What beginners need to know about databases

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Data organized in a specific format can be considered a database. There are many applications for databases and they are used in nearly all programs and services that store or retrieve information.

If you’re just starting out with the database, below is a list of the top things you need to know before moving ahead. These facts are guaranteed to work with databases more easily and increase productivity.

1. SQL forms the core of relational databases

You can’t avoid it: The query language has a structure that forms the core of all relational databases. It provides a unified interface for Oracle, SQL Server, Microsoft Access and other relational databases and is “must learn” for all aspiring database users.

Take an introductory SQL course before you even try to learn any specific database software. Investing time will help you build a suitable platform and start taking the right steps into the database world.

W3Schools.com is a great starting place for beginners interested in SQL.

2. Choosing a key is an extremely important decision

Choosing the key is one of the most important decisions you will make when designing a new database. The most important constraint is that you must ensure that the selected key is unique.

If it is possible that two records (past, present or future) can share the same value for an attribute, then it is a poor choice for the primary key. When evaluating this constraint, you should think creatively.

You also need to avoid sensitive values ‚Äč‚Äčthat increase privacy concerns, such as Social Security Numbers.

3. NULL is not a zero or an empty string

NULL is a very special value in the database world, but that’s what beginners often confuse.

When you see a NULL value, explain it as “undefined.” If the number is NULL, that doesn’t necessarily mean zero. Similarly, if the text field holds NULL values, that does not mean that there is no matching value – simply not knowing.

For example, consider a database that contains information about children attending a specific school. If the person entering the record does not know the age of the student, the NULL value is used to indicate the “unknown” placeholder. Students certainly have an age – it just isn’t in the database.

4. Convert spreadsheets to a time-saving database

If you already have tons of data stored in Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet format, you can save yourself a mountain of time by converting those spreadsheets into database tables.

5. All database platforms are NOT created equal

There are many different databases, all of which offer many unique features at different prices.

Some are full-featured enterprise databases designed to store huge data warehouses serving multinational businesses. Others are desktop databases more suitable for tracking inventory for a small store with one or two users.

Your business requirements will determine which database platform is suitable for your needs. See Database software options for more information, as well as a list of our best free online database creators.

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