Files of Unordered Records (Heap Files)
In this simplest and most basic type of organization, records are placed in the file in the order in which they are inserted, so new records are inserted at the end of the file. Such an organization is called a heap or pile file. This organization is often used with additional access paths, such as the secondary indexes discussed in Chapter 18. It is also used to collect and store data records for future use.
Inserting a new record is very efficient. The last disk block of the file is copied into a buffer, the new record is added, and the block is then rewritten back to disk. The address of the last file block is kept in the file header. However, searching for a record using any search condition involves a linear search through the file block by block—an expensive procedure. If only one record satisfies the search condition, then, on the average, a program will read into memory and search half the file blocks before it finds the record. For a file of b blocks, this requires searching (b/2) blocks, on average. If no records or several records satisfy the search condition, the program must read and search all b blocks in the file.
To delete a record, a program must first find its block, copy the block into a buffer, delete the record from the buffer, and finally rewrite the block back to the disk. This leaves unused space in the disk block. Deleting a large number of records in this way results in wasted storage space. Another technique used for record deletion is to have an extra byte or bit, called a deletion marker, stored with each record. A record is deleted by setting the deletion marker to a certain value. A different value for the marker indicates a valid (not deleted) record. Search programs consider only valid records in a block when conducting their search. Both of these deletion techniques require periodic reorganization of the file to reclaim the unused space of deleted records. During reorganization, the file blocks are accessed consecutively, and records are packed by removing deleted records. After such a reorganization, the blocks are filled to capacity once more. Another possibility is to use the space of deleted records when inserting new records, although this requires extra bookkeeping to keep track of empty locations.
We can use either spanned or unspanned organization for an unordered file, and it may be used with either fixed-length or variable-length records. Modifying a variable-length record may require deleting the old record and inserting a modified record because the modified record may not fit in its old space on disk.
To read all records in order of the values of some field, we create a sorted copy of the file. Sorting is an expensive operation for a large disk file, and special techniques for external sorting are used (see Chapter 19).
For a file of unordered fixed-length records using unspanned blocks and contiguous allocation, it is straightforward to access any record by its position in the file. If the file records are numbered 0, 1, 2, ..., r − 1 and the records in each block are numbered 0, 1, ..., bfr − 1, where bfr is the blocking factor, then the ith record of the file is located in block (i/bfr) and is the (i mod bfr)th record in that block. Such a file is often called a relative or direct file because records can easily be accessed directly by their relative positions. Accessing a record by its position does not help locate a record based on a search condition; however, it facilitates the construction of access paths on the file, such as the indexes discussed in Chapter 18.
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