Hierarchical Database: Model & Definition

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  • 0:04 What Is a Hierarchical…
  • 0:41 Uses
  • 1:06 How a Hierarchical…
  • 2:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

How do you efficiently organize data that is dependent on both the data above it and below it? You'd need a hierarchical database to establish these 'parent-child' relationships, and that's what we'll be learning in this lesson.

What is a Hierarchical Database?

As you probably know, there are a number of different kinds of database structures in existence. One of the most common is a hierarchical database. A hierarchical database uses different levels of data that follow a pattern that resembles a hierarchy. In other words, you start at one table, and depending on the record that you query, you gain access to other tables of information. However, those tables are only linked to either the table above them or the table below them. This makes them incredibly useful for gathering information that follows a specific order, or dare I say, hierarchy. Let's take a look at some uses of hierarchical databases, as well as see how one would work in the real world.

Hierarchical Databases: Uses

Hierarchical databases are useful when two conditions are met. Firstly, the data has to follow a hierarchical pattern. This means that there have to be relationships between the data that could have it visually 'stacked.' Think of a family tree and you're getting the idea. Sometimes you'll see this called a parent-child relationship, even though people are not always the sources of the data. Second, the data that is being stacked should only be accessible through a single path.

How a Hierarchal Database Works

To best understand how a hierarchical database works, let's take a look at an example. Many colleges and universities like to store information about their classes online. Obviously, it would be impractical to go through every class anytime someone wants to find out the course description or the syllabus for a specific module. Instead, hierarchical databases are used. Here's how it looks.

First, the original table allows users to select different schools within the university. There may be specific tables for the undergraduate college plus, for example, the law school or the medical school. Each college or school at the university is an entry in this first database.

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