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SQL and Relational Theory, 2nd Edition by C.J. Date

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SCALAR vs. NONSCALAR TYPES

It’s usual to think of types as being either scalar or nonscalar. Loosely, a type is scalar if it has no user visible components and nonscalar otherwise—and values, variables, attributes, operators, parameters, and expressions of some type T are scalar or nonscalar according as type T itself is scalar or nonscalar. For example:

  • Type INTEGER is a scalar type; hence, values, variables, and so on of type INTEGER are also all scalar, meaning they have no user visible components.

  • Tuple and relation types are nonscalar—the pertinent user visible components being the corresponding attributes—and hence tuple and relation values, variables, and so on are also all nonscalar.

That said, I must now emphasize that these notions are quite informal. Indeed, we’ve already seen that the concept of data value atomicity has no absolute meaning, and “scalarness” is just that same concept by another name. Thus, the relational model certainly doesn’t rely on the scalar vs. nonscalar distinction in any formal sense. In this book, however, I do rely on it informally; I mean, I do find it intuitively useful. To be specific, I use the term scalar in connection with types that are neither tuple nor relation types, and the term nonscalar in connection with types that are either tuple or relation types.[29]

Aside: Another term you’ll sometimes hear used to mean “scalarness” is encapsulation. Be aware, however, that this term is also used—especially in object contexts—to refer to the physical ...

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