Saturday, October 9, 2021

Relational and Referential Integrity

“Relational Data Integrity is like every other integrity constraint that checks that the relationships created between data using foreign keys has a consistency. This can be done by using ON UPDATE, ON DELETE constraints on the table.”
--Quora.com
I recently quoted this as one of my To Laugh or Cry? items on LinkedIn, which initiated an exchange triggered by the following question:
“You have a better definition? What is it?”
In the exchange the asker's interpretation seemed to be "referential constraints are constraints like any other constraints, so there is no problem".  It is hard to recognize misconceptions without proper understanding of the RDM. We ignore that the above is not really a definition and focus on debunking.

Decades ago I wrote an article in DATABASE PROGRAMMING AND DESIGN carrying the double-meaning title Integrity Is Not Only Referential, in which I debunked Borland's claim that its Paradox file manager supported referential integrity (at the time no PC product did). As one component of the RDM, database integrity is, of course, a DBMS function, but Pradox relegated it to applications. Then, as now, one of the most common and entrenched misconceptions was that relational comes from "relationships between tables" and so relational integrity amounts to referential integrity (RI). RI is, of course, but one of several components that comprise relational integrity -- it is necessary, but insufficient. While practitioners are familiar with referential and PK constraints, if asked what other constraints comprise relational integrity  very few know. Having enumerated them recently on LinkedIn, I asked this very question:
“... what other RELATIONAL constraints ARE there and what is their purpose? I recently posted a weekly truth and other items here that answer it.”
which went unanswered.

Data integrity is one of the three components of the RDM, together with data structure and manipulation. It consists of several categories of constraints which I detailed more than once, most recently in Understanding Relational Constraints, to which I referred the asker (can you give an example for each category?) Defining relational integrity means specifying all the constraint categories required by the RDM.

Consider now the above paragraph: it purports to define relational integrity, but it specifies functionality of referential integrity -- implying the old misconception I wrote about decades ago. The asker did not seem to comprehend the distinction:
“I can't see a problem here. Isn't it simply as follows? ... A *referential integrity constraint* ensures consistency between attributes of different entities - e.g. between primary and foreign keys of related entities (aka relational integrity). Isn't that what the definition says?"
Yes, it is the definition of referential integrity, but not of relational integrity -- there is more to the latter than the former. No matter in how many ways I tried to explain this, I was unable to convey it, because it's practically impossible in the absence of sufficient knowledge and understanding of the RDM.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

TYFK: Calculated Attributes -- Redundancy, Full Normalization and Relational Theory

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“If you have shopping cart, you probably have some field "TOTAL" somewhere that stores the final amount due for the customer. It so happens that such a thing violates relational theory...”

“Having a "TOTAL" field in your "order" table *might* violate relational theory, but if you make it so that only a trigger can update it based on what's in your "order_item" table, then I think it's fine. You still get data integrity and that is what matters.”

“I still fail to see what you mean by the "calculated TOTALS field" (attribute, really) violates the Relational Model.”

“The result of having the field ... is what is called a DELETE ANOMALY.”

“Most denormalizing means adding columns to tables that provide values you would otherwise have to calculate as needed.”

“There are four practical problems with a fully normalized database, three of which I have listed before. I will list them all here for completeness:
* No calculated values. Calculated values are a fact of life for all applications, but a normalized database lacks them. The burden of providing calculated values must be taken up by somebody somehow. Denormalization is one approach to this, though there are others.
--Database Programmer blog

“...I'm now working with IT to normalize part of the database to remove calculated fields...:
`lineitems`.`extended total` = `lineitems`.`units` * `biditems`.`price`.
`jobs`.`jobvalue` = the sum of related `lineitems`.`extended total` records
`orders`.`ordervalue` = the sum of related `jobs`.`jobvalue` records.”
--mySQL.com

Do calculated attributes (not fields!) violate relational theory and must be "normalized" out of them? Determining that requires foundation knowledge that is scarce in the industry, which has a poor and outdated understanding of the RDM.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

OBG: Data Warehouses Are Non-Relational Application Views

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), Judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references. You can acquire foundation knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, even better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).


ON DATA WAREHOUSES

(originally posted 11/10/2001)

“It is dawning on me that data warehouse techniques (as advocated by Ralph Kimball) are a response to perceived SQL DBMS performance weaknesses and nothing more. Dimensional modeling is a physical implementation design to deal with what may already be out of date performance tests to back up said design. I agree that where data warehouse logical design deviates from the relational data model there will be trouble down the road. I can attest to the high cost involved in maintaining a data warehouse. I am now questioning three purported benefits of using the current popular data warehouse design techniques.

