Database model


Database model

A database model is the theoretical foundation of a database and fundamentally determines in which manner data can be stored, organized, and manipulated in a database system. It thereby defines the infrastructure offered by a particular database system. The most popular example of a database model is the relational model.

Collage of five types of database models.

Contents

Overview

A database model is a theory or specification describing how a database is structured and used. Several such models have been suggested.

Common models include:

A data model is not just a way of structuring data: it also defines a set of operations that can be performed on the data. The relational model, for example, defines operations such as select (project) and join. Although these operations may not be explicit in a particular query language, they provide the foundation on which a query language is built.

Models

Various techniques are used to model data structure. Most database systems are built around one particular data model, although it is possible for products to offer support for more than one model. For any logical model various physical implementations may be possible, and most products will offer the user some level of control in tuning the physical implementation, since the choices that are made have a significant effect on performance.

Flat model

Flat File Model.

The flat (or table) model consists of a single, two-dimensional array of data elements, where all members of a given column are assumed to be similar values, and all members of a row are assumed to be related to one another. For instance, columns for name and password that might be used as a part of a system security database. Each row would have the specific password associated with an individual user. Columns of the table often have a type associated with them, defining them as character data, date or time information, integers, or floating point numbers. This may not strictly qualify as a data model, as defined above.

Hierarchical model

Hierarchical Model.

In a hierarchical model, data is organized into a tree-like structure, implying a single upward link in each record to describe the nesting, and a sort field to keep the records in a particular order in each same-level list. Hierarchical structures were widely used in the early mainframe database management systems, such as the Information Management System (IMS) by IBM, and now describe the structure of XML documents. This structure allows one 1:M relationship between two types of data. This structure is very efficient to describe many relationships in the real world; recipes, table of contents, ordering of paragraphs/verses, any nested and sorted information. However, the hierarchical structure is inefficient for certain database operations when a full path (as opposed to upward link and sort field) is not also included for each record.

Mother–child relationship: Child may only have one mother but a mother can have multiple children. Mothers and children are tied together by links called "pointers". A mother will have a list of pointers to each of her children.

Network model

Network Model.

The network model (defined by the CODASYL specification) organizes data using two fundamental concepts, called records and sets. Records contain fields (which may be organized hierarchically, as in the programming language COBOL). Sets (not to be confused with mathematical sets) define one-to-many relationships between records: one owner, many members. A record may be an owner in any number of sets, and a member in any number of sets.

The network model is a variation on the hierarchical model, to the extent that it is built on the concept of multiple branches (lower-level structures) emanating from one or more nodes (higher-level structures), while the model differs from the hierarchical model in that branches can be connected to multiple nodes. The network model is able to represent redundancy in data more efficiently than in the hierarchical model.

The operations of the network model are navigational in style: a program maintains a current position, and navigates from one record to another by following the relationships in which the record participates. Records can also be located by supplying key values.

Although it is not an essential feature of the model, network databases generally implement the set relationships by means of pointers that directly address the location of a record on disk. This gives excellent retrieval performance, at the expense of operations such as database loading and reorganization.

Most object databases use the navigational concept to provide fast navigation across networks of objects, generally using object identifiers as "smart" pointers to related objects. Objectivity/DB, for instance, implements named 1:1, 1:many, many:1 and many:many named relationships that can cross databases. Many object databases also support SQL, combining the strengths of both models.

Relational model

Example of a Relational Model.

The relational model was introduced by E.F. Codd in 1970[1] as a way to make database management systems more independent of any particular application. It is a mathematical model defined in terms of predicate logic and set theory.

The products that are generally referred to as relational databases in fact implement a model that is only an approximation to the mathematical model defined by Codd. Three key terms are used extensively in relational database models: relations, attributes, and domains. A relation is a table with columns and rows. The named columns of the relation are called attributes, and the domain is the set of values the attributes are allowed to take.

