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January 11, 2024

Overview of Database Programming and How to Get Started

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January 11, 2024
Mostafa Ibrahim
Community Collaborator

Table of Contents


In the dynamic field of technology, database systems are crucial, evolving from simple file storage to advanced, AI-integrated platforms. This article explores the evolution of these systems, highlighting key developments from the 1960s to the present day. We'll delve into the transformative shifts in database programming, examining essential skills and modern tools that define today’s database landscape.

Through real-world examples from leading companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter, we'll showcase the impact of effective database programming in managing vast data and driving business success. This journey offers valuable insights for both aspiring and experienced programmers, underscoring the significance of database systems in our increasingly data-driven world.

The Evolution of Database Systems

The evolution of database systems over the years reflects a journey of technological advancement and adaptation to changing needs.

Here's an overview of each point on the diagram:

1. 1960s - Traditional File Systems: Data management using unstructured, flat file systems, leading to data redundancy issues.

2. 1970s - Hierarchical and Network Databases: Introduction of IBM's IMS (hierarchical) and CODASYL (network) models, organizing data in structured formats but with limited flexibility.

3. 1980s - Relational Databases: Emergence of the relational model, utilizing tables and SQL, revolutionizing data management with increased flexibility.

4. 1990s - Object-Oriented Databases: Development of databases handling complex data like multimedia, integrating object-oriented programming principles.

5. 2000s/2010s - NoSQL and NewSQL: The rise of NoSQL databases for scalable, unstructured data management, and NewSQL like HarperDB combining NoSQL's scalability with SQL's consistency.

Database Programming Paradigms

Declarative programming focuses on what the outcome should be without explicitly outlining the steps to get there. It's more about describing the desired result, and the system figures out the process to achieve that result. This approach is often more abstract and less about control flow than imperative programming.

Example: Select all records from a customers table where the customer's age is over 30.

SELECT * FROM customers WHERE age > 30;

In contrast, Imperative programming, exemplified by SQL, involves giving the computer a sequence of specific instructions on how to perform a task.

The term "imperative programming" in the context of SQL can be a bit misleading because SQL is inherently a declarative language. However, certain aspects or features within SQL, particularly in advanced SQL use cases, exhibit characteristics that are more aligned with imperative programming.

For example, you can use a SQL query to specify what you want to achieve (like retrieving or updating data) and describe how to do it step by step through queries.

Example: A stored procedure in SQL that increments the age of a specific customer and checks for eligibility.

CREATE PROCEDURE IncreaseAgeAndCheckEligibility (IN customerID INT)
    -- Increment age
    UPDATE customers SET age = age + 1 WHERE id = customerID;
    -- Update a field based on whether the updated age is over 30
    UPDATE customers
    SET status = CASE 
        WHEN age > 30 THEN 'Eligible for discount'
        ELSE 'Not eligible for discount'
    WHERE id = customerID;

Bridging these paradigms are stored procedures and triggers. Stored procedures are sets of SQL statements that can be stored and executed in the database. They often follow an imperative style, allowing complex operations, conditional logic, and error handling.

Triggers, on the other hand, are automatic responses to specific events in the database (like insertions or updates). They can encapsulate complex business logic executed in response to data modifications, ensuring data integrity and automating repetitive tasks.

Example: A trigger that automatically updates a membership_status column in the customers table whenever a new age is inserted or updated.

CREATE TRIGGER UpdateMembershipStatus
AFTER UPDATE OF age ON customers
    IF NEW.age > 30 THEN
        UPDATE customers SET membership_status = 'Gold' WHERE id =;
        UPDATE customers SET membership_status = 'Silver' WHERE id =;
    END IF;

Modern Database Technologies

Modern database technologies have evolved to meet the demands of high-speed, large-scale, and diverse data needs in today's digital world. Some of these newly evolved databases include:

1. Distributed Databases: As the name implies, distributed databases like HarperDB are spread across multiple physical locations, either within the same data center or across multiple data centers. This distribution enhances data availability, reliability, and scalability. In addition to HarperDB, systems like Apache Cassandra and Google's Bigtable handle large volumes of data and high transaction rates, making them ideal for global, web-scale applications.

2. In-Memory Databases (IMDBs): IMDBs like Redis and SAP HANA store data directly on random access memory (RAM) rather than on disk, significantly speeding up data access times. This technology is crucial for real-time analytics, high-performance computing, and caching. By eliminating disk I/O, in-memory databases can process complex transactions and queries much faster than traditional disk-based databases. In addition to standalone IMDBs, some solutions, like HarperDB, now include in-memory caches that accelerate processing without requiring stand-alone technologies.