Physical DBMS designs like the star schema produce faster more predictable query results than a normalized one (I realize normalization is a strictly logical concept but it does appear to have its direct physical mappings in current DBMS systems). Well, I am about to find out. We will be performing some benchmarks. What really are the query times performed on our OLTP system vs. a Star schema for a few relevant reports.

Data warehouses offload query processing from the OLTP system. This is true, but may not be necessary. One needs to thoroughly analyze the traffic on the OLTP system to see if offloading is necessary. We are looking into simply replicating the database (or part of it) for reporting purposes. Replication is far simpler to maintain than a data warehouse.

Data warehouse designs are simpler to understand than a relational one, thereby query construction is easier. I think this is more due to the fact that designers have had a bad habit of throwing up on a wall a full ER chart of their systems. Saying in effect Look how great I am, no one will ever understand this!  Creating ER diagrams of subsystems to describe important characteristics of a database can also be simple to understand.

Item #3 brings up a question. What do you think of OLAP tools such a Microsoft s Analysis Services? We have discovered you can use the tool without redesigning your database. We have seen some pretty fast query times if we take the option of allowing the tool to store data extracted from the production database into its own proprietary format. The opposition to its adoption here is the learning curve to master the MDX query language."
 

Fabian Pascal: The fact is that so-called "dimensional modeling" is logical, not physical modeling. Kimball does not present his "techniques" as just performance-maximization and, what is more, they won’t necessarily yield better performance. He also seems to believe, erroneously, that star-schemas are fully normalized designs. The real solution to performance problems is true RDBMSs with better implementations, not ad-hoc logical designs. Like so many, Kimball simply does not understand relational technology and confuses levels of representation.

I consider warehouses a regression to the good old days of application-biased files -- which we discarded for application-neutral and DBMSs, because they did not prove cost-effective. They are application-specific views of databases that are not derived via relational algebra from relational databases, but are rather non-relational SQL tables. The industry has a long and profitable history of recycling relabeled old failures, witness XML and graph throwbacks to hierarchic databases.

Aside from being necessary for soundness, fully normalized relational databases are the easiest to understand if (1) one thoroughly knows and understands the segment of reality to be represented in the database -- the business, that is -- and (2) data fundamentals. Arbitrary designs such as star-schemas are cope-outs, due to poor knowledge and understanding of the latter.

I am not familiar with the product, but I am generally wary of what vendors do.


Note on re-publication: See also Data Warehouses and the Logical-Physical Confusion.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Understanding Relational Constraints

“The data in a relational database is stored in form of a table. A table makes the data look organized. Yet in some cases we might face issues while working with the data like repetition. We might want enforce rules on the data to avoid such technical problems. Theses rules are called constraints. A constraint can be defined as a rule that has to enforced on the data to avoid faults. There are three kinds of constraints: entity, referential and semantic constraints. Listed below are the differences between these three constraints:
1. Entity constraints -- primary key, foreign key, unique, NULL -- are posed within a table and used to enforce uniqueness and to define no value [respectively].    
2. Referential constraints -- foreign key -- are enforced with more than one table for referring other tables for analysis of the data.
3. Semantic constraints -- datatypes -- are  enforced in a table on the values of a specific attribute and help the data segregate according to its type. Example: name varchar2(30).”
--GeeksforGeeks.com
Before we tackle the main subject, let's get some misconceptions out of the way. As we have explained so many times:

  • Data is not "stored in a form of a table" -- it can be stored in any number of physical formats, at the discretion of DBMS designers and DBAs. Physical independence is a core advantage of the RDM.
  • A table does not "make the data look organized". Data is by definition organized -- be it relationally or not -- otherwise it would be random noise not data.  A database relation can be visualized as a R-table, but tables do not play any role in RDM.
  • While some "repetition" (i.e., redundancy) is prevented by constraints (e.g., uniqueness), others are avoided by database design (e.g., 5NF DB relations).

And now to constraints.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

TYFK: Normalized, Fully Normalized, Non-Normalized, Denormalized -- Clearing the Mess

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“A non-normalized database is a disorganized one, where nobody has bothered to work out where the facts should be stored. It is like a stack of paper files that has been tossed down the stairs. We are not interested in non-normalized databases.

