10.1. Database Fundamentals

There are tools available to help you create and manage databases, many of which hide the complexities of the underlying data structures. Ruby on Rails, for example, abstracts all database access and makes most direct access unnecessary, as do component technologies such as Enterprise JavaBeans and many object-oriented frameworks. Still, you need an understanding of how relational databases work to make good design decisions.

10.1.1. Relational Databases

Relational databases originated in the 1960s from the work of E. F. Codd, a computer scientist who designed a database system based on the concepts of relational algebra. However, you don't need to understand relational algebra or other mathematical concepts to use a relational database.

Data in a relational database is stored in tables, which consist of rows and columns. (A set of tables is referred to as a schema.) Each table has at least one column, but there may be no rows. Each column has a type associated with it, which limits the type of data that can be stored in the column, as well as additional constraints. Although the columns are ordered, the rows aren't. Any ordering that is required is done when the data is fetched (via a query) from the database.

Most tables have keys, although it's not a requirement (but it is good design). A key is a column or set of columns that uniquely identifies a particular row in the table. One of the keys is designated to be the primary key. For example, in ...

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