Purpose of Database Systems


Database systems arose in response to early methods of computerized
management of commercial data. As an example of such methods, typical of the
1960s, consider part of a university organization that, among other data, keeps
information about all instructors, students, departments, and course offerings.
One way to keep the information on a computer is to store it in operating
system files. To allow users to manipulate the information, the system has a
number of application programs that manipulate the files, including programs

ü Add new students,
instructors, and courses

ü Register students for courses
and generate class rosters

ü Assign grades to students,
compute grade point averages (GPA), and generate transcripts


System programmers wrote these application programs to meet the needs of
the university.

New application programs are added to the system as the need arises. For
example, suppose that a university decides to create a new major (say, computer
science).As a result, the university creates a new department and creates new
permanent files (or adds information to existing files) to record information
about all the instructors in the department, students in that major, course
offerings, degree requirements, etc. The university may have to write new
application programs to deal with rules specific to the new major. New
application programs may also have to be written to handle new rules in the
university. Thus, as time goes by, the system acquires more files and more application


This typical file-processing
is supported by a conventional operating system. The system stores
permanent records in various files, and it needs different application programs
to extract records from, and add records to, the appropriate files. Before
database management systems (DBMSs) were introduced, organizations usually
stored information in such systems. Keeping organizational information in a
file processing system has a number of major disadvantages: 


Data redundancy and
Since different programmers create the files and application programs over a
long period, the various files are likely to have different structures and the
programs may be written in several programming languages. Moreover, the same
information may be duplicated in several places (files). For example, if a
student has a double major (say, music and mathematics) the address and
telephone number of that student may appear in a file that consists of student
records of students in the Music department and in a file that consists of
student records of students in the Mathematics department. This redundancy
leads to higher storage and access cost. In addition, it may lead to data inconsistency; that is, the
various copies of the same data may no longer agree. For example, a changed
student address may be reflected in the Music department records but not
elsewhere in the system.


Difficulty in accessing data. Suppose that one of the
university clerks needs to find out the names of all students who live within a
particular postal-code area. The clerk asks the data-processing department to
generate such a list. Because the designers of the original system did not
anticipate this request, there is no application program on hand to meet it.
There is, however, an application program to generate the list of all students. 


The university clerk has now two choices: either obtain the list of all
students and extract the needed information manually or ask a programmer to
write the necessary application program. Both alternatives are obviously
unsatisfactory. Suppose that such a program is written, and that, several days
later, the same clerk needs to trim that list to include only those students
who have taken at least 60 credit hours. As expected, a program to generate
such a list does not exist. Again, the clerk has the preceding two options,
neither of which is satisfactory. The point here is that conventional
file-processing environments do not allow needed data to be retrieved in a convenient
and efficient manner. More responsive data-retrieval systems are required for
general use.


Data isolation. Because data are scattered
in various files, and files may be in different formats, writing new
application programs to retrieve the appropriate data is difficult. 


Integrity problems. The data values stored in
the database must satisfy certain types of consistency
. Suppose the university maintains an account for each
department, and records the balance amount in each account. Suppose also that
the university requires that the account balance of a department may never fall
below zero. Developers enforce these constraints in the system by adding appropriate
code in the various application programs. However, when new constraints are
added, it is difficult to change the programs to enforce them. The problem is
compounded when constraints involve several data items from different files.


Atomicity problems. A computer system, like any
other device, is subject to failure. In many applications, it is crucial that,
if a failure occurs, the data  be
restored to the consistent state that existed prior to the failure. 


Consider a program to transfer $500 from the account balance of
department A to the account balance
of department B. If a system failure
occurs during the execution of the program, it is possible that the $500 was
removed from the balance of department A but
was not credited to the balance of department B, resulting in an inconsistent database state. Clearly, it is
essential to database consistency that either both the credit and debit occur,
or that neither occur. 


That is, the funds transfer must be atomic—it
must happen in its entirety or not at all. It is difficult to ensure atomicity
in a conventional file-processing system.


Concurrent-access anomalies. For the sake of overall
performance of the system and faster response, many systems allow multiple
users to update the data simultaneously. Indeed, today, the largest Internet
retailers may have millions of accesses per day to their data by shoppers. In
such an environment, interaction of concurrent updates is possible and may
result in inconsistent data. Consider department A, with an account balance of $10,000. If two department clerks
debit the account balance (by say $500 and $100, respectively) of department A at almost exactly the same time, the
result of the concurrent executions may leave the budget in an incorrect (or
inconsistent) state. Suppose that the programs executing on behalf of each
withdrawal read the old balance, reduce that value by the amount being
withdrawn, and write the result back. If the two programs run concurrently,
they may both read the value $10,000, and write back $9500 and $9900,
respectively. Depending on which one writes the value last, the account balance
of department A may contain either
$9500 or $9900, rather than the correct value of $9400. To guard against this
possibility, the system must maintain some form of supervision.

But supervision is difficult to provide because data may be accessed by
many different application programs that have not been coordinated


As another example, suppose a registration program maintains a count of
students registered for a course, in order to enforce limits on the number of
students registered. When a student registers, the program reads the current
count for the courses, verifies that the count is not already at the limit,
adds one to the count, and stores the count back in the database. Suppose two
students register concurrently, with the count at (say) 39. The two program
executions may both read the value 39, and both would then write back 40,
leading to an incorrect increase of only 1, even though two students
successfully registered for the course and the count should be 41. Furthermore,
suppose the course registration limit was 40; in the above case both students
would be able to register, leading to a violation of the limit of 40 students.


Security problems. Not every user of the
database system should be able to access all the data. For example, in a
university, payroll personnel need to see only that part of the database that
has financial information. They do not need access to information about
academic records. But, since application programs are added to the
file-processing system in an ad hoc manner, enforcing such security constraints
is difficult.


These difficulties, among others, prompted the development of database
systems. In what follows, we shall see the concepts and algorithms that enable
database systems to solve the problems with file-processing systems. 

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