3. Blockchain Databases: Emerging as part of the broader blockchain technology trend, blockchain databases offer a unique data storage and integrity approach. They store data in a decentralized manner, ensuring transparency and security, primarily through cryptographic techniques. While not widespread in conventional business applications, they're gaining traction in areas requiring high security and auditability, like supply chain management and financial transactions.

Each of these modern database technologies addresses specific challenges and use cases. Distributed databases provide robustness and scalability for distributed applications, in-memory databases offer unparalleled speed for real-time processing, and blockchain databases introduce a new paradigm for secure, decentralized data management. These advancements reflect the ongoing evolution and diversification in database technology. Learn more about Big Data Databases in this article as well.

Practical Skills and Tools for Today's Database Programmer

Today's database programmers must possess a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills along with the utilization of modern DB tools to manage and manipulate data effectively in various environments.

Essential Key Skills:

1. Data Modeling: This foundational skill involves designing the database structure – defining how data is stored, organized, and related. A good data model provides the blueprint for an efficient, scalable, and adaptable database. Understanding normalization, entity-relationship diagrams, and data types is crucial.

2. SQL Tuning: Since SQL is the primary language for interacting with databases, proficiency in writing efficient SQL queries is vital. SQL tuning involves optimizing queries for faster performance and lower resource consumption. This includes understanding indexing, query execution plans, and the use of specific clauses and functions to minimize data processing time.

3. Understanding Transaction Management: Transactions are a sequence of database operations that should either all succeed or all fail (atomicity). Managing transactions involves understanding concepts like ACID properties (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability), lock management, and concurrency issues. This knowledge is critical to ensure data integrity and consistency, especially in high-volume transactional systems.

Modern Tools and Platforms:

1. ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) Tools: Tools like Hibernate, Entity Framework, and Sequelize abstract the database interactions and allow developers to work with data as objects in their programming language. For example, java Hibernate is used to map JAVA Objects with SQL Tables and Object attributes with table fields. This can increase productivity and reduce the likelihood of SQL injection attacks.

2. Advanced Database Management Systems: Modern DBMSs like MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, HarperDB, and cloud-based solutions like Amazon RDS and Google Cloud SQL offer robust features, scalability, and flexibility. They cater to a wide range of needs from traditional relational data handling to big data solutions.

Remember that in this constantly evolving field, a programmer needs to stay updated with the latest trends and tools as new tools and skills may emerge occasionally. Embracing these skills and tools enhances a database programmer’s proficiency and aligns them with the industry’s best practices and emerging needs.

Case Studies in Database Programming: Managing Billions of Interactions at Facebook

Issues Faced

Facebook faces the monumental task of managing and processing an immense volume of data, including billions of photos, status updates, and user interactions daily. This challenge requires an infrastructure capable of handling diverse data types efficiently, maintaining high performance and availability, and supporting complex queries, especially given the interconnected nature of social network data.


Facebook's approach involves a sophisticated ecosystem of database technologies, each tailored for specific aspects of their data management needs. Let's mention some database solutions and how Facebook utilizes them to solve its issues.

1. MySQL for User Data Storage

Issue to solve: Handling vast quantities of user-generated data.

MySQL is used to store personal information, posts, and status updates. It allows for optimized performance, scalability, and sharding across numerous servers. MySQL acts as the primary storage for standard data transactions and queries.

2. Graph Databases for Social Graph Management

Issue to solve: Efficiently managing and querying the complex, interconnected social network data, which includes user connections.

Facebook utilizes graph databases to manage the complex web of user connections and shared content. This allows for efficient storage and traversal of relationships. Graph databases are utilized for their complex query capabilities in Facebook's "Graph Search."

3. Memcached for Data Caching

Issue to solve: Reducing the load on the primary database and enhancing the site's responsiveness.

Memcached acts as a caching layer to reduce database read load. It allows for in-memory key-value storage for quick data access. Enhances site responsiveness by caching frequently accessed data.


The journey through the evolution of database systems and their programming reveals a landscape where technology has grown in complexity and sophistication.

From the hierarchical databases of the 1960s to today's advanced platforms like those used by Facebook, the progression is a testament to the ever-increasing demands of data management. Facebook's multifaceted database approach – employing MySQL for data storage, Graph Databases for network management, and Memcached for efficient caching – exemplifies the innovative strategies for handling large-scale data in a digital age.

For database programmers, this evolution underscores the importance of continuous learning and adaptation for database programmers. Skills in data modeling, SQL tuning, and understanding modern tools are more crucial than ever.

As we move forward, the ability to navigate and leverage these evolving technologies will remain crucial to success in an increasingly data-centric world, offering exciting opportunities for innovation and problem-solving in database programming.

While you're here, learn about HarperDB, a breakthrough development platform with a database, applications, and streaming engine in one unified solution.

Check out HarperDB