A normalized database has been organized so that each fact is stored in exactly one place (2nf and greater) and no more than one fact is stored in each place (1nf). In a normalized database there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

A denormalized database is a normalized database that has had redundancies deliberately re-introduced for some practical gain. Most denormalizing means adding columns to tables that provide values you would otherwise have to calculate as needed. Values are copied from table to table, calculations are made within a row, and totals, averages and other aggregrations are made between child and parent tables.”
--database-programmer.blogspot.com

Friday, August 13, 2021

OBG: The Myth of Market-Based Education

(Originally posted on 09/08/2001, slightly revised)

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

“In a world torn by every kind of fundamentalism -- religious, ethnic, nationalist and tribal -- we must grant first place to economic fundamentalism, with its religious conviction that the market, left to its own devices, is capable of resolving all our problems. This faith has its own ayatollahs. Its church is neo-liberalism; its creed is profit; its prayers are for monopolies.”
--Carlos Fuentes
"We as humans have an instinct for creativity and a moral instinct. A good educational system ought to nurture and encourage these aspects of human life and allow them to flourish. But of course that has problems. For one thing, it means that you will encourage challenge of authority and domination. It will encourage questioning of powerful institutions. So the way schools actually function, by and large, there's a very strong tendency that works its way out in the long run and on average, for the schools to have a kind of filtering effect. They filter out independence of thought, creativity, imagination, and in their place foster obedience and subordination."
--Noam Chomsky
"The educated person is not the person who can answer the questions, but the person who can question the answers"
--T. Schick Jr.

 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

TYFK: Facts, Properties, Relationships, Domains, Relations, Tuples

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

A statement from a 1986 book that "Data are facts represented by values -- numbers, character strings, or symbols -- which carry meaning in a certain context" triggered the following response on Linkedin:
“...In contrast, Date and Darwen (2000) say:
  • Domains are the things that we can talk about.
  • Relations are the truths we utter about those things.
Thus, the declarative sentence "Fred is in the kitchen." is a fact that links the domains Person[s] and Place[s] with the predicate "is in". The complete relation might be made up of three facts:
  • Fred is in the kitchen.
  • Mary is in the garden.
  • Arthur is in the garden.
This seems to be more precise than the 1986  statement.”
To which the book author responded:
“...back then we did not have the refinement, clarity, nor precision from people like Sjir Nijssen and Terry Halpin regarding facts, or elementary fact sentences, which today you and I know are the bedrock of data modeling. Facts are expressed in sentences (with domains and predicates).”

Unfortunately none of this is sufficiently clear and precise to prevent confusion and it inhibits  understanding of the RDM.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Documents and Databases

'These new data technologies were developed because there are new usage scenarios for data — which do not fit into the relational model.'
--Reddit.com

Don't let the NoSQL label fool you. It's the relational model (RDM), not SQL, that its proponents are really dismissing. The main argument, as advanced in a recent LinkedIn exchange, is that lots of information "cannot be represented in rows and columns". IOW, the RDM is not general enough -- there are certain types of information that it is not suited for. Ignoring the tabular nonsense, the response from David McGoveran, is important enough to restate here.
“Information consists of facts (i.e., propositions asserted to be true) about objects, properties, and relationships among objects and properties. We have shown that a database relation -- which a R-table visualizes -- is constrained to represent a set of facts about (properties of) a group of entities with within-group relationships among properties and entities and cross-group relationships. Yet we are told that document information "do not fit" in a relational structure. They are referred to as "unstructured" (which, if they were, they would contain random noise, not information).

But documents don't lack structure. Rather, they are multistructured: have complex multi-level/type structures -- lots of content, metadata, interpretations, and internal relationships (formatting, semantic, structural or syntactic, and so on). At one level of analysis, they are just documents that have subject matter or content involving objects, properties and relationships. At another they might relate to that of other data (e.g., other documents). How we represent knowledge and in how much detail is determined by which of the structures we choose to represent and that always partially determines the class of queries we can express. This is precisely what Codd understood and tried to address via the RDM.
--David McGoveran

And there's the rub: which type of data (facts) at which document level is of interest? Take this post. There are facts about it (e.g., author, title, date and so on). There are facts in it (its content). Either can can be readily represented relationally, for example:

POSTS (AUTHOR,TITLE,DATE,CONTENT)

where CONTENT is a column defined on a text, PDF, or HTML domain with built-in operators applicable to values of either of those types (e.g., a substring operator for text). Facts at other levels (e.g., grammatical, or semantic) could be of interest and would require multi-table representation. One must choose the type/level of information of interest to represent relationally in a database. We can choose to not do the analysis and modeling of the content of documents, but that does not mean that they are unstructurable as facts. More often than not data professionals don’t know what type of facts are to be represented, or are unfamiliar with data modeling and relational fundamentals. Product advocates avoid to say that without investing time and effort in analysis and modeling one cannot ask the same questions of and produce results equivalent to those from relational databases (i.e., make precise inferences from data that are guaranteed to be correct -- logically valid and semantically consistent). In fact, the use of such products trades upfront structuring effort for subsequent prohibitive manipulation effort.

