Database, Database Server, and Database Language

Database, Database Server, and Database Language

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a database language used for formulating statements that are processed by a database server. This sentence contains three important concepts: database, database server, and database language. We begin with an explanation of each of these terms.

What is a database? In this book, we use a definition that is derived from Chris J. Date's definition; see [Date 95]:

A database consists of some collection of persistent data that is used by the application systems of some given enterprise, and that is managed by a database management system.

Card index files do not, therefore, constitute a database. On the other hand, the large files of banks, insurance companies, telephone companies, or the state transport department can be considered databases. These databases contain data about addresses, account balances, car registration plates, weights of vehicles, and so on. For example, the company you work for probably has its own computers, and these are used to store salary-related data.

Data in a database becomes useful only if something is done with it. According to the definition, data in the database is managed by a separate programming system. We call this system a database server or database-management system (DBMS). MySQL is such a database server. A database server enables users to process data stored in a database. Without a database server, it is impossible to look at data, or to update or delete obsolete data, in the database. The database server alone knows where and how data is stored. A definition of a database server is given in [ELMA03] by R. Elmasri:

A database server is a collection of programs that enables users to create and maintain a database.

A database server never changes or deletes the data in a database by itself. Someone or something has to give the command for this to happen. Examples of commands that a user could give to the database server are "delete all data about the vehicle with the registration plate number DR-12-DP" or "give the names of all the companies that haven't paid the invoices of last March." However, users cannot communicate with the database server directly. Commands are given to a database server with the help of an application. An application is always between the user and the database server. Section 1.4 discusses this subject.

The definition of the term database also contains the word persistent. This means that data in a database remains there permanently, until it is changed or deleted explicitly. If you store new data in a database and the database server sends the message back that the storage operation was successful, you can be sure that the data will still be there tomorrow (even if you switch off your computer). This is unlike the data that we store in the internal memory of a computer. If the computer is switched off, that data is lost forever; it is, therefore, not persistent.

Commands are given to a database server with the help of special languages called database languages. Commands, also known as statements, which are formulated according to the rules of the database language, are entered by users using special software and are processed by the database server. Every database server, from whichever manufacturer, possesses a database language. Some systems support more than one. All these languages are different, which makes it possible to divide them into groups. The relational database languages form one of these groups. An example of such a language is SQL.

How does a database server store data in a database? A database server uses neither a chest of drawers nor a filing cabinet to hold information; instead, computers work with storage media such as tapes, floppy disks, and magnetic and optical disks. The manner in which a database server stores information on these media is very complex and technical, and it is not explained in detail in this book. In fact, it is not required to have this technical knowledge because one of the most important tasks of a database server is to offer data independence. This means that users do not need to know how or where data is stored: To users, a database is simply a large reservoir of information. Storage methods are also completely independent of the database language being used. In a way, this resembles the process of checking luggage at an airport. It is none of our business where and how the airline stores our luggage; the only thing we are interested in is whether the luggage is at our destination upon arrival.

Another important task of a database server is to maintain the integrity of the data stored in a database. This means, first, that the database server has to make sure that database data always satisfies the rules that apply in the real world. Consider, for example, the case of an employee who is allowed to work for one department only. It should never be possible, in a database managed by a database server, for that particular employee to be registered as working for two or more departments. Second, integrity means that two different pieces of database data do not contradict one another. This is also known as data consistency. (As an example, in one place in a database, Mr. Johnson might be recorded as being born on August 4, 1964, and in another place he might be given a birth date of December 14, 1946. These two pieces of data are obviously inconsistent.) Each database server is designed to recognize statements that can be used to specify constraints. After these rules are entered, the database server takes care of their implementation.

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