Database Management Systems (DBMS) are designed to provide reliable and secure means of storing data, straightforward means of retrieving data, and safe means of modifying stored data. They exist solely to ease the task of accessing and managing often large and complex collections of functionally related data or databases. Unlike many of the other types of software systems described in this volume, DBMS do very little of direct concern to an end-user whose main interest is more often an archaeological, or other, task or problem. Nevertheless, much of the information presented and analysed within a modern GIS or statistical package, presented on the Web or visualised in a VR system may well have been derived from a database. Indeed, many such systems now support direct extraction of data from a DBMS. Similarly, archives and monument registers are dependent on DBMS for the management of their data holdings. DBMS then can be seen as a technology that underpins and supports many aspects of archaeological computing, rather than a tool for performing archaeological tasks.
This background role does not, however, mean that large volumes of data may be poured into a database in the hope that useful information can be retrieved in a meaningful form when we wish to undertake some more interesting examination or analysis. For a DBMS to provide the functions outlined in the opening sentences above, a database must be the result of a detailed analysis and design process. The analysis phase seeks to determine the purpose of the intended systems and how the data will be used. The design phase seeks to translate these requirements into a structural data model in which every piece of information can be easily located and which ensures that any modification to the data does not result in the loss of other information.
Although it is of paramount importance for anyone seeking to develop a
database to understand and apply an established analysis and design
methodology, this is not the place for a tutorial on these topics.
They are thoroughly covered elsewhere in a wide variety of other
volumes, each of which also cover many other aspects of database
systems (e.g. Date 1999; Elmasri and Navathe 1999; Ryan and Smith 1995). Instead, this
article will concentrate on outlining the main characteristics of
modern database systems and presenting an overview of their
application in today's WWW-based computing environment.
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Last updated: Wed 28 Jan 2004