As David points out, "complaints about RDM are not about knowledge representation, but knowledge discovery -- the problem, for example, that Google Search, analytics and data integration face and attempt to solve. It's an expensive, imprecise, and difficult problem", but it is distinct from what database management does and the two should not be confused.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Relational Misconceptions Part 2: RDM is Applied Theory

In Part 1 we showed (yet again) how even those with their heart in the right (relational) place can't help being affected by the common and entrenched industry misconceptions, in this case about relationships, relations and tables. More often than not authors exhibit the very misconceptions they try to debunk.

We left the author distinguishing sets (with unordered, unique elements) from tables (lists of ordered, possibly duplicate rows). 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

OBG: Experimental Science and Database Design

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability conferred by a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven, ad-hoc "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments of then hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

The following is an email exchange from 2001 that I recommend reading jointly with my Data Meaning and Mining post (itself a revision of an article originally published at the old "All Analytics" website). I have slightly touched my replies for pedagogical purposes and clarity. You can substitute any data structure for XML hierarchy.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Entities, Properties and Codd's Sleight of Hand

A recent LinkedIn post tried to illustrate in graphic form some old bunk that had been debunked to death decades ago: the purported inferiority of relational relative to directed graph database management. The plethora of "Great viewpoint!", "great representation", "love this!", "like", "Nice!, "Very clever!" reactions it triggered confirm the lack of foundation knowledge and familiarity with history of the field in the industry, without which there cannot be any progress. I will not waste any time debunking it. Instead, I will use a quote by a participant in the exchange from a Date and Darwen (D&D) book to bring up an important insight by David McGoveran.

“Overall, we believe the most appropriate design will emerge if careful consideration is given to the distinction between (a) declarative sentences in natural language, on the one hand, and (b) the vocabulary used in the construction of such sentences on the other. As we showed in Chapter 2 (but simplifying slightly here), it is unencapsulated tuples in relations that stand for those sentences, and it is encapsulated domain values in attributes in those tuples that stand for particular elements — typically nouns — in that vocabulary. To say it slightly differently (and to repeat what we said in Chapter 2, albeit in different words): Domains, or types, give us values that represent things we might wish to make statements about; relations give us ways of making those statements. Consider once again the EMP relvar of Design R. Suppose that relvar includes the tuple:

TUPLE {EMP# 'E7',ENAME 'Amy',DEPT# 'D5',SALARY MONEY(60000)}

The existence of this tuple in the relvar means, by definition, that the database includes something that assert  that the following declarative sentence (statement) is true:

Employee E7, named Amy, is assigned to department D5 and earns a salary of $60,000."

Sunday, May 16, 2021

TYFK: Data Model, Logical Model and Schema


Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“Doesn't the data model come before the schema? I was tasked to build a data model and one of the resources was a schema. Isn't the schema made from the data model?”

“A data model can be different things. A schema can be a data model. Before that, there's a conceptual model, derived from the problem domain, then a logical model, capturing the entities, attributes, and relationships. After that, a schema is implemented based on those two models.”

“Yes, but if the system evolved, in practice you will have the schema (the structure of physical tables) as the ground truth, and you need to extract the logical model from it. In teaching environment of we tend to begin with the logical model and then create tables based on that.”

“this makes a little more sense to me. i thought a default data model would be out there but i can't find one. so i'm basically "recreating" one from the schema. then i assume i'll be adding on to it with third party products.”

                                                               --Reddit.com

Monday, May 10, 2021

TYFK: What Domains Are and Are Not

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“...a Data Domain refers to all the valid values which a data element (column) may contain. The rule for determining the domain boundary may be as simple as a data type with a list of possible values. For example, a database table that has information about people, with one record per person, might have an "age" column. This gender column might be declared as a SMALLINT data type, and allowed to have a value between 0 and 120. The data domain for the age column is hence 0 - 120. In a normalized data model, the reference domain is typically specified in a reference table. Following the previous example, the age reference table could have exactly 120 records, one per allowed value. Reference tables are formally related to other tables in a database by the use of foreign keys. A better way would be to enforce the data domain through a check constraint. For example, the age column would require positive numeric values between 0 and 120. I have found that the best way to figure out all of your data domains and constraints is to spend some time designing and normalizing all of your tables.”
--Quora.com

Misconceptions

  • There are no tables and, thus, no columns in relational databases;
  • Domains are not (programming) data types;
  • It is not the data model that is normalized;
  • A referenced relation does not reference domains;
  • A SQL CHECK constraint is not "better enforcement" of a referential constraint;
  • Constraints are not determined BY logical design;
  • Logical database design does not involve explicit normalization (to 1NF) or further normalization to 5NF.

