Databases and database systems have become an essential component of everyday life in modern
society. In the course of a day, most of us encounter several activities that involve some interaction
with a database. For example, if we go to the bank to deposit or withdraw funds; if we make a hotel or
airline reservation; if we access a computerized library catalog to search for a bibliographic item; or if
we order a magazine subscription from a publisher, chances are that our activities will involve someone
accessing a database. Even purchasing items from a supermarket nowadays in many cases involves an
automatic update of the database that keeps the inventory of supermarket items.
The above interactions are examples of what we may call traditional database applications, where
most of the information that is stored and accessed is either textual or numeric. In the past few years,
advances in technology have been leading to exciting new applications of database systems.
Multimedia databases can now store pictures, video clips, and sound messages. Geographic
information systems (GIS) can store and analyze maps, weather data, and satellite images. Data
warehouses and on-line analytical processing (OLAP) systems are used in many companies to
extract and analyze useful information from very large databases for decision making. Real-time and
active database technology is used in controlling industrial and manufacturing processes. And
database search techniques are being applied to the World Wide Web to improve the search for
information that is needed by users browsing through the Internet.
To understand the fundamentals of database technology, however, we must start from the basics of
traditional database applications. So, in Section 1.1 of this chapter we define what a database is, and
then we give definitions of other basic terms. In Section 1.2, we provide a simple UNIVERSITY database
example to illustrate our discussion. Section 1.3 describes some of the main characteristics of database
systems, and Section 1.4 and Section 1.5 categorize the types of personnel whose jobs involve using
and interacting with database systems. Section 1.6, Section 1.7, and Section 1.8 offer a more thorough
discussion of the various capabilities provided by database systems and of the implications of using the
database approach. Section 1.9 summarizes the chapter.
The reader who desires only a quick introduction to database systems can study Section 1.1 through
Section 1.5, then skip or browse through Section 1.6, Section 1.7 and Section 1.8 and go on to Chapter
Databases and database technology are having a major impact on the growing use of computers. It is
fair to say that databases play a critical role in almost all areas where computers are used, including
business, engineering, medicine, law, education, and library science, to name a few. The word database
is in such common use that we must begin by defining a database. Our initial definition is quite
A database is a collection of related data (Note 1). By data, we mean known facts that can be recorded
and that have implicit meaning. For example, consider the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of
the people you know. You may have recorded this data in an indexed address book, or you may have
stored it on a diskette, using a personal computer and software such as DBASE IV or V, Microsoft
ACCESS, or EXCEL. This is a collection of related data with an implicit meaning and hence is a
The preceding definition of database is quite general; for example, we may consider the collection of
words that make up this page of text to be related data and hence to constitute a database. However, the
common use of the term database is usually more restricted. A database has the following implicit
• A database represents some aspect of the real world, sometimes called the miniworld or the
Universe of Discourse (UoD). Changes to the miniworld are reflected in the database.
• A database is a logically coherent collection of data with some inherent meaning. A random
assortment of data cannot correctly be referred to as a database.
• A database is designed, built, and populated with data for a specific purpose. It has an
intended group of users and some preconceived applications in which these users are
In other words, a database has some source from which data are derived, some degree of interaction
with events in the real world, and an audience that is actively interested in the contents of the database.
A database can be of any size and of varying complexity. For example, the list of names and addresses
referred to earlier may consist of only a few hundred records, each with a simple structure. On the other
hand, the card catalog of a large library may contain half a million cards stored under different
categories—by primary author’s last name, by subject, by book title—with each category organized in
alphabetic order. A database of even greater size and complexity is maintained by the Internal Revenue
Service to keep track of the tax forms filed by U.S. taxpayers. If we assume that there are 100 million
tax-payers and if each taxpayer files an average of five forms with approximately 200 characters of
information per form, we would get a database of 100*(106
)*200*5 characters (bytes) of information.
If the IRS keeps the past three returns for each taxpayer in addition to the current return, we would get
a database of 4*(1011) bytes (400 gigabytes). This huge amount of information must be organized and
managed so that users can search for, retrieve, and update the data as needed.
A database may be generated and maintained manually or it may be computerized. The library card
catalog is an example of a database that may be created and maintained manually. A computerized
database may be created and maintained either by a group of application programs written specifically
for that task or by a database management system.
A database management system (DBMS) is a collection of programs that enables users to create and
maintain a database. The DBMS is hence a general-purpose software system that facilitates the
processes of defining, constructing, and manipulating databases for various applications. Defining a
database involves specifying the data types, structures, and constraints for the data to be stored in the
database. Constructing the database is the process of storing the data itself on some storage medium
that is controlled by the DBMS. Manipulating a database includes such functions as querying the
database to retrieve specific data, updating the database to reflect changes in the miniworld, and
generating reports from the data.
It is not necessary to use general-purpose DBMS software to implement a computerized database. We
could write our own set of programs to create and maintain the database, in effect creating our own
special-purpose DBMS software. In either case—whether we use a general-purpose DBMS or not—we
usually have to employ a considerable amount of software to manipulate the database. We will call the
database and DBMS software together a database system. Figure 01.01 illustrates these ideas.
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