Databases can be organized in many different ways, and thus take many forms. The most popular form of database today is the relational database. Popular examples of relational databases are Microsoft Access, MySQL, and Oracle. A relational database is one in which data is organized into one or more tables. Each table has a set of fields, which define the nature of the data stored in the table. A record is one instance of a set of fields in a table. To visualize this, think of the records as the rows of the table and the fields as the columns of the table. In the example below, we have a table of student information, with each row representing a student and each column representing one piece of information about the student.
In a relational database, all the tables are related by one or more fields, so that it is possible to connect all the tables in the database through the field(s) they have in common. For each table, one of the fields is identified as a primary key. This key is the unique identifier for each record in the table. To help you understand these terms further, let’s walk through the process of designing a database.
Other Types of Databases
The relational database model is the most used database model today. However, many other database models exist that provide different strengths than the relational model. The hierarchical database model, popular in the 1960s and 1970s, connected data together in a hierarchy, allowing for a parent/child relationship between data. The document-centric model allowed for a more unstructured data storage by placing data into “documents” that could then be manipulated.
Perhaps the most interesting new development is the concept of NoSQL (from the phrase “not only SQL”). NoSQL arose from the need to solve the problem of large-scale databases spread over several servers or even across the world. For a relational database to work properly, it is important that only one person be able to manipulate a piece of data at a time, a concept known as record-locking. But with today’s large-scale databases (think Google and Amazon), this is just not possible. A NoSQL database can work with data in a looser way, allowing for a more unstructured environment, communicating changes to the data over time to all the servers that are part of the database.