What is an RDBMS?

What Is an RDBMS?

In recent years, database management systems (DBMS) have established themselves as the primary means of data storage for information systems ranging from large commercial transaction processing applications to PC-based desktop applications. At the heart of most of today’s information systems is a relational database management system (RDBMS). RDBMSs have been the workhorse for data management operations for over a decade and continue to evolve and mature, providing sophisticated storage, retrieval, and distribution functions to enterprise-wide data processing and information management systems. Compared to the file systems, relational database management systems provide organizations with the capability to easily integrate and leverage the massive amounts of operational data into meaningful information systems. The evolution of high-powered database engines such as Oracle7 has fostered the development of advanced “enabling” technologies including client/server, data warehousing, and online analytical processing, all of which comprise the core of today’s state-of-the-art information management systems.

Examine the components of the term relational database management system. First, a database is an integrated collection of related data. Given a specific data item, the structure of a database facilitates the access to data related to it, such as a student and all of his registered courses or an employee and his dependents. Next, a relational database is a type of database based in the relational model; non-relational databases commonly use a hierarchical, network, or object-oriented modelas their basis. Finally, a relational database management system is the software that manages a relational database. These systems come in several varieties, ranging from single-user desktop systems to full-featured, global, enterprise-wide systems, such as Oracle7.

This chapter discusses the basic elements of a relational database management system, the relational database, and the software systems that manage it. Also included is a discussion of nonprocedural data access. If you are a new user to relational database technology, you’ll have to change your thinking somewhat when it comes to referencing data nonprocedurally.

The Relational Database Model

Most of the database management systems used by commercial applications today are based on one of three basic models: the hierarchical model, the network model, or the relational model. The following sections describe the various differences and similarities of the models.

Hierarchical and Network Models

The first commercially available database management systems were of the CODASYL type, and many of them are still in use with mainframe-based, COBOL applications. Both network and hierarchical databases are quite complex in that they rely on the use of permanent internal pointers to relate records to each other. For example, in an accounts payable application, a vendor record might contain a physical pointer in its record structure that points to purchase order records. Each purchase order record in turn contains pointers to purchase order line item records.

The process of inserting, updating, and deleting records using these types of databases requires synchronization of the pointers, a task that must be performed by the application. As you might imagine, this pointer maintenance requires a significant amount of application code (usually written in COBOL) that at times can be quite cumbersome.

Elements of the Relational Model

Relational databases rely on the actual attribute values as opposed to internal pointers to link records. Instead of using an internal pointer from the vendor record to purchase order records, you would link the purchase order record to the vendor record using a common attribute from each record, such as the vendor identification number.

Although the concepts of academic theory underlying the relational model are somewhat complex, you should be familiar with are some basic concepts and terminology. Essentially, there are three basic components of the relational model: relational data structures, constraints that govern the organization of the data structures, and operations that are performed on the data structures.

Relational Data Structures

The relational model supports a single, “logical” structure called a relation, a two-dimensional data structure commonly called a table in the “physical” database. Attributes represent the atomic data elements that are related by the relation. For example, the Customer relation might contain such attributes about a customer as the customer number, customer name, region, credit status, and so on.

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