A database is an organized collection of data, generally stored and accessed electronically from a computer system. Where databases are more complex they are often developed using formal design and modeling techniques which i will talk about a bit later.
The database management system (DBMS) is the software that interacts with end users, applications, and the database itself to capture and analyze the data. The DBMS software additionally encompasses the core facilities provided to administer the database. The sum total of the database, the DBMS and the associated applications can be referred to as a “database system”. Often the term “database” is also used to loosely refer to any of the DBMS, the database system or an application associated with the database.
Computer scientists may classify database-management systems according to the database models that they support. Relational databases became dominant in the 1980s. These model data as rows and columns in a series of tables, and the vast majority use SQL for writing and querying data. In the 2000s, non-relational databases became popular, referred to as NoSQL because they use different query languages.
Terminology and Overview
Formally, a “database” refers to a set of related data and the way it is organized. Access to this data is usually provided by a “database management system” (DBMS) consisting of an integrated set of computer software that allows users to interact with one or more databases and provides access to all of the data contained in the database (although restrictions may exist that limit access to particular data). The DBMS provides various functions that allow entry, storage and retrieval of large quantities of information and provides ways to manage how that information is organized.
Because of the close relationship between them, the term “database” is often used casually to refer to both a database and the DBMS used to manipulate it.
Outside the world of professional information technology, the term database is often used to refer to any collection of related data (such as a spreadsheet or a card index) as size and usage requirements typically necessitate use of a database management system.
Existing DBMSs provide various functions that allow management of a database and its data which can be classified into four main functional groups:
- Data definition – Creation, modification and removal of definitions that define the organization of the data.
- Update – Insertion, modification, and deletion of the actual data.
- Retrieval – Providing information in a form directly usable or for further processing by other applications. The retrieved data may be made available in a form basically the same as it is stored in the database or in a new form obtained by altering or combining existing data from the database.
- Administration – Registering and monitoring users, enforcing data security, monitoring performance, maintaining data integrity, dealing with concurrency control, and recovering information that has been corrupted by some event such as an unexpected system failure.
Both a database and its DBMS conform to the principles of a particular database model. Database system” refers collectively to the database model, database management system, and database.
Physically, database servers are dedicated computers that hold the actual databases and run only the DBMS and related software. Database servers are usually multiprocessor computers, with generous memory and RAID disk arrays used for stable storage. Hardware database accelerators, connected to one or more servers via a high-speed channel, are also used in large volume transaction processing environments. DBMSs are found at the heart of most database applications. DBMSs may be built around a custom multitasking kernel with built-in networking support, but modern DBMSs typically rely on a standard operating system to provide these functions.
Since DBMSs comprise a significant market, computer and storage vendors often take into account DBMS requirements in their own development plans.
Databases and DBMSs can be categorized according to the database model(s) that they support (such as relational or XML), the type(s) of computer they run on (from a server cluster to a mobile phone), the query language(s) used to access the database (such as SQL or XQuery), and their internal engineering, which affects performance, scalability, resilience, and security.
The sizes, capabilities, and performance of databases and their respective DBMSs have grown in orders of magnitude. These performance increases were enabled by the technology progress in the areas of processors, computer memory, computer storage, and computer networks. The concept of a database was made possible by the emergence of direct access storage media such as magnetic disks, which became widely available in the mid 1960s; earlier systems relied on sequential storage of data on magnetic tape. The subsequent development of database technology can be divided into three eras based on data model or structure:
The two main early navigational data models were the hierarchical model and the CODASYL model (network model). These were characterized by the use of pointers (often physical disk addresses) to follow relationships from one record to another.
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. The relational model employs sets of ledger-style tables, each used for a different type of entity. Only in the mid-1980s did computing hardware become powerful enough to allow the wide deployment of relational systems (DBMSs plus applications). By the early 1990s, however, relational systems dominated in all large-scale data processing applications, and as of 2018 they remain dominant: IBM DB2, Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server are the most searched DBMS. The dominant database language, standardised SQL for the relational model, has influenced database languages for other data models.
Object databases were developed in the 1980s to overcome the inconvenience of object-relational impedance mismatch, which led to the coining of the term “post-relational” and also the development of hybrid object-relational databases.
The next generation of post-relational databases in the late 2000s became known as NoSQL databases, introducing fast key-value stores and document-oriented databases. A competing “next generation” known as NewSQL databases attempted new implementations that retained the relational/SQL model while aiming to match the high performance of NoSQL compared to commercially available relational DBMSs.
1960s, navigational DBMS
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. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1962 report by the System Development Corporation of California as the first to use the term “data-base” in a specific technical sense.
