97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

(Chris Devlin) #1

(^96) 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

Large, Interconnected

Data Belongs to

a Database

Diomidis Spinellis

iFOUR Y APPLiCATiON is going to handle a large, persistent, interconnected
set of data elements, don’t hesitate to store it in a relational database. In the
past, RDBMSs used to be expensive, scarce, complex, and unwieldy beasts.
This is no longer the case. Nowadays, RDBMS systems are easy to find—it is
likely that the system you’re using already has one or two installed. Some very
capable RDBMSs, like MySQL and PostgreSQL, are available as open source
software, so cost of purchase is no longer an issue. Even better, so-called
embedded database systems can be linked as libraries directly into your appli-
cation, requiring almost no setup or management—two notable open source
ones are SQLite and HSQLDB. These systems are extremely efficient.

If your application’s data is larger than the system’s RAM, an indexed RDBMS
table will perform orders of magnitude faster than your library’s map collec-
tion type, which will thrash virtual memory pages. Modern database offer-
ings can easily grow with your needs. With proper care, you can scale up an
embedded database to a larger database system when required. Later on, you
can switch from a free, open source offering to a better-supported or more
powerful proprietary system.

Once you get the hang of SQL, writing database-centric applications is a joy.
After you’ve stored your properly normalized data in the database, it’s easy to
extract facts efficiently with a readable SQL query; there’s no need to write
any complex code. Similarly, a single SQL command can perform complex data
changes. For one-off modifications—say, a change in the way you organize your
persistent data—you don’t even need to write code: just fire up the database’s
direct SQL interface. This same interface also allows you to experiment with
queries, sidestepping a regular programming language’s compile–edit cycle.

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