1.1 What is a database anyway?

The first thing I always like to do is talk about what a database actually is. I think most people know the basic idea about what a database is. You ask my old man and he could probably tell you it holds data, as the name kind of says it all. However, not many people know how they work or even a basic idea of their structure. Like most things we don’t understand, we try to chalk it up to magic. Databases are magical, but unfortunately not magic.

So what is a database? The simple answer is that databases are systems that store, maintain, and retrieve data. However, that doesn’t really tell us much more than what we already inferred from the name. For now, think of table structures like we have all seen in our favorite spreadsheet software (such as Excel, LibreOffice Calc, and Google Sheets). A database is a collection of tables that can be connected. A popular and specific type of database is called the RDBMS: Relational Database Management System. The key word is relational, as with RDBMS databases, the key feature is that the data is organized logically and then connected. So to help give a visualization, imagine tables that are connected or related to other tables to form hierarchies and dependencies.

If you have a hard time visualizing it now don’t fret. We will dive into the various structures of a relational database throughout the course and will really build out your understanding of what a database is. I often tell students that databases are tricky because they are a learning circle in the fact that the various components and concepts often rely on each other. I have found the best way to understand is to dive into a table structure and get a good foundation of understanding.