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What Is A Database?

What Is A Database?

In this article, I will attempt to shed some light on the question “what is a database?” and how a database can be useful in organizing large amounts of data. I will also cover exactly how FileMaker Pro helps you to create databases quickly and what advantages you will gain in using this product.

I would like to start off by stating that it is highly important to look up words you don’t know when studying a new subject. The reason for this is that you can grasp the theory of of a subject much more easily when you know the key words, and it makes for easier application.

In order to build FileMaker applications that will really be useful and efficiently built, you must understand what a database is and how it is put together. In can seem like a formidable subject at first, but once you grasp about 5-8 important key words, it becomes a simple subject that will build upon these fundamentals concepts.

What Is A Database?

A database could be defined as a storage place for a series of records or several groups of records. A key characteristic of a database is that its records are accessible in many ways and tend to be structured (have a specific form) instead of being random bits of data.

Probably the easiest way to explain what a database is would be to compare it to an Excel file. While these two things are different, the database can be likened to an Excel file in many ways. As you have probably seen, an Excel file has at least one or more spreadsheets, which, in database talk, is the same as a table made up of columns and rows.

A Word On Tables, Columns and Rows

In the example below, our Excel file contains 3 spreadsheets which would be referred to as “tables” in database terminology. Each table, contains a specific set of structured data, meaning that the data is stored in a way that is the same no matter the record. More specifically, the 3 tables in our Excel file are called People, Locations, and Appointments. Each of these tables/spreadsheets have a different set of structured data. They aren’t the same type of data, but they are somehow related, so they go in the same file/database.

A database compared to an Excel spreadsheet to show what a database is

In Excel, you can navigate between spreadsheets at the bottom of the window, by clicking on the spreadsheet tabs. You will then view the records for each type of data set:

Spreadsheet tabs and titles are like tables in a database

In a database, you would always have at least one table. The table will consist of columns and rows. In our above example, we have 4 columns, called First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, and State. The table also happens to have 4 records (interchangeable can be called rows). Rows are read up and down whereas columns are read from left to right.

Finding Data In A Database – Using Queries

In this way, you can store all data sets in one file without having to make a separate file for each set of records. The reason for doing this is that you can later cross-reference these records and compare the data in each row of a table to records in another table. That is where databases come in handy, and how they are different from Excel files.

For example, say you wanted to do a search for each person from California using our file above. Imagine that this table had something on the order of 5- or 10,000 records. It would be a hassle to have to scroll through a list of so many individuals. Moreover, they may not have been added into the spreadsheet in alphabetical order, making it a daunting and almost impossible task which, at the very least, would be extremely time consuming.

With a database, you could simply perform a query and ask your database to find the pertinent records using a standardized language called SQL (Structured Query Language). The database, being a mixture of storage data and retrieval code, would obediently perform the task in milliseconds, and only show the records that match your criteria.

A typical query of this nature might look something like:

SELECT `FIRST NAME`, `LAST NAME` FROM PEOPLE WHERE `STATE` LIKE "CALIFORNIA"

This would then return the following set of records:

Thomas Smith
Erica Rhodes
Bill Rodgers
Peter Todd

Normally, you have to learn this language in order to know how to ask for your data. Sometimes, it isn’t easy. That is why FileMaker is so powerful–it has tools that get rid of most of the need to directly write query language and allows you to focus on design and functionality. With FileMaker Pro, you don’t need a degree in Computer Science to make a database that will increase efficiency and reduce paperwork.

Summary

A database is a storage and retrieval device with contains a structured set of data that can be accessed in many different ways.

A database always has at least one table, but can have many more, depending on the complexity of your system.

A table consists of columns or fields, and each record/row in that table contains one instance of a set of data.

Tables can be queried to create, retrieve, update or delete records within it, and tables can also be cross-referenced against other tables using SQL (Structured Query Language).

FileMaker Pro uses advanced functionality to eliminate query writing, enabling the user to create advanced table structures and database schema. This allows the user to easily query and display sets of records or cross-referenced data in a database.

How these tables are related to another and how they are tied together is called database schema, (schema means “the form, figure or outline of something.”)

Be sure you check out more articles in this blog to get a better understanding of how FileMaker can help you with your database development.