Efficient data management typically requires the use of a computer database. A database is a shared, integrated computer structure that stores a collection of:
- End-user data, that is, raw facts of interest to the end user.
- Metadata, or data about data, through which the end-user data are integrated and managed.
The metadata provide a description of the data characteristics and the set of relationships that links the data found within the database. For example, the metadata component stores information such as the name of each data element, the type of values (numeric, dates, or text) stored on each data element, whether or not the data element can be left empty, and so on. The metadata provide information that complements and expands the value and use of the data. In short, metadata present a more complete picture of the data in the database. Given the characteristics of metadata, you might hear a database described as a “collection of self-describing data.”
A database management system (DBMS) is a collection of programs that manages the database structure and controls access to the data stored in the database. In a sense, a database resembles a very well-organized electronic filing cabinet in which powerful software, known as a database management system, helps manage the cabinet’s contents.