what is it?
A database is a collection of information held in a regular manner: a database can be likened to large tables collected together, each table having rows of data in columns which are named.
With that in mind, it is clear that computer processing of information is quick and efficient. It can take small bits of data and expand it to an interesting paragraph. It can collate disparate pieces of information very simply and produce a document from all of it. A database publishing routine can also “tweak” bits of information, for instance when the new automatically produced catalogue comes out, the prices can be easily adjusted for the next year.
We are all aware of databases, for we all know that we are on one or another. What information they hold is another question.
We understand that one field is our name, another is our house name, and so on, and that is just the information from a mailing list. There are other databases which hold a great deal more information than just the sign-up for a newsletter. All this information can be processed and presented either explicitly or transformed in some way.
There are many ways of transforming data. The basic manners are
- substitution – the data is found and it is changed (for instance, a ‘5’ becomes ‘forty-nine days of holiday in the sun’
- scaling – a number is multiplied by a factor of some degree, adding 100% to a price, subtracting 5 units, showing cost, wholesale and retail prices (all based on the cost price, for instance) next to one another, and so on
- import – like substitution, but on steroids, whole paragraphs or even pages come into a document because of a certain configuration of values from a particular table. The import can come from tables within the database or the text can come from boilerplate copy prepared outside of the database publication. This could be how images are used within the document as well.
Databases have many configurations. One of the most powerful types is the relational database, where tables have relationships between themselves, like one record to many, or many to one record. As an example, invoices are created in this way, where the address is held in one table, the contact name is in another, the invoice itself is in another, and the items ordered are in another table. These all have different relationships to each other, for instance
This complexity of tables in relationship to one another has inspired many database programs and schema for dealing with the data held in tables. Sometimes people confuse a sophisticated spreadsheet with a relational database. They are not the same thing, although often the output from them can be the same.
Let’s see what we might have.