Glossary of Common Database Terms

Master the basic lingo of database management

This glossary covers database terms and concepts used across all types of databases. It does not include terms specific to certain systems or databases.

Scrolling through a database looking for donors who might make good board members.
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The ACID model of database design enforces data integrity through:

  • Atomicity: Each database transaction must follow an all-or-nothing rule, meaning that if any part of the transaction fails, the entire transaction fails.
  • Consistency: Each database transaction must follow all the database's defined rules; any transaction that would violate these rules is not allowed.
  • Isolation: Each database transaction will occur independently of any other transaction. For example, if multiple transactions are submitted concurrently, the database will prevent any interference between them.
  • Durability: Each database transaction will permanently exist despite any database failure, through backups or other means.


A database attribute is a characteristic of a database entity. An attribute is a column in a database table, which itself is known as an entity.


Databases use authentication to ensure that only authorized users can access the database or certain aspects of the database. For example, administrators might be authorized to insert or edit data, while regular employees might be able to only view data. Authentication is implemented with usernames and passwords.

BASE Model

The BASE model has been developed as an alternative to the ACID model to serve the needs of noSQL databases in which the data is not structured in the same way required by relational databases. Its primary tenets are:

  • Basic Availability: The database is available and operational, backed sometimes by data replication distributed across several servers.
  • Soft State: Countering the ACID model of strict consistency, this tenet states that data does not always have to be consistent and that any enforced consistency is the responsibility of the individual database or developer.
  • Eventual Consistency: At some undefined future point, the database will achieve consistency.


A database constraint is a set of rules that define valid data. The primary constraints are:

  • UNIQUE constraints: A field must contain a unique value in the table.
  • CHECK constraints: A field can contain only specific data types or even specific allowable values.
  • DEFAULT constraints: A field will contain a default value if it has no existing value to preclude a null value.
  • PRIMARY KEY Constraints: The primary key must be unique.
  • FOREIGN KEY Constraints: The foreign key must match an existing primary key in another table.

Database Management System

DBMS is the software that manages all aspects of working with a database, from storing and securing the data to enforcing data integrity rules, to providing forms for data entry and manipulation. A Relational Database Management System implements the relational model of tables and relationships between them.


An entity is a table in a database. It is described using an Entity-Relationship Diagram, which is a type of graphic that shows the relationships amongdatabase tables.

Functional Dependency

A functional dependency constraint helps to ensure data validity, and exists when one attribute determines the value of another, described as A -> B which means that the value of A determines the value of B, or that B is functionally dependent on A. For example, a table in a university that includes records of all students might have a functional dependency between the student ID and the student name, i.e. the unique student ID will determine the value of the name.


An index is a data structure that helps speed database queries for large datasets. Database developers create an index on particular columns in a table. The index holds the column values but just pointers to the data in the rest of the table and can be searched efficiently and quickly.


A key is a database field whose purpose is to uniquely identify a record. Keys help enforce data integrity and avoid duplication. The main types of keys used in a database are:

  • Candidate keys: The set of columns that can each uniquely identify a record and from which the primary key is chosen.
  • Primary keys: This key uniquely identifies a record in a table. It cannot be null.
  • Foreign keys: The key linking a record to a record in another table. A table's foreign key must exist as the primary key of another table.


To normalize a database is to design its tables (relations) and columns (attributes) in a way to ensure data integrity and to avoid duplication. The primary levels of normalization are First Normal Form (1NF), Second Normal Form (2NF), Third Normal Form (3NF), and Boyce-Codd Normal Form (BCNF).


NoSQL is a database model developed to respond to the need for storing unstructured data such as emails, social media posts, video, or images. Rather than using SQL and the strict ACID model to ensure data integrity, NoSQL follows the less-strict BASE model. A NoSQL database schema does not use tables to store data; rather, it might use a key/value design or graphs.


The value null is frequently confused to mean none or zero; however, it actually means unknown. If a field has a value of null, it is a placeholder for an unknown value. Structured Query Language uses the IS NULL and IS NOT NULL operators to test for null values.


A database query is usually written in SQL and can be either a select query or an action query. A select query requests data from a database; an action query changes, updates, or adds data. Some databases provide drag-and-drop forms that hide the semantics of the query, helping people to request information without having to write valid SQL.


A database schema is the design of tables, columns, relations, and constraints that make up a logically distinct section of a database.

Stored Procedure

A stored procedure is a pre-compiled query or SQL statement shared across several different programs and users in a Database Management System. Stored procedures improve efficiency, help enforce data integrity, and boost productivity.

Structured Query Language

Structured Query Language, or SQL, is the most commonly used language to access data from a database. SQL branches into two types of syntax. The Data Manipulation Language contains the subset of SQL commands used most frequently and includes SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE. The Data Definition Language creates new database objects like indexes and tables.


A trigger is a stored procedure set to execute given a particular event, usually a change to a table's data. For example, a trigger might be designed to write to a log, gather statistics, or compute a value.


A database view is a filtered set of data displayed to the end user in order to hide data complexity and streamline the user experience. A view can join data from two or more tables and contains a subset of information. A materialized view is a view that looks and acts as if it were a table in its own right.

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