it the external level, various views of the database, are designed according to (possibly completely different) needs of specific end-user types. More external views can be added later. External views requirements may modify the design of the conceptual level (i.e., add/remove entities and relationships), but usually a well designed conceptual level for an application well supports most of the needed external views. The conceptual view also determines the internal level (which primarily deals with data layout in storage) to a great extent. External views requirement may add supporting storage structures, like materialized views and indexes, for enhanced performance. Typically the internal layer is optimized for top performance, in an average way that takes into account performance requirements (possibly conflicting) of different external views according to their relative importance. While the conceptual and external levels design can usually be done independently of any DBMS (DBMS-independent design software packages exist, possibly with interfaces to some specific popular DBMSs), the internal level design highly relies on the capabilities and internal data structure of the specific DBMS utilized (see the Implementation section below).
A common way to carry out conceptual level design is to use the Entity-relationship model (ERM) (both the basic one, and with possible enhancement that it has gone over), since it provides a straightforward, intuitive perception of an application's elements and semantics. An alternative approach, which preceded the ERM, is using the Relational model and dependencies (mathematical relationships) among data to normalize the database, i.e., to define the ("optimal") relations (data record or tupple types) in the database. Though a large body of research exists for this method it is more complex, less intuitive, and not more effective than the ERM method. Thus normalization is less utilized in practice than the ERM method.
The ERM may be less subtle than normalization in several aspects, but it captures the main needed dependencies which are induced by keys/identifiers of entities and relationships. Also the ERM inherently includes the important inclusion dependencies (i.e., an entity instance that does not exist (has not been explicitly inserted) cannot appear in a relationship with other entities) which usually have been ignored in normalization. In addition the ERM allows entity type generalization (the Is-a relationship) and implied property (attribute) inheritance (similarly to the that found in the Object model).
Another aspect of database design is its security. It involves both defining access control to database objects (e.g., Entities, Views) as well as defining security levels and methods for the data itself (See Database security above).
Entities and relationships
The most common database design methods are based on the Entity relationship model (ERM, or ER model). This model views the world in a simplistic but very powerful way: It consists of "Entities" and the "Relationships" among them. Accordingly a database consists of entity and relationship types, each with defined attributes (field types) that model concrete entities and relationships. Modeling a database in this way typically yields an effective one with desired properties (as in some normal forms; see normalization below). Such models can be translated to any other data model required by any specific DBMS for building an effective database.
In the design of a relational database, the process of organizing database relations to minimize redundancy is called normalization. The goal is to produce well-structured relations so that additions, deletions, and modifications of a field can be made in just one relation (table) without worrying about appearance and update of the same field in other relations. The process is algorithmic and based on dependencies (mathematical relations) that exist among relations' field types. The process result is bringing the database relations into a certain "normal form". Several normal forms exist with different properties.
Database building, maintaining, and tuning
After designing a database for an application arrives the stage of building the database. Typically an appropriate general-purpose DBMS can be selected to be utilized for this purpose. A DBMS provides the needed user interfaces to be utilized by database administrators to define the needed application's data structures within the DBMS's respective data model. Other user interfaces are used to select needed DBMS parameters (like security related, storage allocation parameters, etc.).
When the database is ready (all its data structures and other needed components are defined) it is typically populated with initial application's data (database initialization, which is typically a distinct project; in many cases using specialized DBMS interfaces that support bulk insertion) before making it operational. In some cases the database becomes operational while empty from application's data, and data are accumulated along its operation.
After completing building the database and making it operational arrives the database maintenance stage: Various database parameters may need changes and tuning for better performance, application's data structures may be changed or added, new related application programs may be written to add to the application's functionality, etc.
Database migration between DBMSs
- See also Database migration in Data migration
A database built with one DBMS is not portable to another DBMS (i.e., the other DBMS cannot run it). However, in some situations it is desirable to move, migrate a database from one DBMS to another. The reasons are primarily economical (different DBMSs may have different total costs of ownership-TCO), functional, and operational (different DBMSs may have different capabilities). The migration involves the database's transformation from one DBMS type to another. The transformation should maintain (if possible) the database related application (i.e., all related application programs) intact. Thus, the database's conceptual and external architectural levels should be maintained in the transformation. It may be desired that also some aspects of the architecture internal level are maintained. A complex or large database migration may be a complicated and costly (one-time) project by itself, which should be factored into the decision to migrate. This in spite of the fact that tools may exist to help migration between specific DBMS. Typically a DBMS vendor provides tools to help importing databases from other popular DBMSs.
