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What is a Database?

Classic Rolodex

Let’s just start at the very beginning: What is a database?

In essence, a database is a collection of information. You may be surprised to learn that a database doesn’t have to be on a computer. It can be a cigar box full of business cards or an envelope full of coupons. But when your box starts filling up or your envelope bulges with coupons, it becomes difficult to find the right card or coupon. So you may one day organize your cards in a Rolodex or your coupons in an expanding file pouch with letter tabs. Now your information is stored in a “database system”.

“A database system is a set of procedures, devices, and rules for managing the information in a database.”

(from Learning FileMaker Pro 8.5 by Jonathan Stars, Wordware Publishing; Plano, TX)

So, a Rolodex is a “database system” because it takes your cigar box full of business cards, puts them on the Rolodex spindle, and organizes them alphabetically.

Let’s say you spend a few hours one Saturday organizing your cards in your new Rolodex by last name. You proudly take your full spindle into the office. You enjoy looking up people’s phone numbers so quickly. One day you remember a saleswoman named “Sandra” you promised to call, but you can’t remember her last name. You remember that she worked for an office machine company, but you can't remember which. You could flip through your Rolodex and pull all the cards from office machine companies, or every card with a first name “Sandra”. You can see that this is not very efficient.

Most of us think of computers when we hear the word “database” because they are excellent devices for storing, retrieving, finding and reporting on data. If you had your cards entered into a computer-based database system, you could search for every person with the first name “Sandra”. Chances are, in a second or two, you would end up with fewer than a dozen names and one would probably stand out or jog your memory as the one you had promised to call. FileMaker Pro is one of many computer-based database products available for computers running Macintosh or Windows operating systems.

In our next article, we will look at the basic elements of a database, then we will focus on how these work in FileMaker Pro.

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