Story by: Colophon Editor
November 12, 2004

You have probably come across the term “database” during your working career. What exactly is a database and how is it used for websites?

The simplest definition of a database is: “an organized body of related information that is stored in a computer medium and can be easily accessed and manipulated.”

In the context of website development a database refers to organized data that are stored electronically on a server and can be accessed by websites. A common example of this is the storage of customer information. When you buy something on a website, a book for example, the information that you submit usually arrives at a database.

A typical database is arranged in a series of columns and rows. So, when your last name arrives at the database it would be put in a column called “Last Name”. If you could see the inside of the database it would look like the diagram below.

When you return to the same website to buy another book, the database can access the row with your last name and then retrieve all of the other data related to you. This simple process has very powerful applications for website development. The use of databases can greatly increase the speed, efficiency and scalability of websites. Let’s look at an example.

If a company decided to set up a website that displayed articles for its customers on the web, they could create a single webpage for each article and they put them on the web for people to see. So, if they had 100 articles to publish, they would make 100 web pages and put them on the server. While this method is effective and will allow people to easily read the articles, it greatly decreases the efficiency of the development process and the ability to do rapid updates to the website. A far more efficient way to display the articles on the web would be to use a database, because one of the most basic things that a database can do is store text.

The company could put their articles in a database and then build one webpage in which to display them. Rows of articles would reside in the database and would display on the webpage when requesting a particular article. This request is called a query. When querying a database, you are asking for particular information from the collection of columns and rows. Because databases are highly efficient at handling these queries, they deliver the data quickly and efficiently to the webpage.

Now if the company wants to add another article to their website, they don’t need to build another webpage, but instead can simply deposit the article into the database.

A database simplifies and speeds the creation of web pages by storing data in organized columns and rows. When the data are requested by a web browser (querying a database) the database sends the information over the web to create a webpage.

If you have questions or comments about this article please contact
James Eastman at:

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