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Chapter: Fundamentals of Database Systems - Conceptual Modeling and Database Design - Practical Database Design Methodology and Use of UML Diagrams

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The Database Design and Implementation Process: Phase 2: Conceptual Database Design

The second phase of database design involves two parallel activities.

Phase 2: Conceptual Database Design


The second phase of database design involves two parallel activities. The first activity, conceptual schema design, examines the data requirements resulting from Phase 1 and produces a conceptual database schema. The second activity, transaction and application design, examines the database applications analyzed in Phase 1 and produces high-level specifications for these applications.


Phase 2a: Conceptual Schema Design. The conceptual schema produced by this phase is usually contained in a DBMS-independent high-level data model for the following reasons:


The goal of conceptual schema design is a complete understanding of the database structure, meaning (semantics), interrelationships, and constraints.

This is best achieved independently of a specific DBMS because each DBMS typically has idiosyncrasies and restrictions that should not be allowed to influence the conceptual schema design.


        The conceptual schema is invaluable as a stable description of the database contents. The choice of DBMS and later design decisions may change with-out changing the DBMS-independent conceptual schema.


        A good understanding of the conceptual schema is crucial for database users and application designers. Use of a high-level data model that is more expressive and general than the data models of individual DBMSs is there-fore quite important.


        The diagrammatic description of the conceptual schema can serve as a vehicle of communication among database users, designers, and analysts. Because high-level data models usually rely on concepts that are easier to understand than lower-level DBMS-specific data models, or syntactic defini-tions of data, any communication concerning the schema design becomes more exact and more straightforward.


In this phase of database design, it is important to use a conceptual high-level data model with the following characteristics:


        Expressiveness. The data model should be expressive enough to distin-guish different types of data, relationships, and constraints.


        Simplicity and understandability. The model should be simple enough for typical nonspecialist users to understand and use its concepts.


        Minimality. The model should have a small number of basic concepts that are distinct and nonoverlapping in meaning.


        Diagrammatic representation. The model should have a diagrammatic notation for displaying a conceptual schema that is easy to interpret.


        Formality. A conceptual schema expressed in the data model must repre-sent a formal unambiguous specification of the data. Hence, the model con-cepts must be defined accurately and unambiguously.


Some of these requirements—the first one in particular—sometimes conflict with the other requirements. Many high-level conceptual models have been proposed for database design (see the Selected Bibliography in Chapter 8). In the following dis-cussion, we will use the terminology of the Enhanced Entity-Relationship (EER) model presented in Chapter 8 and we will assume that it is being used in this phase. Conceptual schema design, including data modeling, is becoming an integral part of object-oriented analysis and design methodologies. The UML has class diagrams that are largely based on extensions of the EER model.


Approaches to Conceptual Schema Design. For conceptual schema design, we must identify the basic components (or constructs) of the schema: the entity types, relationship types, and attributes. We should also specify key attributes, cardinality and participation constraints on relationships, weak entity types, and specialization/ generalization hierarchies/lattices. There are two approaches to designing the conceptual schema, which is derived from the requirements collected during Phase 1.

The first approach is the centralized (or one shot) schema design approach, in which the requirements of the different applications and user groups from Phase 1 are merged into a single set of requirements before schema design begins. A single schema corresponding to the merged set of requirements is then designed. When many users and applications exist, merging all the requirements can be an arduous and time-consuming task. The assumption is that a centralized authority, the DBA, is responsible for deciding how to merge the requirements and for designing the conceptual schema for the whole database. Once the conceptual schema is designed and finalized, external schemas for the various user groups and applications can be specified by the DBA.


The second approach is the view integration approach, in which the requirements are not merged. Rather a schema (or view) is designed for each user group or application based only on its own requirements. Thus we develop one high-level schema (view) for each such user group or application. During a subsequent view integra-tion phase, these schemas are merged or integrated into a global conceptual schema for the entire database. The individual views can be reconstructed as external schemas after view integration.


The main difference between the two approaches lies in the manner and stage in which multiple views or requirements of the many users and applications are recon-ciled and merged. In the centralized approach, the reconciliation is done manually by the DBA staff prior to designing any schemas and is applied directly to the require-ments collected in Phase 1. This places the burden to reconcile the differences and conflicts among user groups on the DBA staff. The problem has been typically dealt with by using external consultants/design experts, who apply their specific methods for resolving these conflicts. Because of the difficulties of managing this task, the view integration approach has been proposed as an alternative technique.


