What is a Database? A Comprehensive Guide to Various Types of Databases

What is a Database? A Comprehensive Guide to Various Types of Databases | Data Analytics | Emeritus

Data is the cornerstone of all modern enterprise. Yet, data by itself has no value; it must be structured and interpreted to draw conclusions that influence decision-making. Data is structured by organizing it in formats consistent with other related data. These formats are known as databases. So what is a database? Read on to know more.

What is a Database?

A database is an organized repository of related information stored in a manner that enables it to be easily accessed, managed, and updated. Databases store information in a grid system consisting of rows and columns to make retrieval easier. Data gathered from multiple sources cannot be used as it is. A database is what gives it structure, making it easier to convert data into useful information which can help in decision-making.

What is a Database Used for?

Databases are used for the systematic storage, retrieval, and modification of information in a single place in an electronic format. Moreover, data stored herein is analyzed for trends that can help make informed decisions on various business processes. 

Types of Databases

Data is a nonstandard entity, making it impossible to have a single format for structuring it. Also, there are five types of databases that differ from each other in the way they are structured and how their variables are related. 

data collectionHierarchical Databases

In hierarchical databases, data gets stored in a tree-like or a parent-child structure. That is to say, the elements stored lower in a hierarchy are validated by those above them in authority. Thus, elements may be completely independent of each other, and yet, fall under the same category. An example of this is an organization that contains several departments and ranks through which authority and information flow. Moreover, hierarchical databases are not easily scalable and this makes data retrieval cumbersome. 

Network Databases

Network databases are essentially hierarchical databases allowing child data to be linked with multiple parent data. This is best visualized by cross-functional teams with associates answerable to various superiors. Crosslinking allows for correlating more variables. However, it complicates the database even further, making it difficult to use. Also, both hierarchical and network databases are best used for low-volume data. 

Object-Oriented Databases

Object-oriented databases store data as objects, similar to that object-oriented programming. Moreover, a response to a query is obtained as an instance of the object referenced. Also, these databases are known for their speed and efficiency. 

Relational Databases

Amongst the most widespread and comprehensive databases, relational databases store data in a tabular structure. This enables all variables to be linked to each other without having to define relationships individually. They are amongst the most scalable, efficient, and quick-to-respond databases to work with. 

NoSQL Databases

Sometimes data cannot be represented in a tabular format. In such cases, simple horizontal relationships between variables is the best way of structuring data. This presents many advantages, such as increased flexibility and processing speed in certain operations. However, NoSQL databases have issues with scalability, data security, and increased file sizes.

What is a Structured Query Language (SQL)?

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language concerned specifically with relational databases. Apart from the standard functions of managing data within databases, SQL can also optimize databases themselves. 

Due to its popularity and ease of use, SQL has many proprietary versions. These versions are extensions of the standard ANSI- (American National Standards Institute-) compliant SQL. 

The following is a comprehensive list of utilities provided by SQL:

  • Access to relational database management systems
  • Possibility of definition and manipulation of specific data
  • Creation and deletion of databases and tables
  • Creation and automation of repetitive functions in the relational database
  • Access control over information
  • Optimization of the database for improving its performance

Commonly used SQL commands include Create, Insert, Update, Delete, Select, and Drop. 

What’s the Difference Between a Database and a Spreadsheet?

‘What is a database and how is it different from spreadsheets?’ That’s a very common question asked by people not native to the data industry. Since both use rows and columns to store data, they are often confused for being the same. Here is a list of differences between the two:

Data Storage

In spreadsheets, data is recorded through the direct entry and does not have to adhere to a certain type. In databases, data cannot be recorded directly; it must be imported. Databases only contain related data which prevents them from accepting incompatible entries. Due to this, databases contain coherent information whereas spreadsheets run the risk of recording faulty data.

Data Formatting

Databases do not concern themselves with a presentation. Due to this, it is not possible to visually customize data by changing colors or fonts. Spreadsheets allow formatting of data entries for visual differentiation and highlighting. 

Calculations and Data Representation

Spreadsheets allow for calculations to be made within the sheet. Databases, on the other hand, retrieve information for calculation without affecting the original records. Both spreadsheets and databases are capable of automation and graphical visualization. However, modern database software allows for striking visual representation with added functionalities not available in spreadsheets. 

Database Challenges

An elaborate database is among the most valuable assets for any organization. Concurrently, it is vulnerable to hitches that can result in temporary loss of access or permanent loss of data. Here are some common challenges faced by organizations in relation to their databases.


Data volume increases as organizations grow. Due to this, the complexity of relationships between data variables also increases. When organizations are not set up to scale, it can lead to database impairment. 

Database Performance

Non-prioritization of information and lack of an accessibility hierarchy are detrimental to a database’s performance and consequently, user experience. 

Multiple Data Sources

Large organizations have multiple departments and hence multiple data repositories. Unless consolidated, this data is incomplete at best and leads to myopic decision-making. 


The vast reserve of valuable information held in databases is vulnerable to cyberattacks, tampering, corruption, and even complete obliteration. In fact, safeguarding databases with appropriate safety protocols is essential for maintaining their sanctity. 

Infrastructure Limitations

While databases are a powerful asset, the capabilities of the infrastructure hosting them can become a constraint. Forward-thinking organizations are aware of these limitations and engage infrastructure accordingly. They must also actively invest in infrastructure upgrades to support their database needs. 

Data Management and Distribution

As data grows in size, it makes the database bulky. Having unimportant historical data on the main server increases the retrieval time and reduces database efficiency. Not having control over who can access and alter database records is another common challenge as it makes data more prone to unwanted changes, thus reducing its reliability. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Database Management System?

A database management system (DBMS) is software handling the storage, retrieval, modification, and updating of data in a computer. 

What is a MySQL Database?

MySQL is a proprietary variant of the SQL DBMS programming language. It is known for being an open-source platform with high levels of customizability. 

What are the Advantages of DBMS?

Having a DBMS ensures data security, effective data integration, reliable data, reduced retrieval time, and improved productivity. 

What are Three Examples of a Database?

Some common examples of databases include personal cloud storage, stock markets, and e-commerce platforms. 

Emeritus has some of the best courses in SQL that will give you a headstart in your data management career. So, what are you waiting for? Take the first step in enhancing your career today!

Write to us at content@emeritus.org 

About the Author

SEO Content Contributor, Emeritus

Promita is a content contributor to the Emeritus Blog with a background in both marketing and language. With over 5 years of experience in writing for digital media, she specializes in SEO content that is both discoverable and usable. Apart from writing high-quality content, Promita also has a penchant for sketching and dabbling in the culinary arts. A cat parent and avid reader, she leaves a dash of personality and purpose in every piece of content she writes.
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