What is a Database? Basic Databases Explained!

Posted by Josh Fewell on May 3rd 2021

What is a Database?  Basic Databases Explained!

What is a Database?

If you've found yourself wondering, "What is a database?"; the massive amounts of info on the web can overwhelm you. Don't worry! We use databases, at their most basic level, in our everyday lives.

Simply put, a database is any collection of structured or organized information. So, if you've ever written a shopping list or had a to-do list for house projects, that's a database!

But what if there's much more info I need to organize?

Have you ever used spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets? These are perfect examples of intermediate-level databases. While a shopping list only contains one subject per line, a spreadsheet can store far more data.

For example, suppose you run a small bakery. In that case, you need to keep track of all your customers' info like their name, order number, contact phone, baked goods on order, and other details. Storing data in tables like this is an example of a relational database.

Relational Databases

The most common way to store large amounts of data is by using a relational database. In a relational database, you keep all information concerning other pieces of data. For example, if you look up a customer's order number, multiple details are attached to that order number. And if you look up a specific bakery item, there are numerous orders for that item. Lastly, looking up a customer name returns several different orders. All of your data is tied together so that you can reference it in different ways.

With a more extensive database, you'll need a way to access all of your data in a short time frame. It would be very time-consuming to crawl through an elaborate spreadsheet looking for specific data. Every site or app with a database utilizes a tool to interact with it most efficiently—this a database management system (DBMS).

Database Management Systems

DBMSs exist as an interface between a user of an application and the data for which they’re looking, allowing users to perform all basic database operations. These operations are to create, read, update, and delete data (CRUD) as well as other functions. Nearly all DBMSs for relational databases use a Structured Query Language (SQL) to perform basic operations.

Structured Query Language

SQL is the language used to communicate with databases. A DBMS using SQL will interpret your search request and hunt through the database for you to perform the CRUD operation.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) named SQL the standard language for all relational DBMSs. A few of the most common database management systems that use SQL are Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL. All DBMSs complete the same task, but they use their unique variation of SQL to get the job done.

A Real-World Example

One of the most beneficial ways databases improve internal workflow in organizations is Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications. Whether it be software to manage inventory or catalog customer interactions for sales, ERPs interact with a database that logs the valuable information.

The future of databases is still changing despite using the same SQL and database structure for the last couple of decades. We’ve even been using (elementary versions of) relational DBMSs since the 1970s. While relational databases are still the most common, there are still other versions such as NoSQL (an object-oriented database) and NewSQL. NewSQL tried to keep the SQL model while matching the performance of NoSQL.

In conclusion, databases are an integral part of our modern workflow. While there is a seemingly overwhelming amount of information concerning databases, they are a simple concept. In the future, we’ll take a closer look into database encryption and the security of data. Until then, feel free to write in on the 'contact us' page to request future article topics, and don’t forget to leave a site review!