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Choosing the Type of Database for Your Website

The general purpose of a database is to store and retrieve information. Although there are variations, on the whole, they follow an identical structure. For the purpose of illustrating this concept, let’s say that your database is used to help you sell books. You would have broad categories of books, just as you would have them in the library or bookstore... fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, cooking, etc. Once you arrived in each of those physical sections, the divisions would continue, and would likely be created specifically for that type of book. For example, in the fiction section, you’d likely have the best sellers grouped together. The cooking section would have cookbooks arranged by type of food, etc. In addition, of course, each book would have "attributes" – things about them that differ from book to book, such as the price, the author, the publisher, the ISBN number, and so forth.

A database allows us to define those groupings, to define smaller groupings within them, and to relate information to one another so that we can organize it and retrieve it in a quick and meaningful way. The decision as to which database you use is a function, in part, of (1) what you need your website to do, (2) what programming language you are using, (3) what legacy database information you’re working with, (4) what restrictions exist on the host computer, and (5) what budget is available. Some database programs are "open source," meaning that they are available at no additional charge; while other database programs are extremely expensive but absolutely essential for building certain highly complex applications. 

By the way, if any of the terminology in this article is unfamiliar, please stop and read our article entitled The Three Essentials For Creating a Website so that you understand some foundational elements. 

Choosing the right database is usually a fairly straightforward process. Unless you are building a truly massive site... something that approaches the size and complexity of Amazon.com, for instance, then you can usually take your pick from any of the most popular database systems, including:

Microsoft SQL Server

In addition, the Microsoft Access database is used rather frequently, and will work in certain situations. Note, however, that Microsoft Access was not originally designed to be used to support websites. Before implementing this particular database as part of your website, you need to be sure that the finished application will not need to drive massive amounts of information nor support many simultaneous website users. Microsoft Access will suffice for some very small applications, but those applications should be hand-picked by a practiced, knowledgeable web developer.

The database that you ultimately select will frequently be the result of the other choices you make for your website, including any prefabricated software you want to use that may limit you to one or two available databases; and the physical restrictions of your web host. If your web hosting plan runs on a Windows server, for example, then it is more likely that Microsoft SQL Server will be included as part of the physical hosting arrangement.

The key to successful planning is to understand what you are starting with, what you are building, and what specific trio of programming, database, and server are best to support that combination of needs. Although it is physically possible to switch to another database after the fact, it can be a fairly time-consuming process to move the actual data and to make the numerous small changes that will most likely be required throughout the programming code across the website.

This material is Copyrighted. All rights reserved. Linda C. Uranga-Norton, President and Founder, Urangatang Web Design. To obtain reprint permission or engage the author for speaking engagements, please contact the author at . All reprints must include a link to the author's website at www.urangatang.com.

If you have an idea for an educational or informative article that you believe would be of interest to others as well, please email us at or call us at 1-888-872-6428 ext. 707 to discuss your idea.


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