Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) fundamentals tutorial

New to database administration or development? Here's a quick guide that can get you started by providing background on the relational model and practical advice for working with a relational database management system.

New to database administration or development? Here is a quick guide that can get you started in the right direction...

by providing background on the relational model and practical advice for working with relational database management systems (RDBMS).

Because much confusion stems from vague database-related terms, a good starting point is to know the terminology. First described by E. F. Codd at IBM in 1970, a relational database is a collection of data items organized as a set of formally-described tables from which data can be accessed or reassembled in many different ways without having to reorganize the database tables. The best backgrounder on the relational model is this chapter from Chris Date's new book, Database in Depth: Relational Theory for Practitioners.

Definitions of more database-related terms are available from our sister site

The relational model

The relational model is not without controversy, pitting purists versus theorists versus practitioners versus flat-out critics. For some background, check out these links:

Database structure

As mentioned above, database terminology sometimes gets in the way of database administration. The terms "database" and "instance" are important to know when using Oracle systems, and it is also important to know that different vendors will use the terms to mean different things. Here are some examples:

Another important distinction to make is the difference between the physical structure of the database, which consists of data files, redo log files and control files, and the logical structure, which consists of the tablespaces, schema objects, segments and extents. For further explanation:

Database design

Most of the time, database performance and ease of use is only as good as its design. And good design can, like everything else so far, be open to considerable debate. Here are a few resources to help you decide for yourself:


The rules of normalization are critical to database design, and with controversy continuing into this section, here are plenty of viewpoints on how normalization and denormalization affect the design and use of a database:

Working with an RDBMS 

For practical matters, sometimes you have questions that are pretty basic, but you don't know where to start to look for an answer if you can't find it in the Oracle documentation. For those types of issues, a great resource is our repository of expert answers, which you can search.'s panel of experts have answered hundreds of basic questions, and here is a very small sampling.

Oracle features explained:

Here are examples of how to:

For more, here's a field survey of database best practices, and a chapter excerpt of the book Oracle9i: The complete reference.

To retrieve data, you need to know the structured query language (SQL). We have a complete SQL Learning Guide, but for a basic understanding of what it can do for you, read below:

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Next Steps

Learn about the Pluggable Database feature of the Oracle Database 12c

Read about how IBM's new database is aimed at Oracle users

Find out the conclusions of searchOracle's Oracle vs. SQL Server faceoff

This was first published in June 2005

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