Can databases make your life easier? Bank on it

Posted on June 4, 2001

Many of you have surely noticed lengthy URLs at different times while surfing the Internet. Here's an example of a large URL: &a=23f60270a632fa3543041ec27819571d&msg=MSG991341874.3 &start=1993662&len=1265&msgread=1&mfs=2011. What does all this craziness mean?

This link is actually to an e-mail in my Hotmail account. It's just a single e-mail from my stepdad about the computer I'm getting. Can you imagine trying to type that entire address in to get to a specific place on the Web?

There's an easy explanation for this, though. The URL was generated by a database, which is why it has so many letters and numbers. Don't try to convert the numbers in the address to letters and say it backwards. I swear, it won't be the Constitution Preamble or anything. Think of how many users Hotmail's database contains and how many messages each user has. Each of those messages must have a unique address, and it would be impossible for someone to go through and name them all.

Databases are used all the time in everyday life, at the store, at the movies, at the bank; they're just the best way to store large sets of data. Think how cumbersome it would be every time you went to the bank if you had to give them your name, address, social security number, phone number, favorite top hat, an orange, one white sock and a pair of handcuffs just to withdraw money. Instead, you just have to give them an account number, which the teller types in, and PRESTO! has all the other information. Another way you may succeed in withdrawing money is by wearing a ski mask and pretending to be Ed McMahon, but it's rather risky.

The Internet engages in database activity in various ways as well. Most news sites use some type of publishing system to keep track of stories so they can be easily managed. They can often be sorted by category (news, sports, etc.), date published, title and author. Without a database to handle stories, the sorting option would be difficult, unless you take pleasure in sorting through every story every time you want to find something. If that's the case, you may want to get a job rummaging through old books at yard sales because I'd bet you would be excellent at it.

There are plenty of database options out there. It's kind of scary considering you would need a database to hold all the different database solutions. The cheaper they are, the more limitations they have. I use FileMaker for my database solutions. It's pretty easy to use, and at the same time, you can create complex databases that relate to each other. Imagine purchasing something on the Internet, like a piece of computer software or a leopard print toilet seat cover. There would have to be a database with all the products, another database with purchaser information (name, address, method of payment, etc.), and another one to hold all the individual orders. Of course, some of the information would have to be transmitted from database to database. You would need the person's name and account number and what they were ordering on the order form record. Notice how similar this is to the bank example, only without the ski mask.

Companies with huge product lists need to use something like Oracle to handle the large number of records. I haven't tried Oracle but I'd like to learn it. I've heard it's very powerful and can also make popcorn, if you write the correct program.

Databases continue to make lives easier in the business world, which in turn makes consumers' lives easier. So next time you go to the bank, make sure you add "What database program are you running?" to the end of your demands note. And go with the green ski mask; it matches your ammo belt.