Fundamentals

  • Relational databases consist of relations with attributes defined on domains; tables with columns visualize relations with attributes, but play no part in the RDM.
  • A relational domain represents a real world property and is a database object under DBMS control and, thus, is distinct from a programming data type which is an application object under programmer control that may not represent anything in the real world.
  • 1NF (normalization) and 5NF (full normalization) are properties of relations (which comprise logical models), not of the data model (i.e., the RDM).
  • An attribute which is a foreign key in a referencing relation references a primary key which is an attribute  in a referenced relation.
  • A constraint can be expressed in syntactically different ways by a data sublanguage. The CHECK constraint is a syntactic alternative in SQL to declare referential constraints.
  • Database relations are semantically constrained to be consistent with (i.e., represent faithfully) the corresponding conceptual model. Properties and properties in context (i.e., of specific entity types) are identified during conceptual modeling. Domain and attribute constraints respectively are specified during logical design to ensure consistency with the properties and properties in context they represent in the database.
  • Database design that adheres the three principles mandated by the RDM produces 1NF and 5NF databases that do not require explicit normalization and further normalization.

Note: The difference between relational domains and programming data types are specified in Codd's RM/V2 book. SQL tables are not relations and SQL data types are not relational domains.


Recommended reading

Domains: The Database Glue

Understanding Domains and Attributes

The Interpretation and Representation of Database Relations





Monday, May 3, 2021

OBG: Don't Confuse Levels of Representation Part 2

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

This is a continuation of an email exchange with readers in response to my post Normalization and Performance: Never the Twain Shall Meet started in Part 1

On Normalization, Performance and Database Correctness

(originally posted 03/22/2001)

“I read your article on Normalization and database speed. The rules of normalization are used to provide a guide when designing a logical approach to managing information. If that information management plan (IMP) is to be implemented using a database, then the ultimate "test" of the IMP is its performance on the physical level. The IMP architecture is commonly expressed using an Entity Relationship Diagram or ERD. Sure CPU, RAM, and RAID all play an important role in database performance. But when a DBA changes the way tables, columns, or indexes are structured he is changing the IMP and corresponding ERD. Now there are two sides to this story.
  • The Pro De-Normalization group viewpoint: If the above change results in a "faster" database then denormalization has been "proven" to be necessary.
  • The Pro Normalization group viewpoint: A change is only valid if it maintains the integrity, and flexibility that are inherent in a fully Normalized database. For example, violation of the second rule "Eliminate Redundant data" can result in corrupt data when data in two or more locations is not properly update, changed, or inserted in all locations.
When the second rule is violated then data corruption must be safeguarded against. The safeguard must be implemented on the database level because that is the only way corrupt data can be prevented regardless of the source (i.e. data loaded from a flat file, DBAs and users logged onto SQL*Plus changing information, other application software that also has access to the database, and last but not least; application developers that are not aware of the duplicate data stored in more than one location). I usually implement the safeguard by using database triggers so that when a record is changes in one table a trigger will make the corresponding change in another table. I have found that most "performance gains" achieved by denormalization are eradicated by the use of the trigger needed to safeguard the integrity of the data. The bottom line is that De-Normalization can often increase database speed. But this is most often achieved at the expense of data integrity.”

Friday, April 23, 2021

Relational Misconceptions Part 1: Relationships and Tables

Amid the plethora of industry misconceptions, an article titled "What if I told you there are no tables in relational databases?" is surprising. That it starts with:

“I’ve seen one sentence about relational databases repeated on the Web many, many times. I’ve seen it in countless comments, I’ve seen it in few articles. Recently I’ve even seen it in one book — which finally made me write this article. The sentence in question goes like this: "Ironically, relational databases deal poorly with relationships". Read it carefully. Think about it for a moment. I’m sure it must sound perfectly reasonable — for anyone who doesn’t understand the meaning of both "relational" and "irony".”

is practically shocking. Be that as it may, my regular readers know that I refer to pronouncements on the RDM as "heart in the right place": correct statements are not a guarantee of full grasp thereof, or effective explanations to practitioners lacking the necessary foundation knowledge. Hence this two part debunking.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

TYFK: Relations, Tables, and Semantic Consistency

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).