Implementation: Database management systems
or How database usage requirements are met A database management system (DBMS) is a system that allows to build and maintain databases, as well as to utilize their data and retrieve information from it. A DBMS defines the database type that it supports, as well as its functionality and operational capabilities. A DBMS provides the internal processes for external applications built on them. The end-users of some such specific application are usually exposed only to that application and do not directly interact with the DBMS. Thus end-users enjoy the effects of the underlying DBMS, but its internals are completely invisible to end-users. Database designers and database administrators interact with the DBMS through dedicated interfaces to build and maintain the applications' databases, and thus need some more knowledge and understanding about how DBMSs operate and the DBMSs' external interfaces and tuning parameters.
A DBMS consists of software that operates databases, providing storage, access, security, backup and other facilities to meet needed requirements. DBMSs can be categorized according to the database model(s) that they support, such as relational or XML, the type(s) of computer they support, such as a server cluster or a mobile phone, the query language(s) that access the database, such as SQL or XQuery, performance trade-offs, such as maximum scale or maximum speed or others. Some DBMSs cover more than one entry in these categories, e.g., supporting multiple query languages. Database software typically support the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) standard which allows the database to integrate (to some extent) with other databases.
The development of a mature general-purpose DBMS typically takes several years and many man-years. Developers of DBMS typically update their product to follow and take advantage of progress in computer and storage technologies. Several DBMS products like Oracle and IBM DB2 have been in on-going development since the 1970s-1980s. Since DBMSs comprise a significant economical market, computer and storage vendors often take into account DBMS requirements in their own development plans.
DBMS architecture: major DBMS components
DBMS architecture specifies its components (including descriptions of their functions) and their interfaces. DBMS architecture is distinct from database architecture. The following are major DBMS components:
DBMS external interfaces - They are the means to communicate with the DBMS (both ways, to and from the DBMS) to perform all the operations needed for the DBMS. These can be operations on a database, or operations to operate and manage the DBMS. For example:
- - Direct database operations: defining data types, assigning security levels, updating data, querying the database, etc.
- - Operations related to DBMS operation and management: backup and restore, database recovery, security monitoring, database storage allocation and database layout configuration monitoring, performance monitoring and tuning, etc.
- An external interface can be either a user interface (e.g., typically for a database administrator), or an application programming interface (API) used for communication between an application program and the DBMS.
Database language engines (or processors) - Most operations upon databases are performed through expression in Database languages (see above). Languages exist for data definition, data manipulation and queries (e.g., SQL), as well as for specifying various aspects of security, and more. Language expressions are fed into a DBMS through proper interfaces. A language engine processes the language expressions (by a compiler or language interpreter) to extract the intended database operations from the expression in a way that they can be executed by the DBMS.
Query optimizer - Performs query optimization on every query to choose for it the most efficient query plan (a partial order (tree) of operations) to be executed to compute the query result.
Database engine - Performs the received database operations on the database objects, typically at their higher-level representation.
Storage engine - translates the operations to low-level operations on the storage bits. In some references the Storage engine is viewed as part of the Database engine.
Transaction engine - for correctness and reliability purposes most DBMS internal operations are performed encapsulated in transactions (see below). Transactions can also be specified externally to the DBMS to encapsulate a group of operations. The transaction engine tracks all the transactions and manages their execution according to the transaction rules (e.g., proper concurrency control, and proper commit or abort for each).
DBMS management and operation component - Comprises many components that deal with all the DBMS management and operational aspects like performance monitoring and tuning, backup and restore, recovery from failure, security management and monitoring, database storage allocation and database storage layout monitoring, etc.
