Chapter: Fundamentals of Database Systems - File Structures, Indexing, and Hashing - Disk Storage, Basic File Structures, and Hashing

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Files of Ordered Records (Sorted Files)

We can physically order the records of a file on disk based on the values of one of their fields—called the ordering field.

Files of Ordered Records (Sorted Files)


We can physically order the records of a file on disk based on the values of one of their fields—called the ordering field. This leads to an ordered or sequential file. If the ordering field is also a key field of the file—a field guaranteed to have a unique value in each record—then the field is called the ordering key for the file. Figure 17.7 shows an ordered file with Name as the ordering key field (assuming that employees have distinct names).


Ordered records have some advantages over unordered files. First, reading the records in order of the ordering key values becomes extremely efficient because no sorting is required. Second, finding the next record from the current one in order of the order-ing key usually requires no additional block accesses because the next record is in the same block as the current one (unless the current record is the last one in the block). Third, using a search condition based on the value of an ordering key field results in faster access when the binary search technique is used, which constitutes an improve-ment over linear searches, although it is not often used for disk files. Ordered files are blocked and stored on contiguous cylinders to minimize the seek time.


A binary search for disk files can be done on the blocks rather than on the records. Suppose that the file has b blocks numbered 1, 2, ..., b; the records are ordered by ascending value of their ordering key field; and we are searching for a record whose ordering key field value is K. Assuming that disk addresses of the file blocks are avail-able in the file header, the binary search can be described by Algorithm 17.1. A binary search usually accesses log2(b) blocks, whether the record is found or not—an improvement over linear searches, where, on the average, (b/2) blocks are accessed when the record is found and b blocks are accessed when the record is not found.


Algorithm 17.1. Binary Search on an Ordering Key of a Disk File


l 1; u b; (* b is the number of file blocks *) while (u l ) do


begin i (l + u) div 2;


read block i of the file into the buffer;


if K < (ordering key field value of the first record in block i ) then u i – 1


else if K > (ordering key field value of the last record in block i ) then l i + 1


else if the record with ordering key field value = K is in the buffer then goto found


else goto notfound; end;

goto notfound;


A search criterion involving the conditions >, <, , and on the ordering field is quite efficient, since the physical ordering of records means that all records satisfying the condition are contiguous in the file. For example, referring to Figure 17.7, if the search criterion is (Name < ‘G’)—where < means alphabetically before— the records satisfying the search criterion are those from the beginning of the file up to the first record that has a Name value starting with the letter ‘G’.

Ordering does not provide any advantages for random or ordered access of the records based on values of the other nonordering fields of the file. In these cases, we do a linear search for random access. To access the records in order based on a nonordering field, it is necessary to create another sorted copy—in a different order—of the file.


Inserting and deleting records are expensive operations for an ordered file because the records must remain physically ordered. To insert a record, we must find its cor-rect position in the file, based on its ordering field value, and then make space in the file to insert the record in that position. For a large file this can be very time-consuming because, on the average, half the records of the file must be moved to make space for the new record. This means that half the file blocks must be read and rewritten after records are moved among them. For record deletion, the problem is less severe if deletion markers and periodic reorganization are used.


One option for making insertion more efficient is to keep some unused space in each block for new records. However, once this space is used up, the original problem resurfaces. Another frequently used method is to create a temporary unordered file called an overflow or transaction file. With this technique, the actual ordered file is called the main or master file. New records are inserted at the end of the overflow file rather than in their correct position in the main file. Periodically, the overflow file is sorted and merged with the master file during file reorganization. Insertion becomes very efficient, but at the cost of increased complexity in the search algorithm. The overflow file must be searched using a linear search if, after the binary search, the record is not found in the main file. For applications that do not require the most up-to-date information, overflow records can be ignored during a search.


Modifying a field value of a record depends on two factors: the search condition to locate the record and the field to be modified. If the search condition involves the ordering key field, we can locate the record using a binary search; otherwise we must do a linear search. A nonordering field can be modified by changing the record and rewriting it in the same physical location on disk—assuming fixed-length records. Modifying the ordering field means that the record can change its position in the file. This requires deletion of the old record followed by insertion of the modified record.


Reading the file records in order of the ordering field is quite efficient if we ignore the records in overflow, since the blocks can be read consecutively using double buffering. To include the records in overflow, we must merge them in their correct positions; in this case, first we can reorganize the file, and then read its blocks sequentially. To reorganize the file, first we sort the records in the overflow file, and then merge them with the master file. The records marked for deletion are removed during the reorganization.


Table 17.2 summarizes the average access time in block accesses to find a specific record in a file with b blocks.


Ordered files are rarely used in database applications unless an additional access path, called a primary index, is used; this results in an indexed-sequential file. This

further improves the random access time on the ordering key field. (We discuss indexes in Chapter 18.) If the ordering attribute is not a key, the file is called a clustered file.

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