In the view integration approach, each user group or application actually designs its own conceptual (EER) schema from its requirements, with assistance from the DBA staff. Then an integration process is applied to these schemas (views) by the DBA to form the global integrated schema. Although view integration can be done manu-ally, its application to a large database involving dozens of user groups requires a methodology and the use of automated tools. The correspondences among the attributes, entity types, and relationship types in various views must be specified before the integration can be applied. Additionally, problems such as integrating conflicting views and verifying the consistency of the specified interschema correspondences must be dealt with.


Strategies for Schema Design. Given a set of requirements, whether for a single user or for a large user community, we must create a conceptual schema that satisfies these requirements. There are various strategies for designing such a schema. Most strategies follow an incremental approach—that is, they start with some important schema constructs derived from the requirements and then they incrementally mod-ify, refine, and build on them. We now discuss some of these strategies:


Top-down strategy. We start with a schema containing high-level abstractions and then apply successive top-down refinements. For example, we may specify only a few high-level entity types and then, as we specify their attributes, split them into lower-level entity types and specify the relationships. The process of specialization to refine an entity type into subclasses that we illustrated in Sections 8.2 and 8.3 (see Figures 8.1, 8.4, and 8.5) is another activity during a top-down design strategy.


        Bottom-up strategy. Start with a schema containing basic abstractions and then combine or add to these abstractions. For example, we may start with the database attributes and group these into entity types and relationships. We may add new relationships among entity types as the design progresses. The process of generalizing entity types into higher-level generalized super-classes (see Sections 8.2 and 8.3 and Figure 8.3) is another activity during a bottom-up design strategy.


        Inside-out strategy. This is a special case of a top-down strategy, where attention is focused on a central set of concepts that are most evident. Modeling then spreads outward by considering new concepts in the vicinity of existing ones. We could specify a few clearly evident entity types in the schema and continue by adding other entity types and relationships that are related to each.


        Mixed strategy. Instead of following any particular strategy throughout the design, the requirements are partitioned according to a top-down strategy, and part of the schema is designed for each partition according to a bottom-up strategy. The various schema parts are then combined.


Figures 10.2 and 10.3 illustrate some simple examples of top-down and bottom-up refinement, respectively. An example of a top-down refinement primitive is decomposition of an entity type into several entity types. Figure 10.2(a) shows a COURSE being refined into COURSE and SEMINAR, and the TEACHES relationship is correspondingly split into TEACHES and OFFERS. Figure 10.2(b) shows a COURSE_OFFERING entity type being refined into two entity types (COURSE and INSTRUCTOR) and a relationship between them. Refinement typically forces a designer to ask more questions and extract more constraints and details: for example, the (min, max) cardinality ratios between COURSE and INSTRUCTOR are obtained during refinement. Figure 10.3(a) shows the bottom-up refinement primitive of generating relationships among the entity types FACULTY and STUDENT. Two relationships are identified: ADVISES and COMMITTEE_CHAIR_OF. The bottom-up refinement using categorization (union type) is illustrated in Figure 10.3(b), where the new concept of VEHICLE_OWNER is discovered from the existing entity types FACULTY, STAFF, and STUDENT; this process of creating a category and the related diagrammatic notation follows what we introduced in Section 8.4.


Schema (View) Integration. For large databases with many expected users and appli-cations, the view integration approach of designing individual schemas and then merging them can be used. Because the individual views can be kept relatively small, design of the schemas is simplified. However, a methodology for integrating the views into a global database schema is needed. Schema integration can be divided into the following subtasks:

     Identifying correspondences and conflicts among the schemas. Because the schemas are designed individually, it is necessary to specify constructs in the schemas that represent the same real-world concept. These correspondences must be identified before integration can proceed. During this process, several types of conflicts among the schemas may be discovered:


        Naming conflicts. These are of two types: synonyms and homonyms. A synonym occurs when two schemas use different names to describe the same concept; for example, an entity type CUSTOMER in one schema may describe the same concept as an entity type CLIENT in another schema. A homonym occurs when two schemas use the same name to describe different concepts; for example, an entity type PART may represent computer parts in one schema and furniture parts in another schema.


Type conflicts. The same concept may be represented in two schemas by different modeling constructs. For example, the concept of a

DEPARTMENT may be an entity type in one schema and an attribute in another.


