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1.1: File-based System

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    The way in which computers manage data has come a long way over the last few decades. Today’s users take for granted the many benefits found in a database system. However, it wasn’t that long ago that computers relied on a much less elegant and costly approach to data management called the file-based system.

    File-based System

    One way to keep information on a computer is to store it in permanent files. A company system has a number of application programs; each of them is designed to manipulate data files. These application programs have been written at the request of the users in the organization. New applications are added to the system as the need arises. The system just described is called the file-based system.

    Consider a traditional banking system that uses the file-based system to manage the organization’s data shown in Figure 1.1. As we can see, there are different departments in the bank. Each has its own applications that manage and manipulate different data files. For banking systems, the programs may be used to debit or credit an account, find the balance of an account, add a new mortgage loan and generate monthly statements.

    Diagram with three coloured drawings: one of a woman and two men sitting and talking; the second shows a man shaking hands with a woman, both are standing and holding briefcases; the third is of a woman sitting. There are also drawings of labelled files, such as Employees, Checking Accounts and Mortgage Loans.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Example of a file-based system used by banks to manage data. (CC-BY-SA; Adrienne Watt via Website)

    Disadvantages of the file-based approach

    Using the file-based system to keep organizational information has a number of disadvantages. Listed below are five examples.

    Data redundancy

    Often, within an organization, files and applications are created by different programmers from various departments over long periods of time. This can lead to data redundancy, a situation that occurs in a database when a field needs to be updated in more than one table. This practice can lead to several problems such as:

    • Inconsistency in data format
    • The same information being kept in several different places (files)
    • Data inconsistency, a situation where various copies of the same data are conflicting, wastes storage space and duplicates effort

    Data isolation

    Data isolation  is a property that determines when and how changes made by one operation become visible to other concurrent users and systems. This issue occurs in a concurrency situation. This is a problem because:

    • It is difficult for new applications to retrieve the appropriate data, which might be stored in various files.

    Integrity problems

    Problems with data integrity is another disadvantage of using a file-based system. It refers to the maintenance and assurance that the data in a database are correct and consistent. Factors to consider when addressing this issue are:

    • Data values must satisfy certain consistency constraints that are specified in the application programs.
    • It is difficult to make changes to the application programs in order to enforce new constraints.

    Security problems

    Security can be a problem with a file-based approach because: 

    • There are constraints regarding accessing privileges.
    • Application requirements are added to the system in an ad-hoc manner so it is difficult to enforce constraints.

    Concurrency access

    Concurrency is the ability of the database to allow multiple users access to the same record without adversely affecting transaction processing. A file-based system must manage, or prevent, concurrency by the application programs. Typically, in a file-based system, when an application opens a file, that file is locked. This means that no one else has access to the file at the same time.

    In database systems, concurrency is managed thus allowing multiple users access to the same record. This is an important difference between database and file-based systems.

    1.1: File-based System is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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