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What Is a Database?

In the simplest sense, a database is a collection of records and files that are organized for a particular purpose. You might keep the names and addresses of all your friends or customers on your computer system. Perhaps you collect all the letters you write and organize them by recipient. You might have another set of files in which you keep all your financial data—accounts payable and accounts receivable or your checkbook entries and balances. The word processor documents that you organize by topic are, in the broadest sense, one type of database. The spreadsheet files that you organize according to their uses are another type of database. Shortcuts to all your programs on your Windows Start menu are a kind of database. Internet shortcuts organized in your Favorites folder are a database.

If you’re very organized, you can probably manage several hundred spreadsheets or shortcuts by using folders and subfolders. When you do this, you’re the database manager. But what do you do when the problems you’re trying to solve get too big? How can you easily collect information about all customers and their orders when the data might be stored in several document and spreadsheet files? How can you maintain links between the files when you enter new information? How do you ensure that data is being entered correctly? What if you need to share your information with many people but don’t want two people to try updating the same data at the same time? How do you keep duplicate copies of data proliferating when people can’t share the same data at the same time? Faced with these challenges, you need a database management system (DBMS).


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