Chapter 1. Databases: The What, Why, and How

You'll find no shortage of references to data and databases in books, magazines, TV shows, and Web articles. In fact, referring to databases has become so commonplace that most people take it as shorthand for the use of sophisticated computer techniques to track and analyze information — and indeed computerized databases are everywhere. Despite this, databases have existed much longer than computers, and the basic concept has its origins in much more humble methods of information storage and retrieval.

The term database refers to any collection of ordered information, whether a computer is involved or not. So everything from the four-day weather forecast to your grocery list to a pocket dictionary is a database. In fact, this book, with its table of contents and index, is a database too, offering a compendium of useful data and several useful ways to access it. In the same way, computer databases mirror all the other familiar data management techniques that have been used throughout centuries — allowing you to organize information, store it, and access it efficiently.

The first and most important principle of any data organization method is that what you get out is only as good as what went in. In many cases (unless the way the information is organized is carefully conceived and ...

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