As computers grew in speed and capability, a number of general-purpose database systems emerged; by the mid-1960s a number of such systems had come into commercial use. Interest in a standard began to grow, and Charles Bachman, author of one such product, the Integrated Data Store (IDS), founded the Database Task Group within CODASYL, the group responsible for the creation and standardization of COBOL. In 1971, the Database Task Group delivered their standard, which generally became known as the CODASYL approach, and soon a number of commercial products based on this approach entered the market.
The CODASYL approach offered applications the ability to navigate around a linked data set which was formed into a large network. Applications could find records by one of three methods:
- Use of a primary key (known as a CALC key, typically implemented by hashing)
- Navigating relationships (called sets) from one record to another
- Scanning all the records in a sequential order
Later systems added B-trees to provide alternate access paths. Many CODASYL databases also added a declarative query language for end users (as distinct from the navigational API). However CODASYL databases were complex and required significant training and effort to produce useful applications.
IBM also had their own DBMS in 1966, known as Information Management System (IMS). IMS was a development of software written for the Apollo program on the System/360. IMS was generally similar in concept to CODASYL, but used a strict hierarchy for its model of data navigation instead of CODASYL’s network model. Both concepts later became known as navigational databases due to the way data was accessed: the term was popularized by Bachman’s 1973 Turing Award presentation The Programmer as Navigator. IMS is classified by IBM as a hierarchical database. IDMS and Cincom Systems‘ TOTAL database are classified as network databases. IMS remains in use as of today its last stable release has been on 2017
1970s, relational DBMS
Edgar F. Codd worked at IBM in San Jose, California, in one of their offshoot offices that was primarily involved in the development of hard disk systems. He was unhappy with the navigational model of the CODASYL approach, notably the lack of a “search” facility. In 1970, he wrote a number of papers that outlined a new approach to database construction that eventually culminated in the groundbreaking A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.
In this paper, he described a new system for storing and working with large databases. Instead of records being stored in some sort of linked list of free-form records as in CODASYL, Codd’s idea was to organise the data as a number of “tables“, each table being used for a different type of entity. Each table would contain a fixed number of columns containing the attributes of the entity. One or more columns of each table were designated as a primary key by which the rows of the table could be uniquely identified; cross-references between tables always used these primary keys, rather than disk addresses, and queries would join tables based on these key relationships, using a set of operations based on the mathematical system of relational calculus (from which the model takes its name). Splitting the data into a set of normalized tables (or relations) aimed to ensure that each “fact” was only stored once, thus simplifying update operations. Virtual tables called views could present the data in different ways for different users, but views could not be directly updated.
Codd used mathematical terms to define the model: relations, tuples, and domains rather than tables, rows, and columns. The terminology that is now familiar came from early implementations. Codd would later criticize the tendency for practical implementations to depart from the mathematical foundations on which the model was based.
In the relational model, records are “linked” using virtual keys not stored in the database but defined as needed between the data contained in the records.
The use of primary keys (user-oriented identifiers) to represent cross-table relationships, rather than disk addresses, had two primary motivations. From an engineering perspective, it enabled tables to be relocated and resized without expensive database reorganization. But Codd was more interested in the difference in semantics: the use of explicit identifiers made it easier to define update operations with clean mathematical definitions, and it also enabled query operations to be defined in terms of the established discipline of first-order predicate calculus; because these operations have clean mathematical properties, it becomes possible to rewrite queries in provably correct ways, which is the basis of query optimization. There is no loss of expressiveness compared with the hierarchic or network models, though the connections between tables are no longer so explicit.
In the hierarchic and network models, records were allowed to have a complex internal structure. For example, the salary history of an employee might be represented as a “repeating group” within the employee record. In the relational model, the process of normalization led to such internal structures being replaced by data held in multiple tables, connected only by logical keys.
For instance, a common use of a database system is to track information about users, their name, login information, various addresses and phone numbers. In the navigational approach, all of this data would be placed in a single variable-length record. In the relational approach, the data would be normalized into a user table, an address table and a phone number table (for instance). Records would be created in these optional tables only if the address or phone numbers were actually provided.
As well as identifying rows/records using logical identifiers rather than disk addresses, Codd changed the way in which applications assembled data from multiple records. Rather than requiring applications to gather data one record at a time by navigating the links, they would use a declarative query language that expressed what data was required, rather than the access path by which it should be found. Finding an efficient access path to the data became the responsibility of the database management system, rather than the application programmer. This process, called query optimization, depended on the fact that queries were expressed in terms of mathematical logic.
