Any collection of data can be called a database, but that designation is usually reserved for a collection of data that has a well defined structure. The cost of this structure is a formal interface that manages access to the data. The benefit of this structure is a level of data protection that is not available in non-data base products. Modern database products offer many additional features, such as the ability to view the data the way you want to see it, to send and receive email, to connect to the internet, and to set up security so that different people have different access to the data.
The basic building block of the database is the table. A table can be compared to a spreadsheet. Consider, for example, a table that contains information about customers: name, account balance, etc. Tables are made up of records; each record contains information about a specific customer. This would correspond to a row in a spreadsheet. Records are made up of fields; a field contains a portion of the information, such as name, account balance, etc. This would correspond to a column in a spreadsheet. The basic power of a database comes from this rigid structure: if a field is designed to hold something, such as a phone number, it will never hold anything else.
A user is not required to look at the data all at once. The data may be queried to obtain a portion of the information that is of interest. For example you may want to see all people who have phone numbers in the 213 area code. The data may also be sorted. For example, after you get a list of people in the 213 area code, you may want to sort them by name.
If the user wishes to see a list of all those people, as selected and sorted above, it would be called a "list" view. If the user further wishes to see all the information about a specific person from that list, then that is called a "detail" view. Selecting and ordering information does not change the data at all, it merely alters how it is presented to the user.
Data can be added to or deleted from the database. It can also be modified. The User Interface governs how this is done. For example, customers can be looked up one at a time and have their phone numbers updated. Global changes can also be made. For example, a method can be developed that will be run on a the first of the month and apply finance charges based on their outstanding balance.
There is a lot more to database technology than this. If you would like more information, please feel free to discuss this and other issues with us as a part of your free data management needs analysis!
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