Database design focuses on how the database structure will be used to store and manage end-user data. Data modeling, the first step in designing a database, refers to the process of creating a specific data model for a determined problem domain. (A problem domain is a clearly defined area within the real-world environment, with well-defined scope and boundaries, that is to be systematically addressed.)
A data model is a relatively simple representation, usually graphical, of more complex real-world data structures. In general terms, a model is an abstraction of a more complex real-world object or event. A model’s main function is to help you understand the complexities of the real-world environment. Within the database environment, a data model represents data structures and their characteristics, relations, constraints, transformations, and other constructs with the purpose of supporting a specific problem domain.
Data modeling is an iterative, progressive process. You start with a simple understanding of the problem domain, and as your understanding of the problem domain increases, so does the level of detail of the data model. Done properly, the final data model is in effect a “blueprint” containing all the instructions to build a database that will meet all end-user requirements. This blueprint is narrative and graphical in nature, meaning that it contains both text descriptions in plain, unambiguous language and clear, useful diagrams depicting the main data elements.
Traditionally, database designers relied on good judgment to help them develop a good data model. Unfortunately, good judgment is often in the eye of the beholder, and it often develops after much trial and error. For example, if each of the students in this class has to create a data model for a video store, it’s very likely that each of them will come up with a different model. Which one would be the correct one? The simple answer is “the one that meets all the end-user requirements,” and there may be more than one correct solution! Fortunately, database designers make use of existing data-modeling constructs and powerful database design tools that substantially diminish the potential for errors in database modeling. In the following sections, you will learn how existing data models are used to represent real-world data and how the different degrees of data abstraction facilitate data modeling. For example, if each student in a class has to create a data model for a video store, it’s very likely that each will come up with a different model