Database storage is the container of the physical materialization of a database. It comprises the Internal (physical) level in the database architecture. It also contains all the information needed (e.g., metadata, "data about the data", and internal data structures) to reconstruct the Conceptual level and External level from the Internal level when needed. It is not part of the DBMS but rather manipulated by the DBMS (by its Storage engine; see above) to manage the database that resides in it. Though typically accessed by a DBMS through the underlying Operating system (and often utilizing the operating systems' File systems as intermediates for storage layout), storage properties and configuration setting are extremely important for the efficient operation of the DBMS, and thus are closely maintained by database administrators. A DBMS, while in operation, always has its database residing in several types of storage (e.g., memory and external storage). The database data and the additional needed information, possibly in very large amounts, are coded into bits. Data typically reside in the storage in structures that look completely different from the way the data look in the conceptual and external levels, but in ways that attempt to optimize (the best possible) these levels' reconstruction when needed by users and programs, as well as for computing additional types of needed information from the data (e.g., when querying the database).
In principle the database storage can be viewed as a linear address space, where every bit of data has its unique address in this address space. Practically only a very small percentage of addresses is kept as initial reference points (which also requires storage), and most of the database data is accessed by indirection using displacement calculations (distance in bits from the reference points) and data structures which define access paths (using pointers) to all needed data in effective manner, optimized for the needed data access operations.
Coding the data and Error-correcting codes
- Data is encoded by assigning a bit pattern to each language alphabet character, digit, other numerical patterns, and multimedia object. Many standards exist for encoding (e.g., ASCII, JPEG, MPEG-4).
- By adding bits to each encoded unit, the redundancy allows both to detect errors in coded data and to correct them based on mathematical algorithms. Errors occur regularly in low probabilities due to random bit value flipping, or "physical bit fatigue," loss of the physical bit in storage its ability to maintain distinguishable value (0 or 1), or due to errors in inter or intra-computer communication. A random bit flip (e.g., due to random radiation) is typically corrected upon detection. A bit, or a group of malfunctioning physical bits (not always the specific defective bit is known; group definition depends on specific storage device) is typically automatically fenced-out, taken out of use by the device, and replaced with another functioning equivalent group in the device, where the corrected bit values are restored (if possible). The Cyclic redundancy check (CRC) method is typically used in storage for error detection.
Data compression methods allow in many cases to represent a string of bits by a shorter bit string ("compress") and reconstruct the original string ("decompress") when needed. This allows to utilize substantially less storage (tens of percents) for many types of data at the cost of more computation (compress and decompress when needed). Analysis of trade-off between storage cost saving and costs of related computations and possible delays in data availability is done before deciding whether to keep certain data in a database compressed or not.
Data compression is typically controlled through the DBMS's data definition interface, but in some cases may be a default and automatic.
For security reasons certain types of data (e.g., credit-card information) may be kept encrypted in storage to prevent the possibility of unauthorized information reconstruction from chunks of storage snapshots (taken either via unforeseen vulnerabilities in a DBMS, or more likely, by bypassing it).
Data encryption is typically controlled through the DBMS's data definition interface, but in some cases may be a default and automatic.
Data storage types
This collection of bits describes both the contained database data and its related metadata (i.e., data that describes the contained data and allows computer programs to manipulate the database data correctly). The size of a database can nowadays be tens of Terabytes, where a byte is eight bits. The physical materialization of a bit can employ various existing technologies, while new and improved technologies are constantly under development. Common examples are:
Magnetic medium (e.g., in Magnetic disk) - Orientation of magnetic field in magnetic regions on a surface of material (two orientation directions, for 0 and 1).
Dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) - State of a miniature electronic circuit consisting of few transistors (among millions nowadays) in an integrated circuit (two states for 0 and 1).
These two examples are respectively for two major storage types:
Nonvolatile storage can maintain its bit states (0s and 1s) without electrical power supply, or when power supply is interrupted;
Volatile storage loses its bit values when power supply is interrupted (i.e., its content is erased).
Sophisticated storage units, which can, in fact, be effective dedicated parallel computers that support a large amount of nonvolatile storage, typically must include also components with volatile storage. Some such units employ batteries that can provide power for several hours in case of external power interruption (e.g., see the EMC Symmetrix) and thus maintain the content of the volatile storage parts intact. Just before such a device's batteries lose their power the device typically automatically backs-up its volatile content portion (into nonvolatile) and shuts off to protect its data.
