What The App?

What the app is a database?

January 30, 2018

If you think of any sort of application or online service, you are interacting with information. You might be responding to information (❤️ liking, 💬 commenting) or entering your own information (✍️ 🌅 posting).

All of this information, your posts, the fact that you like something, your comment, or even your view, gets stored in a database.

This information has to become a form digital devices can understand. It has to become data. Data is a binary representation of information.

Different types of data have a different representation. Whole numbers have one. Depending on the range you wish to store, you might have more binary ones-and-zeros set aside or less. Or you might decide negative numbers are unnecessary — e.g. when did you see a post get -5 likes? That decision leaves room for more potential positive numbers.

Text has many digital representations, but after processes of standardisation (Unicode) that aim to cover the world’s written languages, from Finish to emoji. These standards basically translate a enormous international alphabet into a series of numbers. And those then become ones-and-zeros like any number.

Information that is more than text, such as photos, audio, and video, have their own representations. These are often stored outside of the main database. Each one is usually in the thousands or millions of numbers, so they get their own specialised home equipped for data of that size.

A database not only stores data. It allows it to be found again. This is a process called ‘indexing’. As new data is added, certain wanted aspects get extracted and collated into an index.

An index is just like that in the back of a book. It cuts through the masses of information and copies the essential pieces into sorted lists, where it can be quickly flipped through and scanned just like you would with a dictionary or phone book, tracing your finger alphabetically until you found your exact target.

Patrick Smith

Written by Patrick Smith who lives and works in Melbourne.
He posts about development & design on Twitter