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What is Relational Databases: Everything you need to know about 

A relational database structures information into tables composed of rows and columns. These tables interconnect through unique identifiers like primary and foreign keys, showcasing relationships between them. Various data models depict these relationships, and analysts leverage SQL queries to merge data points, offering insights into business performance. This enables organizations to optimize workflows, identify opportunities, and gain a comprehensive understanding.

Consider a scenario where your company manages a customer information table with account-level data and a separate table detailing individual transactions associated with those accounts. The tables, linked by a common Customer ID field, can reveal insights into industries purchasing a specific software product.

The customer table’s columns include Customer ID, Company Name, Company Address, Industry, etc., while the transaction table features columns like Transaction Date, Customer ID, Transaction Amount, Payment Method, etc. By joining these tables using the shared Customer ID, you can execute queries to generate meaningful reports, such as sales reports by industry or company. These reports, in turn, inform targeted messaging to potential clients.

How Does Relational Databases Work?

Relational Databases Work

Source: Scaler Topics

Here’s a simplified breakdown of how a relational database management system operates:

Data Pages:

To speed up data access, relational databases organize information into fixed-size pages in secondary memory. These pages are then mapped into primary memory buffers when needed. When modifications are required, the changes are made in the in-memory pages, and disk-based pages are updated later. The buffer pool, limited in size, stores these disk-based pages. If the data set exceeds the buffer pool size, old pages are replaced when new ones need to be cached.

Undo Log:

To maintain data integrity during concurrent transactions, a mechanism is needed. After a transaction modifies a table row, the uncommitted changes are temporarily stored in an append-only undo log. If the transaction rollback, the undo log is used to revert in-memory pages to their state at the beginning of the transaction.

Redo Log:

After a transaction commits, its in-memory changes must be durable. The redo log, a disk-based append-only structure, records every change made during a transaction. This ensures that committed changes persist. Writing to the redo log is faster than flushing data pages to disk, making transactions more efficient.

Key Components of Relational Databases

1. Tables

The foundation of a relational database lies in its tables. Each table represents a specific entity, such as customers, products, or orders. Think of these tables as the equivalent of a spreadsheet, with rows representing individual records and columns representing attributes or fields.

2. Rows and Columns

Rows in a table correspond to individual records, while columns represent the attributes of those records. For instance, in a table representing customers, a row might contain information about a specific customer, with columns for their name, address, and contact details.

3. Relationships

What sets relational databases apart is their ability to establish relationships between tables. These relationships define how data in one table relates to data in another. This ensures consistency and accuracy when retrieving information across different tables.

4. Primary and Foreign Keys

Primary keys uniquely identify each record in a table, serving as a reference point for relationships. Foreign keys, on the other hand, establish links between tables by referencing the primary key of another table. This interconnectedness is fundamental to the relational database model.

Example of Relational Databases Tables of Customer and Order Database

Example of a Customer and Order Database:

Customers Table:


Products Table:


Orders Table:

201110122023-05-15 08:30:00
202210212023-05-16 12:45:00
203110332023-05-17 15:20:00

In the above table, we have a more detailed Customers table with additional fields like FirstName, LastName, and Phone. The Products table introduces various products with corresponding ProductIDs and UnitPrices. The Orders table now includes the OrderDate, providing a timestamp for each order.

This expanded structure allows for a richer representation of customer information, a more diverse product catalog, and a detailed record of each order, enhancing the relational aspect of the database.

Imagine querying this database to find all orders made by a specific customer, or obtaining a list of products ordered within a certain timeframe. The relational structure enables such queries to be executed efficiently, showcasing the power and versatility of relational databases in managing complex data relationships.

What to consider when choosing a relational database?

Choosing the right relational database involves considering various factors. The software responsible for storing, managing, querying, and retrieving data in a relational database is known as a relational database management system (RDBMS). This system acts as a bridge between users, applications, and the database, offering administrative functions for effective data management.

To make an informed decision based on your business needs, ponder over these questions:

  1. Data Accuracy Requirements:
  • Is data accuracy crucial, especially when business logic comes into play?
  • Does the nature of our data, such as financial or government information, demand stringent accuracy?
  1. Scalability Considerations:
  • What is the scale of our data, and how do we anticipate its growth?
  • Do we require the database to support mirrored copies (separate instances) for scalability?
  • Can the chosen database maintain data consistency across these instances?
  1. Concurrency Needs:
  • How vital is concurrent data access for multiple users and applications?
  • Does the database software support concurrency while ensuring data protection?
  1. Performance and Reliability Criteria:
  • Are high-performance and reliability crucial for our operations?
  • What are the specific requirements for query-response performance?
  • What commitments does the vendor have regarding service level agreements (SLAs) and unplanned downtime?


Relational databases serve as the bedrock of structured data management, offering a robust framework for organizing, storing, and retrieving information. As we navigate the complexities of modern data-driven environments, understanding the fundamental principles and applications of relational databases becomes increasingly vital.

From the basic components of tables, rows, and columns to the intricacies of data relationships and integrity constraints, relational databases provide a structured approach that ensures data consistency and accuracy. The example of managing customer data in an e-commerce platform illustrates how these databases function in real-world scenarios, creating connections and facilitating efficient data handling.

FAQs About Relational Databases

1. What is the role of a primary key in a relational database?

A: The primary key uniquely identifies each record in a table, ensuring data integrity and serving as a reference point for establishing relationships with other tables.

2. How does normalization impact database design?

A: Normalization is the process of organizing data to reduce redundancy and dependency. While it improves data integrity, over-normalization can lead to complexity, and finding the right balance is crucial.

3. Can relational databases handle unstructured data?

A: Relational databases are optimized for structured data. While some can store semi-structured data, other database models like NoSQL may be more suitable for handling completely unstructured data.

4. What is the significance of foreign keys?

A: Foreign keys establish relationships between tables by referencing the primary key of another table. This ensures consistency and accuracy when retrieving information across different tables.

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