SQL 101 – What is a Database

The term database is used for many different meanings.  But if you compared them all, I think you would find that databases are all collections of data that are organized in some way.  I usually like to refer to an Excel document when I try to explain databases.

An example Excel 2003 file.
An example Excel 2003 file.

An excel file has a collection of worksheets. At a very basic level you can consider a database a collection of tables.  There are other objects in a database, but tables will be what you work with most often.

Usually each of those worksheets represents a single collection of data.  Let’s say in our Excel file we were collecting data on sales.  We’d create a worksheet for customers, a worksheet of products, and a worksheet of sales (relating the customer to a product sold, with quantities, dates sold, and sales prices.  Each of these worksheets would represent tables in our database.

Each of those worksheets have rows and columns.  Each row in our sheet would represent one record in a table.  The record is a set of data all describing a single entity to the table.  If we were to discuss the customer table, each row would hold information on a single customer.  That customer’s first name, last name, address, etc.

Each column in our worksheet would represent an attribute.  The first name, last name, etc. we just mentioned is an attribute that describes a customer.


  • Think of the database as a container.  It contains organized data.
  • Don’t confuse the term database with database management systems (DBMS).  A database is your container, MS SQL 2000 is the management system.  It’s Microsoft’s method for organizing your data into usable elements.

You should now have a basic understanding of what a database is, and few of the items you will find inside a database.  If you have any questions, please, send them in!  I look forward to helping any way I can.

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By Shannon Lowder

Shannon Lowder is the Database Engineer you've been looking for! Look no further for expertise in: Business Analysis to gather the business requirements for the database; Database Architecting to design the logical design of the database; Database Development to actually build the objects needed by the business logic; finally, Database Administration to keep the database running in top form, and making sure there is a disaster recovery plan.


  1. This was very helpful for a beginner level understanding of the topics.

  2. A nice gentle introduction to SQL Server.Excellent. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

  3. Excellent introduction into a new language for beginners. This is EXACTLY what I was looking for!Thanks much!

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