Databases are usually too expensive (in terms of importance and needed investment in resources, e.g., time, money, to build them) to be lost by a power interruption. Thus at any point in time most of their content resides in nonvolatile storage. Even if for operational reason very large portions of them reside in volatile storage (e.g., tens of Gigabytes in volatile memory, for in-memory databases), most of this is backed-up in nonvolatile storage. A relatively small portion of this, which temporarily may not have nonvolatile backup, can be reconstructed by proper automatic database recovery procedures after volatile storage content loss.
More examples of storage types:
- Volatile storage can be found in processors, computer memory (e.g., DRAM), etc.
- Non-volatile storage types include ROM, EPROM, Hard disk drives, Flash memory and drives, Storage arrays, etc.
Databases always use several types of storage when operational (and implied several when idle). Different types may significantly differ in their properties, and the optimal mix of storage types is determined by the types and quantities of operations that each storage type needs to perform, as well as considerations like physical space and energy consumption and dissipation (which may become critical for a large database). Storage types can be categorized by the following attributes:
- Cost of the medium (e.g., per Megabyte), Cost to operate (cost of energy consumed per unit time).
- Access speed (e.g., bytes per second).
- Granularity from fine to coarse (e.g., size in bytes of access operation).
- Reliability (the probability of spontaneous bit value change under various conditions).
- Maximal possible number of writes (of any specific bit or specific group of bits; could be constrained by the technology used (e.g., "write once" or "write twice"), or due to "physical bit fatigue," loss of ability to distinguish between the 0, 1 states due to many state changes (e.g., in Flash memory)).
- Power needed to operate (Energy per time; energy per byte accessed), Energy efficiency, Heat to dissipate.
- Packaging density (e.g., realistic number of bytes per volume unit)
Protecting storage device content: Device mirroring (replication) and RAID
- See also Disk storage replication
While a group of bits malfunction may be resolved by error detection and correction mechanisms (see above), storage device malfunction requires different solutions. The following solutions are commonly used and valid for most storage devices:
Device mirroring (replication) - A common solution to the problem is constantly maintaining an identical copy of device content on another device (typically of a same type). The downside is that this doubles the storage, and both devices (copies) need to be updated simultaneously with some overhead and possibly some delays. The upside is possible concurrent read of a same data group by two independent processes, which increases performance. When one of the replicated devices is detected to be defective, the other copy is still operational, and is being utilized to generate a new copy on another device (usually available operational in a pool of stand-by devices for this purpose).
Redundant array of independent disks (RAID) - This method generalizes the device mirroring above by allowing one device in a group of N devices to fail and be replaced with content restored (Device mirroring is RAID with N=2). RAID groups of N=5 or N=6 are common. N>2 saves storage, when comparing with N=2, at the cost of more processing during both regular operation (with often reduced performance) and defective device replacement.
Device mirroring and typical RAID are designed to handle a single device failure in the RAID group of devices. However, if a second failure occurs before the RAID group is completely repaired from the first failure, then data can be lost. The probability of a single failure is typically small. Thus the probability of two failures in a same RAID group in time proximity is much smaller (approximately the probability squared, i.e., multiplied by itself). If a database cannot tolerate even such smaller probability of data loss, then the RAID group itself is replicated (mirrored). In many cases such mirroring is done geographically remotely, in a different storage array, to handle also recovery from disasters (see disaster recovery above).
Database storage layout
Database bits are laid-out in storage in data-structures and grouping that can take advantage of both known effective algorithms to retrieve and manipulate them and the storage own properties. Typically the storage itself is design to meet requirements of various areas that extensively utilize storage, including databases. A DBMS in operation always simultaneously utilizes several storage types (e.g., memory, and external storage), with respective layout methods.
Database storage hierarchy
A database, while in operation, resides simultaneously in several types of storage. By the nature of contemporary computers most of the database part inside a computer that hosts the DBMS resides (partially replicated) in volatile storage. Data (pieces of the database) that are being processed/manipulated reside inside a processor, possibly in processor's caches. These data are being read from/written to memory, typically through a computer bus (so far typically volatile storage components). Computer memory is communicating data (transferred to/from) external storage, typically through standard storage interfaces or networks (e.g., fibre channel, iSCSI). A storage array, a common external storage unit, typically has storage hierarchy of it own, from a fast cache, typically consisting of (volatile and fast) DRAM, which is connected (again via standard interfaces) to drives, possibly with different speeds, like flash drives and magnetic disk drives (non-volatile). The drives may be connected to magnetic tapes, on which typically the least active parts of a large database may reside, or database backup generations.
