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Database definition

What is a database? A database is an organized collection of data electronically stored and managed from a computer system. This system is used to hold large sets of data in a structured manner and make them easily accessible to authorized users.

Databases allow users to keep an archive of past and present data records from specific systems. They are used across a wide variety of industries, from banks tracking customer balances and deposits, to retail stores saving purchase histories and consumer interests. For example, a database is necessary for creating some types of websites, such as an eCommerce site since it collects customer data, as well as stores user information and preferences. The same can be said for any dynamic website.

Evolution of databases

Computerized databases, as a part of web development, were first developed in the 1960s. Since then, the simplicity of the original types of databases evolved into the complex systems used nowadays. Three main forms of databases powered the development of the technologies we know today:

  • Flat databases, or known as a simple database system, record plain text or binary files with no structural indexing between different sets of data. As a result, they offered very limited functionality.

  • Hierarchical databases appeared shortly after, introducing a tree structure that mapped the “parent-child” relationship between data records.

  • Network databases took the hierarchical structure and improved it by allowing datasets to be associated with multiple parent records, thus creating a more complex network. These databases became widely popular throughout the 1970s, before being replaced by relational databases during the 1980s.


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Types of databases

There is a wide variety of database types depending on usage requirements. These are the most common among them:

  • Relational databases organize data file relationships in the form of tables, assigning a connection between every single piece of information and the rest of the database. This type of database became the dominant choice in the 1980s, and is still considered one of the most mature systems to this day.

  • Object-oriented databases store all types of data in the form of objects, following the object-oriented programming paradigm. These objects can be easily referenced and called using a series of attributes and methods, thus significantly reducing the workload on the database.

  • Distributed databases record information across diverse sites of an organization connected to each other via communication links. Data can be collected from the common database as well as local computers, and is easily accessible from any site.

  • NoSQL databases, also known as non-relational databases, provide non-tabular mechanisms for the storage and manipulation of unstructured and semistructured data. There are several types of NoSQL databases based on their data model, with the most common ones being document, key-value stores, wide-column, and graph.

  • Cloud databases are those optimized for deployment on virtualized environments, including both public and private cloud platforms, as well as hybrid cloud systems. Also known as database as service (DBaaS), this type of database is rapidly becoming a cross-industry standard.

How to choose a database?

When it comes to finding the right database, wether it's for how to make a website or not, different people use different criteria. Now that you understand the types of database structures and what they mean, here are few additional questions to answer:

  • Do you need flexibility in the structure of your database?

  • Are you handling large amounts of data?

  • How many users do you expect to handle at peak load?

  • How often do your database schemas change?

  • Where is your user population geographically based?

Database FAQ

How can I improve the performance of my database?

To do this you'll need to optimize your queries, with indexes and other techniques to make them as efficient as possible. Cache data but storing what's accessed most frequently in the memory, so it can be displayed as in. Defragment your database, this makes it faster to access data. Upgrade your hardware for optimum performance.

How can I best secure my database?

How can I backup my database regularly?


Related Term

Content Management System (CMS)

Related Term

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)

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