“A relation, or table, in a relational database ... must have a set of columns or attributes, and it must have a set of rows to contain the data. A tuple (or row) can be a duplicate. In practice, a database might actually contain duplicate rows, but there should be practices in place to avoid this, such as the use of unique primary keys (next up). Given that a tuple cannot be a duplicate, it follows that a relation must contain at least one attribute (or column) that identifies each tuple (or row) uniquely. This is usually the primary key. This primary key cannot be duplicated.”

 

Misconceptions

 
  • A relation is not a table and, thus, has neither columns, nor rows (certainly not fields);
  • "Duplicate tuples" is a contradiction in terms -- a table with duplicate rows does not visualize a relation (i.e., is not a R-table) -- and a database with duplicated data is not relational;
  • Unlike a mathematical relation, there is no such thing as a database relation without a PK, which would be semantically inconsistent (i.e. it would not be a faithful representation of group of entities, which are distinguishable in the real world);
 

Fundamentals

 

  • A database relation:
- is a relationship among domains (sets of values) -- a subset of their cross-product -- a set of tuples (sets of values drawn from the domains) or, in other words, a set of sets from sets;
- has attributes, which are representations (1:1 mappings) of the domains in the relation;
- is semantically constrained to be consistent with (i.e., represent faithfully) the entity group in the conceptual model represented by the database), including by a PK constraint:
. domains represent properties;
. relations represent entity groups;
. attributes represent entity properties;
. tuples represent (facts about -- properties of) entities;
. some constraints represent relationships among properties, entities and groups (some properties are relationships);
  • Duplication would violate the RDM and mean semantic inconsistency with (inaccurate representation of) the group.
  • A R-table visualizes a relation on some physical medium -- it plays no part in the relational model.


Further Reading


What Relations Really Are and Why They Are Important

Understanding Relations series

What Is a Relational Database




Thursday, March 25, 2021

OBG: Don't Confuse Levels of Representation Part 1

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

This is an email exchange with readers in response to my article Normalization and Performance: Never the Twain Shall Meet.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Data Sublanguages vs. Programming Languages

Revised 3/20/21

I recently came across a review of Edsger Dijkstra's work, where the following comment on a book he co-authored (referred to as D&S) raised my debunking antennae:

“... in general computer people seem to have a penchant for whipping up homebrew logics ... D&S is not the only example ... See E.F. Codd’s Relational Calculus, an obvious mess.”
--Maarten van Emden, A Bridge too Far: E.W. Dijkstra and Logic 

Having recently argued that "Codd was wrong" and "You're teaching [his] gospel" Betray Lack of Foundation Knowledge, my suspicion should hardly surprise. Besides, criticism of Dijkstra is a very tall order in itself, particularly in the context of disputes among logicians). As a reader asked, "What’s so obviously messy in Codd’s Relational Calculus?". Answer:

Friday, March 12, 2021

TYFK: Tables Can Visualize -- But ARE NOT -- Relations!

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- reflecting the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).


“A relation, or table, in a relational database ... must have a set of columns or attributes, and it must have a set of rows to contain the data. A tuple (or row) can be a duplicate. In practice, a database might actually contain duplicate rows, but there should be practices in place to avoid this, such as the use of unique primary keys (next up). Given that a tuple cannot be a duplicate, it follows that a relation must contain at least one attribute (or column) that identifies each tuple (or row) uniquely. This is usually the primary key. This primary key cannot be duplicated.”

Misconceptions


  • A relation is not a table and, thus, has neither fields, nor columns (which are not attributes) and rows;
  • "Duplicate tuples" is a contradiction in terms -- a table with duplicate rows does not visualize a relation (i.e., is not a R-table) -- and a database with duplicated data is not relational;
  • Without PKs a relation is not semantically consistent (i.e. it does not faithfully represent group of entities, which are distinguishable in the real world);


Fundamentals


  • A database relation

- is a relationship among domains (sets of values) -- a subset of their cross-product -- a set of tuples (sets of values drawn from the domains) or, in other words, a set of sets from sets;
- has attributes, which are representations (1:1 mappings) of the domains in the relation;
- is semantically constrained to be consistent with (i.e., represent faithfully) the entity group in the conceptual model it represents in the database.

  • A R-table visualizes a relation on some physical medium -- it plays no part in the relational model.
  • Absence of PKs is semantic inconsistency with (inaccurate representation of) reality and a violation of the RDM.