Codd’s paper was picked up by two people at Berkeley, Eugene Wong and Michael Stonebraker. They started a project known as INGRES using funding that had already been allocated for a geographical database project and student programmers to produce code. Beginning in 1973, INGRES delivered its first test products which were generally ready for widespread use in 1979. INGRES was similar to System R in a number of ways, including the use of a “language” for data access, known as QUEL. Over time, INGRES moved to the emerging SQL standard.
IBM itself did one test implementation of the relational model, PRTV, and a production one, Business System 12, both now discontinued. Honeywell wrote MRDS for Multics, and now there are two new implementations: Alphora Dataphor and Rel. Most other DBMS implementations usually called relational are actually SQL DBMSs.
In 1970, the University of Michigan began development of the MICRO Information Management System based on D.L. Childs‘ Set-Theoretic Data model. MICRO was used to manage very large data sets by the US Department of Labor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and researchers from the University of Alberta, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. It ran on IBM mainframe computers using the Michigan Terminal System. The system remained in production until 1998.
Late 1970s, SQL DBMS
IBM started working on a prototype system loosely based on Codd’s concepts as System R in the early 1970s. The first version was ready in 1974/5, and work then started on multi-table systems in which the data could be split so that all of the data for a record (some of which is optional) did not have to be stored in a single large “chunk”. Subsequent multi-user versions were tested by customers in 1978 and 1979, by which time a standardized query language – SQL – had been added. Codd’s ideas were establishing themselves as both workable and superior to CODASYL, pushing IBM to develop a true production version of System R, known as SQL/DS, and, later, Database 2 (DB2).
Larry Ellison‘s Oracle Database (or more simply, Oracle) started from a different chain, based on IBM’s papers on System R. Though Oracle V1 implementations were completed in 1978, it wasn’t until Oracle Version 2 when Ellison beat IBM to market in 1979.
Stonebraker went on to apply the lessons from INGRES to develop a new database, Postgres, which is now known as PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL is often used for global mission-critical applications (the .org and .info domain name registries use it as their primary data store, as do many large companies and financial institutions).
Another data model, the entity–relationship model, emerged in 1976 and gained popularity for database design as it emphasized a more familiar description than the earlier relational model. Later on, entity–relationship constructs were retrofitted as a data modeling construct for the relational model, and the difference between the two have become irrelevant.
1980s, on the desktop
The 1980s ushered in the age of desktop computing. The new computers empowered their users with spreadsheets like Lotus 1-2-3 and database software like dBASE. The dBASE product was lightweight and easy for any computer user to understand out of the box. C. Wayne Ratliff, the creator of dBASE, stated: “dBASE was different from programs like BASIC, C, FORTRAN, and COBOL in that a lot of the dirty work had already been done. The data manipulation is done by dBASE instead of by the user, so the user can concentrate on what he is doing, rather than having to mess with the dirty details of opening, reading, and closing files, and managing space allocation.” dBASE was one of the top selling software titles in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The 1990s, along with a rise in object-oriented programming, saw a growth in how data in various databases were handled. Programmers and designers began to treat the data in their databases as objects. That is to say that if a person’s data were in a database, that person’s attributes, such as their address, phone number, and age, were now considered to belong to that person instead of being extraneous data. This allows for relations between data to be relations to objects and their attributes and not to individual fields. The term “object-relational impedance mismatch” described the inconvenience of translating between programmed objects and database tables. Object databases and object-relational databases attempt to solve this problem by providing an object-oriented language (sometimes as extensions to SQL) that programmers can use as alternative to purely relational SQL. On the programming side, libraries known as object-relational mappings (ORMs) attempt to solve the same problem.
2000s, NoSQL and NewSQL
XML databases are a type of structured document-oriented database that allows querying based on XML document attributes. XML databases are mostly used in applications where the data is conveniently viewed as a collection of documents, with a structure that can vary from the very flexible to the highly rigid: examples include scientific articles, patents, tax filings, and personnel records.
In recent years, there has been a strong demand for massively distributed databases with high partition tolerance, but according to the CAP theorem it is impossible for a distributed system to simultaneously provide consistency, availability, and partition tolerance guarantees. A distributed system can satisfy any two of these guarantees at the same time, but not all three. For that reason, many NoSQL databases are using what is called eventual consistency to provide both availability and partition tolerance guarantees with a reduced level of data consistency.
NewSQL is a class of modern relational databases that aims to provide the same scalable performance of NoSQL systems for online transaction processing (read-write) workloads while still using SQL and maintaining the ACID guarantees of a traditional database system.