The Hostway Blog

What Is a Database Management System?

In the world of information technology, a database management system (DBMS) is a commonly applied software application that provides an interface between users and a database. If you don’t know exactly what that means, or why a DBMS is important to your company, we present a quick primer below.

A DBMS is software that handles the storage, retrieval and updating of data in a computer system. Consider it the electronic, software-based version of a physical filing cabinet where you put away your pertinent records and documents. A DBMS enables companies to easily organize, store, retrieve and interact with its data on file. To facilitate this, a DBMS consists of four key components:

  1. A modeling language: This defines the database structure. Common database structures can be hierarchy-, network-, relational- or object-based, and models differ in how they connect related information. The most widely used modeling language, particularly in web applications, is the relational database model.
  2. A database engine: This manages the database structure and optimizes the storage of data – records, files and objects – to achieve a balance between quick retrieval and efficient use of space.
  3. A database query language: The database query language – SQL, for example – enables developers to write programs that extract data from the database, present it to the user in an easily digestible way, and save and store changes.
  4. A transaction mechanism: This validates the data entered against allowed types before storing it, ensuring multiple users cannot update the same information simultaneously, which can corrupt the data.

So, how is a DBMS used?

DBMSs allow developers to create a database, fill it with information and create ways to query and change that information without having to worry about the technical aspects of data storage and retrieval. There are a few features of a DBMS that make it a perfect solution for storing, retrieving and updating data in such a way:

  • User access and security management systems provide appropriate data access to multiple users while protecting sensitive data.
  • Data backup ensures consistent availability of data.
  • Access logs make it easier for a database manager to see exactly how the database is being used.
  • Rules enforcement ensures that only data of the prescribed type is stored in each field; for example, date fields may be set to only contain dates within a set range.
  • Formulas such as counting, averaging and summing included in the DBMS simplify statistical analysis and data representation.
  • Performance monitoring and optimization tools allow users to tweak the database settings for speed and efficiency.

Users have a plethora of options when it comes to the way in which they store their data. So what are the chief benefits afforded by using a DBMS? Let’s take a look:

  • Increased transparency/efficiency: While there are many data storage systems and processes available today, a DBMS is well-known for being able to store large amounts of data extremely efficiently, as the data is stored independently. In other words, a DBMS provides users with a conceptual view of data in such a way that applications are independent of the storage method.
  • Tighter data security: When it comes to large amounts of stored (and potentially sensitive) data, you can’t risk having the wrong eyes fall on the wrong file. A top-of-the-line DBMS ensures that data is kept within specific access controls, which dictate what data is visible to what users, helping bolster data security and integrity.
  • Better data control: Similarly, with so much data being stored in your computer, companies must ensure that only those authorized to do so are accessing, managing and using the system.

Many web applications rely on a DBMS, from search engines and article directories, to social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Almost any site that offers a user registration with personal logon details, rather than a single shared password, will probably require a DBMS – or a similar data storage system – as will e-commerce systems, blogs and collaborative sites such as Wikis and multiple-user content management systems.

Want to learn more about DBMSs? Click here to read one article in a series on DBMSs penned by industry expert Gail Seymour.