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Chapter: Fundamentals of Database Systems - Object, Object-Relational, and XML: Concepts, Models, Languages, and Standards - Object and Object-Relational Databases

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Object Identity, and Objects versus Literals

One goal of an ODMS (Object Data Management System) is to maintain a direct correspondence between real-world and database objects so that objects do not lose their integrity and identity and can easily be identified and operated upon.

Object Identity, and Objects versus Literals

 

One goal of an ODMS (Object Data Management System) is to maintain a direct correspondence between real-world and database objects so that objects do not lose their integrity and identity and can easily be identified and operated upon. Hence, an ODMS provides a unique identity to each independent object stored in the data-base. This unique identity is typically implemented via a unique, system-generated object identifier (OID). The value of an OID is not visible to the external user, but is used internally by the system to identify each object uniquely and to create and manage inter-object references. The OID can be assigned to program variables of the appropriate type when needed.

 

The main property required of an OID is that it be immutable; that is, the OID value of a particular object should not change. This preserves the identity of the real-world object being represented. Hence, an ODMS must have some mechanism for generating OIDs and preserving the immutability property. It is also desirable that each OID be used only once; that is, even if an object is removed from the data-base, its OID should not be assigned to another object. These two properties imply that the OID should not depend on any attribute values of the object, since the value of an attribute may be changed or corrected. We can compare this with the relational model, where each relation must have a primary key attribute whose value identifies each tuple uniquely. In the relational model, if the value of the primary key is changed, the tuple will have a new identity, even though it may still rep-resent the same real-world object. Alternatively, a real-world object may have different names for key attributes in different relations, making it difficult to ascer-tain that the keys represent the same real-world object (for example, the object identifier may be represented as Emp_id in one relation and as Ssn in another).

 

It is inappropriate to base the OID on the physical address of the object in storage, since the physical address can change after a physical reorganization of the database. However, some early ODMSs have used the physical address as the OID to increase the efficiency of object retrieval. If the physical address of the object changes, an indirect pointer can be placed at the former address, which gives the new physical location of the object. It is more common to use long integers as OIDs and then to use some form of hash table to map the OID value to the current physical address of the object in storage.

 

Some early OO data models required that everything—from a simple value to a complex object—was represented as an object; hence, every basic value, such as an integer, string, or Boolean value, has an OID. This allows two identical basic values to have different OIDs, which can be useful in some cases. For example, the integer value 50 can sometimes be used to mean a weight in kilograms and at other times to mean the age of a person. Then, two basic objects with distinct OIDs could be created, but both objects would represent the integer value 50. Although useful as a theoretical model, this is not very practical, since it leads to the generation of too many OIDs. Hence, most OO database systems allow for the representation of both objects and literals (or values). Every object must have an immutable OID, whereas a literal value has no OID and its value just stands for itself. Thus, a literal value is typically stored within an object and cannot be referenced from other objects. In many systems, complex structured literal values can also be created without having a corresponding OID if needed.

 

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