Typically a correlation exists currently between storage speed and price, while the faster storage is typically volatile.
A data structure is an abstract construct that embeds data in a well defined manner. An efficient data structure allows to manipulate the data in efficient ways. The data manipulation may include data insertion, deletion, updating and retrieval in various modes. A certain data structure type may be very effective in certain operations, and very ineffective in others. A data structure type is selected upon DBMS development to best meet the operations needed for the types of data it contains. Type of data structure selected for a certain task typically also takes into consideration the type of storage it resides in (e.g., speed of access, minimal size of storage chunk accessed, etc.). In some DBMSs database administrators have the flexibility to select among options of data structures to contain user data for performance reasons. Sometimes the data structures have selectable parameters to tune the database performance.
Databases may store data in many data structure types. Common examples are the following:
- ordered/unordered flat files
- hash tables
- B+ trees
Application data and DBMS data
A typical DBMS cannot store the data of the application it serves alone. In order to handle the application data the DBMS need to store this data in data structures that comprise specific data by themselves. In addition the DBMS needs its own data structures and many types of bookkeeping data like indexes and logs. The DBMS data is an integral part of the database and may comprise a substantial portion of it.
Indexing is a technique for improving database performance. The many types of indexes share the common property that they reduce the need to examine every entry when running a query. In large databases, this can reduce query time/cost by orders of magnitude. The simplest form of index is a sorted list of values that can be searched using a binary search with an adjacent reference to the location of the entry, analogous to the index in the back of a book. The same data can have multiple indexes (an employee database could be indexed by last name and hire date.)
Indexes affect performance, but not results. Database designers can add or remove indexes without changing application logic, reducing maintenance costs as the database grows and database usage evolves.
Given a particular query, the DBMS' query optimizer is responsible for devising the most efficient strategy for finding matching data.
Indexes can speed up data access, but they consume space in the database, and must be updated each time the data is altered. Indexes therefore can speed data access but slow data maintenance. These two properties determine whether a given index is worth the cost.
Database data clustering
In many cases substantial performance improvement is gained if different types of database objects that are usually utilized together are laid in storage in proximity, being clustered. This usually allows to retrieve needed related objects from storage in minimum number of input operations (each sometimes substantially time consuming). Even for in-memory databases clustering provides performance advantage due to common utilization of large caches for input-output operations in memory, with similar resulting behavior.
For example it may be beneficial to cluster a record of an item in stock with all its respective order records. The decision of whether to cluster certain objects or not depends on the objects' utilization statistics, object sizes, caches sizes, storage types, etc. In a relational database clustering the two respective relations "Items" and "Orders" results in saving the expensive execution of a Join operation between the two relations whenever such a join is needed in a query (the join result is already ready in storage by the clustering, available to be utilized).
Database materialized views
Often storage redundancy is employed to increase performance. A common example is storing materialized views, which are frequently-needed External views. Storing such external views saves expensive computing of them each time they are needed.
Database and database object replication
- See also Replication below
Occasionally a database employs storage redundancy by database objects replication (with one or more copies) to increase data availability (both to improve performance of simultaneous multiple end-user accesses to a same database object, and to provide resiliency in a case of partial failure of a distributed database). Updates of a replicated object need to be synchronized across the object copies. In many cases the entire database is replicated.
As with every software system, a DBMS that operates in a faulty computing environment is prone to failures of many kinds. A failure can corrupt the respective database unless special measures are taken to prevent this. A DBMS achieves certain levels of fault tolerance by encapsulating operations within transactions. The concept of a database transaction (or atomic transaction) has evolved in order to enable both a well understood database system behavior in a faulty environment where crashes can happen any time, and recovery from a crash to a well understood database state. A database transaction is a unit of work, typically encapsulating a number of operations over a database (e.g., reading a database object, writing, acquiring lock, etc.), an abstraction supported in database and also other systems. Each transaction has well defined boundaries in terms of which program/code executions are included in that transaction (determined by the transaction's programmer via special transaction commands).
