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What is a Database?

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Databases are designed to offer an organized mechanism for storing, managing and retrieving information. They do so through the use of tables. If you’re familiar with spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel, you’re probably already accustomed to storing data in tabular form. It’s not much of a stretch to make the leap from spreadsheets to databases. Let’s take a look.

Database Tables

Just like Excel tables, database tables consist of columns and rows. Each column contains a different type of attribute and each row corresponds to a single record. For example, imagine that we were building a database table that contained names and telephone numbers. We’d probably set up columns named “FirstName”, “LastName” and “TelephoneNumber.” Then we’d simply start adding rows underneath those columns that contained the data we’re planning to store.

If we were building a table of contact information for our business that has 50 employees, we’d wind up with a table that contains 50 rows.

Databases and Spreadsheets

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself an obvious question – if a database is so much like a spreadsheet, why can’t I just use a spreadsheet? Databases are actually much more powerful than spreadsheets in the way you’re able to manipulate data. Here are just a few of the actions that you can perform on a database that would be difficult if not impossible to perform on a spreadsheet:
  • Retrieve all records that match certain criteria
  • Update records in bulk
  • Cross-reference records in different tables
  • Perform complex aggregate calculations
You can correlate information from multiple tables in a database by creating foreign key relationships between the tables.

Let's Explore Databases

This site will help you get started with databases. We explore together the process of choosing database software, importing spreadsheets into databases, using the Structured Query Language and more.
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