Number sequence generator

Most database management systems provide number sequence generators that generate numbers that never repeat. This is necessary to provide values for primary keys, especially when multiple users are producing new records at the same time. The number sequence generator must assure that different users would not produce the same number at the same time.

Number sequence generators may be associated directly to the column of the table that contains primary keys. Every time a new record is inserted in the table, a new number in the sequence is created.

The database designer may choose an initial value for the sequence as well as an increment. For example, beginning with 500 with an increment of 5 the sequence generated would be 500, 505, 510, 515, etc.

Index selection

By default, a relational table is just a set of records. Finding a given object at a table would require iterating over all elements until the desired element is found. For example, looking for a book given its ISBN would require an exhaustive search.

Databases usually provide, however, the possibility of indexing columns. An indexed column has an auxiliary table that allows specific records to be found in almost constant time. For example, if the isbn column of the table is indexed, then when a book is searched based on its ISBN, no iteration is performed over the set of all records: the system simply would translate the value of the ISBN into a position in memory by using a hash function and retrieve the element from that position. If that is not the desired element, then it looks for the next, and so on until finding it. If the hash function is well implemented and the hash table has enough space to avoid collisions (two values being translated to the same hash value), then usually the desired element is really in the first place searched, or very close to it at least.

The use of indices improves query speed. However, it slows database updating because every time a record is updated, inserted, or deleted, the auxiliary table must be updated as well (Choenni, Blanken, & Chang, 1993). Furthermore, indices also require more storage space for accommodating the auxiliary tables.

A primary key is indexed by default. Other columns may be indexed if the designer chooses to do that. Given the restrictions mentioned before, creating other indices may be an advantage in the case of an attribute that is used as internal qualifier. In that case, finding the objects quickly may be crucial for the application’s performance. Otherwise, indices should be avoided. For example, columns that are rarely used for searching purposes (for example, a book’s page count) should not be indexed.

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