Every database transaction obeys the following rules:
Atomicity - Either the effects of all or none of its operations remain ("all or nothing" semantics) when a transaction is completed (committed or aborted respectively). In other words, to the outside world a committed transaction appears (by its effects on the database) to be indivisible, atomic, and an aborted transaction does not leave effects on the database at all, as if never existed.
Consistency - Every transaction must leave the database in a consistent (correct) state, i.e., maintain the predetermined integrity rules of the database (constraints upon and among the database's objects). A transaction must transform a database from one consistent state to another consistent state (however, it is the responsibility of the transaction's programmer to make sure that the transaction itself is correct, i.e., performs correctly what it intends to perform (from the application's point of view) while the predefined integrity rules are enforced by the DBMS). Thus since a database can be normally changed only by transactions, all the database's states are consistent. An aborted transaction does not change the database state it has started from, as if it never existed (atomicity above).
Isolation - Transactions cannot interfere with each other (as an end result of their executions). Moreover, usually (depending on concurrency control method) the effects of an incomplete transaction are not even visible to another transaction. Providing isolation is the main goal of concurrency control.
Durability - Effects of successful (committed) transactions must persist through crashes (typically by recording the transaction's effects and its commit event in a non-volatile memory).
Isolation, concurrency control, and locking
Isolation provides the ability for multiple users to operate on the database at the same time without corrupting the data.
Concurrency control comprises the underlying mechanisms in a DBMS which handle isolation and guarantee related correctness. It is heavily utilized by the Database and Storage engines (see above) both to guarantee the correct execution of concurrent transactions, and (different mechanisms) the correctness of other DBMS processes. The transaction-related mechanisms typically constrain the database data access operations' timing (transaction schedules) to certain orders characterized as the Serializability and Recoverabiliry schedule properties. Constraining database access operation execution typically means reduced performance (rates of execution), and thus concurrency control mechanisms are typically designed to provide the best performance possible under the constraints. Often, when possible without harming correctness, the serializability property is compromised for better performance. However, recoverability cannot be compromised, since such typically results in a quick database integrity violation.
Locking is the most common transaction concurrency control method in DBMSs, used to provide both serializability and recoverability for correctness. In order to access a database object a transaction first needs to acquire a lock for this object. Depending on the access operation type (e.g., reading or writing an object) and on the lock type, acquiring the lock may be blocked and postponed, if another transaction is holding a lock for that object.
A query is a request for information from a database. It can be as simple as "finding the address of a person with SS# 123-123-1234," or more complex like "finding the average salary of all the employed married men in California between the ages 30 to 39, that earn less than their wives." Queries results are generated by accessing relevant database data and manipulating it in a way that yields the requested information. Since database structures are complex, in most cases, and especially for not-very-simple queries, the needed data for a query can be collected from a database by accessing it in different ways, through different data-structures, and in different orders. Each different way typically requires different processing time. Processing times of a same query may have large variance, from a fraction of a second to hours, depending on the way selected. The purpose of query optimization, which is an automated process, is to find the way to process a given query in minimum time. The large possible variance in time justifies performing query optimization, though finding the exact optimal way to execute a query, among all possibilities, is typically very complex, time consuming by itself, may be too costly, and often practically impossible. Thus query optimization typically tries to approximate the optimum by comparing several common-sense alternatives to provide in a reasonable time a "good enough" plan which typically does not deviate much from the best possible result.
DBMS support for the development and maintenance of a database and its application
A DBMS typically intends to provide convenient environment to develop and later maintain an application built around its respective database type. A DBMS either provides such tools, or allows integration with such external tools. Examples for tools relate to database design, application programming, application program maintenance, database performance analysis and monitoring, database configuration monitoring, DBMS hardware configuration (a DBMS and related database may span computers, networks, and storage units) and related database mapping (especially for a distributed DBMS), storage allocation and database layout monitoring, storage migration, etc.
- Comparison of relational database management systems
- Comparison of database tools
- Data hierarchy
- Data store
- Database-centric architecture
- Database testing
- Glass database, a collection of glass compositions and related properties
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