Further Reading

What Relations Really Are and Why They Are Important

Understanding Relations series

What Is a Relational Database

Duplicates: Stating the Same Fact More Than Once Does Not Make it Truer, Only Redundant





Wednesday, February 24, 2021

OBG: Third Order Properties and Multi-Tuple Constraints -- An Example

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), Judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references. You can acquire foundation knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, even better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).


As part of the new understanding of the RDM we posted articles -- one last week -- about the types of properties and relationships at the conceptual level that are enforced via semantic constraints at the logical database level. One category of relationships exist among all members of an entity group, which are collective third order properties (3OP) of the group, enforced via multi-tuple constraints. There are at least two kinds of 3OP relationships: entity uniqueness, enforced via PK constraints and aggregate restriction, enforced via aggregation constraints. Practitioners are familiar with -- even if they do not necessarily have a full understanding of -- the former, but not so much with the latter. It so happens that they were the subject of an exchange between a reader of the old dbdebunk and C.J. Date. It is worth re-visiting as an example and, with the benefit of hindsight, to add some comments on re-publication.

Friday, February 19, 2021

TYFK: Semantics, Relations and the Missed Link - Constraints

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to our debunking thereof. If there isn't a match, you can review references -- which reflect the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date -- which explain and correct the misconceptions. You can acquire further knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS and LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“[As a] set [a database relation] is a collection of similar or related things.”

--ArtfulSoftware.com


Can you tell what's wrong with this statement (hint: one word is wrong)? If not, it is because it is impossible without the old industry interpretation of the RDM.

Friday, February 12, 2021

TYFK: What Is a Relational Database and Why Is It Important?

Note: Each "Test Your Foundation Knowledge" post presents one or more misconceptions about data fundamentals. To test your knowledge, first try to detect them, then proceed to read our debunking, which is based on the current understanding of the RDM, distinct from whatever has passed for it in the industry to date. If there isn't a match, you can acquire the knowledge by checking out our POSTS, BOOKS, PAPERS, LINKS (or, better, organize one of our on-site SEMINARS, which can be customized to specific needs).

“The most popular data model in DBMS is the Relational Model. It is more scientific a model than others. This model is based on first-order predicate logic and defines a table as an n-ary relation. The main highlights of this model are:
  • Data is stored in tables called relations.
  • Relations can be normalized.
  • In normalized relations, values saved are atomic values.
  • Each row in a relation contains a unique value.
  • Each column in a relation contains values from a same [sic] domain.”
--What is a relational database and why is it important, Quora.com

Saturday, February 6, 2021

OBG: Cookbooks and Skyscrapers with Shack Foundations

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

 

Skyscrapers with Shack Foundations

(originally posted 06/04/2000)

 “Well, it's really a judgment call and I think a lot of experience comes into it. It's a little bit like building a shack. Say you want to build a skyscraper, and you started out building a shack and you just keep trying to add onto it. After a while you have this severe structural problem ... So there is a fallacy to the build-upon-a-simple structure approach. Sometimes you get up to three stories and you have to do some major structural changes, and I just accept that.”
--Wayne Ratliffe, developer of dBase
“Client Servers were a tremendous mistake. And we are sorry that we sold it to you. Instead of applications running on the desktop and data sitting on the server, everything will be Internet based. The only things running on the desktop will be a browser and a word processor. What people want is simple, inexpensive hardware that functions as a window on to the Net. The PC was ludicrously complex with stacks of manuals, helplines and IT support needed to make it function. Client server was supposed to alleviate this problem, but it was a step in the wrong direction. We are paying through the nose to be ignorant.”
--Larry Ellison, CEO, Oracle Corp.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Normalization -- Will They Ever Learn?

“To Normalize or not to Normalize? that really isn't a question. few things to consider:
Normalization is supposed to protect from data anomalies, but not prevent us from using data encapsulation is the magic trick that allows you to do what you want without breaking rules.what are your experiences with normalization?”
                                                                --LinkedIn


This is a question that at this time need -- and should -- not be asked anymore, and the fact that it still is is one confirmation -- among many -- that there is no progress in data management. According to the current understanding of the RDM:

  • Database relations are both normalized (in 1NF) and fully normalized (in 5NF) by definition, otherwise they are not relations and the relational algebra (RA) does not work;
  • Adherence to three database design principles produces 1NF and 5NF relational databases;
  • Consequently, there should not be such a thing as "doing" normalization (to 1NF) and further normalization (to 5NF) except to repair databases that are non-relational due to failure to adhere to the principles.


