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3 Tips For Understanding And Working With Databases

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Databases are the beating heart of myriad modern services, allowing us to store information and leverage it for an almost endless number of purposes.

If you are a complete database novice, they can be tricky to understand in the first place, let alone to work with.

To help you out early on, here are some tips that will demystify databases and make them much more manageable.

Different types of databases

There are lots of approaches to building and organizing a database; too many to cover in much detail here. But it helps to have a grounding in the main types you’ll encounter.

Relational databases.

Typically powered by structured query language (SQL), relational databases store info in tables, and allow you to interact with them via standardized syntax so that you can add, manipulate and transport data at will.

The concept of the relational database is half a century old, and SQL is the dominant force, although there are alternatives.

Unstructured databases.

In the case that unstructured data from different sources is dealt with, a NoSQL database is the obvious choice.

Moving away from a rigid, relational structure is especially necessary in the context of the likes of the cloud and big data tech. It’s a lot more complex than simple data clean-up, so focusing on relational databases first and foremost is best if you’re a greenhorn.

Common database software

A deluge of different platforms exist to host, manage and interact with databases, so let’s consider some of the big players, and what they bring to the table.

Airtable.

Merging facets of databases and spreadsheets for accelerated, streamlined collaboration, this platform has a lot to offer. There are of course Airtable alternatives to consider, as there are for all of the solutions discussed later.

SQL Server.

Microsoft’s premier, premium database platform, it is used by millions of people worldwide and benefits from being flexible, scalable and widely compatible, while being limited by its asking price for the commercial grade variants.

MySQL.

An open source competitor to SQL Server, it has a huge community behind it and lets you tinker with its inner workings as much as you please.

The ease of use is another reason to recommend MySQL, although generally speaking the accessibility of SQL is impressive compared with other languages thanks to its logical, English syntax.

Database monitoring & management

Regardless of the database software you select, or the type of setup you embrace, working with it is about more than just using the features on offer.

Without having a keen eye for monitoring database performance and managing access, as well as troubleshooting issues as soon as possible, you could end up with an infrastructure that is sluggish at best, and prone to unplanned downtime at worst.

Once again there are a ton of tools out there made to bolt onto overarching database ecosystems and drill down into key performance metrics, such as query wait stats and hardware usage, so that imperfections are easier to pinpoint and fix on the fly.

Security is part and parcel of the management process. You need to know who has the right to access what data, and if you then decide to open it up to third parties via an API, this must also be taken into account.

Wrapping up

As with any new skill, there’s a bit of a learning curve to cope with when getting to grips with databases. Even so, it’s well worth making the effort to master their use, since they really do have a place throughout every industry and organization right now.