The basic data structure of the relational model is the table, where information about a particular entity (say, an employee) is represented in rows (also called tuples) and columns. Thus, the "relation" in "relational database" refers to the various tables in the database; a relation is a set of tuples. The columns enumerate the various attributes of the entity (the employee's name, address or phone number, for example), and a row is an actual instance of the entity (a specific employee) that is represented by the relation. As a result, each tuple of the employee table represents various attributes of a single employee.

All relations (and, thus, tables) in a relational database have to adhere to some basic rules to qualify as relations. First, the ordering of columns is immaterial in a table. Second, there can't be identical tuples or rows in a table. And third, each tuple will contain a single value for each of its attributes.

A relational database contains multiple tables, each similar to the one in the "flat" database model. One of the strengths of the relational model is that, in principle, any value occurring in two different records (belonging to the same table or to different tables), implies a relationship among those two records. Yet, in order to enforce explicit integrity constraints, relationships between records in tables can also be defined explicitly, by identifying or non-identifying parent-child relationships characterized by assigning cardinality (1:1, (0)1:M, M:M). Tables can also have a designated single attribute or a set of attributes that can act as a "key", which can be used to uniquely identify each tuple in the table.

A key that can be used to uniquely identify a row in a table is called a primary key. Keys are commonly used to join or combine data from two or more tables. For example, an Employee table may contain a column named Location which contains a value that matches the key of a Location table. Keys are also critical in the creation of indexes, which facilitate fast retrieval of data from large tables. Any column can be a key, or multiple columns can be grouped together into a compound key. It is not necessary to define all the keys in advance; a column can be used as a key even if it was not originally intended to be one.

A key that has an external, real-world meaning (such as a person's name, a book's ISBN, or a car's serial number) is sometimes called a "natural" key. If no natural key is suitable (think of the many people named Brown), an arbitrary or surrogate key can be assigned (such as by giving employees ID numbers). In practice, most databases have both generated and natural keys, because generated keys can be used internally to create links between rows that cannot break, while natural keys can be used, less reliably, for searches and for integration with other databases. (For example, records in two independently developed databases could be matched up by social security number, except when the social security numbers are incorrect, missing, or have changed.)

Dimensional model

The dimensional model is a specialized adaptation of the relational model used to represent data in data warehouses in a way that data can be easily summarized using OLAP queries. In the dimensional model, a database schema consists of a single large table of facts that are described using dimensions and measures. A dimension provides the context of a fact (such as who participated, when and where it happened, and its type) and is used in queries to group related facts together. Dimensions tend to be discrete and are often hierarchical; for example, the location might include the building, state, and country. A measure is a quantity describing the fact, such as revenue. It's important that measures can be meaningfully aggregated--for example, the revenue from different locations can be added together.

In an OLAP query, dimensions are chosen and the facts are grouped and aggregated together to create a summary.

The dimensional model is often implemented on top of the relational model using a star schema, consisting of one highly normalized table containing the facts, and surrounding denormalized tables containing each dimension. An alternative physical implementation, called a snowflake schema, normalizes multi-level hierarchies within a dimension into multiple tables.

A data warehouse can contain multiple dimensional schemas that share dimension tables, allowing them to be used together. Coming up with a standard set of dimensions is an important part of dimensional modeling.

Objectional database models

Example of a Object-Oriented Model.

In recent years, the object-oriented paradigm has been applied to database technology, creating a new programming model known as object databases. 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 the 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 end, 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 have the ability to find 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 databases suffered because of a lack of standardization: although standards were defined by ODMG, they were never implemented well enough to ensure interoperability between products. Nevertheless, object databases have been used successfully in many applications: usually specialized applications such as engineering databases or molecular biology databases rather than mainstream commercial data processing. However, object database ideas were picked up by the relational vendors and influenced extensions made to these products and indeed to the SQL language.

References

  1. ^ E.F. Codd (1970). "A relational model of data for large shared data banks". In: Communications of the ACM archive. Vol 13. Issue 6(June 1970). pp.377-387.

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