Note: The three design principles are fundamental to SST/FOPL foundation of the RDM, but were never understood even by relational proponents. I do not know what encapsulation has to do with this.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

"Codd was wrong" and "You're teaching the gospel" Betray Lack of Foundation Knowledge

Note: I have documented and debunked these misconceptions so many times that I will no longer reference them -- the reader motivated to gain genuine understanding should use the (1) blog labels (2) Blogger search (3) POSTS page to locate the relevant posts.

I have long claimed that a core problem in the industry is the vast majority of practitioners who use relational terminology, do not know/understand what it means, yet are convinced they do -- the less the understanding, the greater the convinction. A recent LinkedIn exchange provided -- as if it were needed -- yet another example. It was triggered by my comment:

“How many know today that a relation is by definition in 5NF, otherwise it's not a relation, the relational algebra has "anomalies" and all bets are off? IMO, none! If you need to "do" normalization, you did not design correctly, which means you don't understand the RDM.”
that prompted the following reaction:
“Is that really true? You construct a table and fill it full of garbage. It may not even be in 1NF, but is it not still a "relation" of columns, even if it's not a relation of rows or attributes? Codd had no real conception of syntax as separate from semantics, I don't think relational theory has a clear position on this. This is where Kimball and dimensional systems differ from Codd's relational, it made some effort (not a lot) to distinguish syntactic and semantic elements.”
--Joshua Stern

Saturday, January 16, 2021

(OBG) Missing Data Part 5: Many-valued Logics and NULL Part 2

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability due to a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may revise, break into parts, and/or add comments and/or references.

In response to a LinkedIn thread where interest was expressed in a "NULL research" project, we re-publish as "Oldies But Goodies" a series of old exchanges with readers reacting to our The Final NULL in the Coffin: A Relational Solution to Missing Data: in Parts 1, 2, 3  we re-published a past exchange between myself and Hugh Darwen with a reader on the pros and cons of our solution vs. Hugh Darwen's "horizontal decomposition" NULLless solution, and in Part 4 my debunking of reactions to an article of mine on the subject which exhibit the confusion inevitably evoked by NULL.

We complete this series with an exchange with a reader who claimed that our criticism applies to SQL's specific implementations of NULL, not to the NULL concept itself. I and David McGoveran explained that the implementation flaws in SQL derive directly from the deeper problems endemic to many-valued logics

Saturday, January 9, 2021

(OBG) Missing Data Part 4: Many-valued Logics and NULL Part 1

Note: To demonstrate the correctness and stability of a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, I am re-publishing as "Oldies But Goodies" material from the old DBDebunk.com (2000-06), so that you can judge for yourself how well my arguments hold up and whether the industry has progressed beyond the misconceptions those arguments were intended to dispel. I may break long pieces into multiple posts, revise, and/or add comments and references.

In response to a LinkedIn exchange we continue the series about missing data, NULL and the RDM. In Parts 1,2 and 3 we re-published a past exchange between myself and Hugh Darwen on the pros and cons of our relational solution to missing data vs. Hugh's "horizontal decomposition".

Here we re-publish my debunking of reactions to an article of mine exhibiting the common confusions evoked by NULL.

Friday, January 1, 2021

(OBG) Database Design and Guaranteed Correctness Part 2

Note: This is a re-write of an earlier post (which now links here), to bring it into line with the current understanding of the RDM derived from McGoveran formalization and interpretation of Codd's work[1]. Reference [9] is also an important re-write and is recommended pre-requisite for this post.

Continued from Part 1

 “The term database design can be used to describe many different parts of the design of an overall database system. Principally, and most correctly, it can be thought of as the logical design of the base data structures used to store the data. In the relational model these are the tables and views ... However, the term database design could also be used to apply to the overall process of designing, not just the base data structures, but also the forms and queries used as part of the overall database application within the database management system(DBMS). The process of doing database design generally consists of a number of steps which will be carried out by the database designer. Usually, the designer must:

  • Determine the data to be stored in the database.
  • Determine the relationships between the different data elements.
  • Superimpose a logical structure upon the data on the basis of these relationships.
Within the relational model the final step above can generally be broken down into two further steps, that of determining the grouping of information within the system, generally determining what are the basic objects about which information is being stored, and then determining the relationships between these groups of information, or objects.”
--What is a Relational Database, Quora.com
There is, typically, much vagueness and confusion here and instead of debunking it makes more sense to provide a rigorous description of what database design really is: formalization of a conceptual model -- expressed as business rules -- as a logical model for representation in the database using a formal data model. If the data model is the RDM, the logical model consists of relations constrained for semantic consistency with the conceptual mode, the constraints being formalizations of the business rules.

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