What Is a Data Source?

Any file that contains data is considered a data source

A data source (sometimes called a data file) is a place from which data is obtained. The source can be any data in any file format, as long as the program understands how to read it. 

Important Data Source Facts

A data source, also called a data file, is a collection of records that store data. A data source can be any document organized to provide structure for the receiving program to pull data. You can use any text file as a data source, such as a plain text file or a database file.

The text file can come from programs like Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro. In theory, you can use any Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) database as a data source. You can also create the file in spreadsheets from Excel, Quattro Pro, and similar programs. The data source can also be a simple table in a word processor document.

Various applications can use a data source, including database applications like Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheet programs, word processors like Microsoft Word, web browsers, and offline programs.

A data source file used in one program for one purpose might not be relevant in a different program, even if both programs use data source files. In other words, a particular data source is subjective to the application using the data.

Data Source Examples

A typical scenario when it comes to Microsoft Word using a data source is for Word to make a mail merge from data taken from an Excel document. For example, a data source for a mail merge in Microsoft Word might be a CSV file. This file contains contacts that can be automatically written to a Word document for printing envelopes with the correct names and addresses. However, such a data source might not be useful in another context.

Another data source might be a file that records the times that people check in to a doctor's office. A program can use the data source to aggregate all the check-in times and display the times on a website or use the information within an application, either for viewing the content or interacting with another data source.

An address book contact can be used in some scenarios because there's a column for a name, address, and email account.

Data sources might also come from a live feed. For example, iTunes can use a live feed to play internet radio stations. The feed is the data source, and the iTunes application is what displays the feed.

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