Database Concepts and Structures: The Elements That Make Up a Database

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  • 0:05 What Are Data?
  • 0:41 Database Structure
  • 4:25 Data vs. Information
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

Learn the fundamental elements of databases and how they are structured. One common data structure is a database table, which uses records and fields to organize data.

What are Data?

Data are basic facts or values. Every task a computer carries out works with data in some way. Without data, computers would be pretty useless. It is therefore important to understand what data are and how to represent and organize data. The term 'data' is considered plural in the scientific community, as in 'The data are collected,' not 'The data is collected.' However, not everyone follows this, so sometimes you will see 'data' used as singular.

Database Structure

A database is an organized collection of data. Instead of having all the data in a list with a random order, a database provides a structure to organize the data. One of the most common data structures is a database table. A database table consists of rows and columns. A database table is also called a two-dimensional array. An array is like a list of values, and each value is identified by a specific index. A two-dimensional array uses two indices, which correspond to the rows and columns of a table.

In database terminology, each row is called a record. A record is also called an object or an entity. In other words, a database table is a collection of records. The records in a table are the objects you are interested in, such as the books in a library catalog or the customers in a sales database. A field corresponds to a column in the table and represents a single value for each record. A field is also called an attribute. In other words, a record is a collection of related attributes that make up a single database entry.

The example shows a simple database table of customers. Each customer has a unique identifier (Customer ID), a name, and a telephone number. These are the fields. The first row is called the header row and indicates the name of each field. Following the header row, each record is a unique customer.

Notice a few things about the table. First, all the data values in a single field or column are of the same kind - they are the same data type. Second, the data values in a single record or row can consist of different types, such as numbers and text. Third, there are no empty rows or columns. Individual data values can be missing, but there are no blank records or fields. These properties make a database table quite different from a table in a word processing or spreadsheet application.

The database structure imposes certain constraints on the data values, which makes it more reliable. For example, for the phone number, you cannot enter text, since that wouldn't make sense.

While this example is quite simple, you can easily imagine what else could be stored in such a database. For example, you could store the customer's mailing address, billing information, history of past purchases, etc. For an organization with many thousands of customers, this quickly becomes a large database. To use a large database effectively, you can use a database management system (DBMS). A DBMS is specialized software to input, store, retrieve and manage all the data.

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