      Domain (value set) conflicts. An attribute may have different domains in two schemas. For example, Ssn may be declared as an integer in one schema and as a character string in the other. A conflict of the unit of measure could occur if one schema represented Weight in pounds and the other used kilograms.


Conflicts among constraints. Two schemas may impose different constraints; for example, the key of an entity type may be different in each schema. Another example involves different structural constraints on a relationship such as TEACHES; one schema may represent it as 1:N (a course has one instructor), while the other schema represents it as M:N (a course may have more than one instructor).

        Modifying views to conform to one another. Some schemas are modified so that they conform to other schemas more closely. Some of the conflicts identified in the first subtask are resolved during this step.


        Merging of views. The global schema is created by merging the individual schemas. Corresponding concepts are represented only once in the global schema, and mappings between the views and the global schema are speci-fied. This is the most difficult step to achieve in real-life databases involving dozens or hundreds of entities and relationships. It involves a considerable amount of human intervention and negotiation to resolve conflicts and to settle on the most reasonable and acceptable solutions for a global schema.


        Restructuring. As a final optional step, the global schema may be analyzed and restructured to remove any redundancies or unnecessary complexity.


Some of these ideas are illustrated by the rather simple example presented in Figures 10.4 and 10.5. In Figure 10.4, two views are merged to create a bibliographic data-base. During identification of correspondences between the two views, we discover that RESEARCHER and AUTHOR are synonyms (as far as this database is concerned), as are CONTRIBUTED_BY and WRITTEN_BY. Further, we decide to modify VIEW 1 to include a SUBJECT for ARTICLE, as shown in Figure 10.4, to conform to VIEW 2. Figure 10.5 shows the result of merging MODIFIED VIEW 1 with VIEW 2. We generalize the entity types ARTICLE and BOOK into the entity type PUBLICATION, with their common attribute Title. The relationships CONTRIBUTED_BY and WRITTEN_BY are merged, as are the entity types RESEARCHER and AUTHOR. The attribute Publisher applies only to the entity type BOOK, whereas the attribute Size and the relationship type PUBLISHED_IN apply only to ARTICLE.


This simple example illustrates the complexity of the merging process and how the meaning of the various concepts must be accounted for in simplifying the resultant schema design. For real-life designs, the process of schema integration requires a more disciplined and systematic approach. Several strategies have been proposed for the view integration process (see Figure 10.6):


        Binary ladder integration. Two schemas that are quite similar are integrated first. The resulting schema is then integrated with another schema, and the process is repeated until all schemas are integrated. The ordering of schemas for integration can be based on some measure of schema similarity. This strat-egy is suitable for manual integration because of its step-by-step approach.


        N-ary integration. All the views are integrated in one procedure after an analysis and specification of their correspondences. This strategy requires computerized tools for large design problems. Such tools have been built as research prototypes but are not yet commercially available.


        Binary balanced strategy. Pairs of schemas are integrated first, then the resulting schemas are paired for further integration; this procedure is repeated until a final global schema results.


Mixed strategy. Initially, the schemas are partitioned into groups based on their similarity, and each group is integrated separately. The intermediate schemas are grouped again and integrated, and so on.

Phase 2b: Transaction Design. The purpose of Phase 2b, which proceeds in parallel with Phase 2a, is to design the characteristics of known database transactions (applications) in a DBMS-independent way. When a database system is being designed, the designers are aware of many known applications (or transactions) that will run on the database once it is implemented. An important part of database design is to specify the functional characteristics of these transactions early on in the design process. This ensures that the database schema will include all the infor-mation required by these transactions. In addition, knowing the relative importance of the various transactions and the expected rates of their invocation plays a crucial part during the physical database design (Phase 5). Usually, not all of the database transactions are known at design time; after the database system is implemented, new transactions are continuously identified and implemented. However, the most important transactions are often known in advance of system implementation and should be specified at an early stage. The informal 80–20 rule typically applies in this context: 80 percent of the workload is represented by 20 percent of the most frequently used transactions, which govern the physical database design. In applications that are of the ad hoc querying or batch processing variety, queries and applications that process a substantial amount of data must be identified.


A common technique for specifying transactions at a conceptual level is to identify their input/output and functional behavior. By specifying the input and output parameters (arguments) and the internal functional flow of control, designers can specify a transaction in a conceptual and system-independent way. Transactions usually can be grouped into three categories: (1) retrieval transactions, which are used to retrieve data for display on a screen or for printing of a report; (2) update transactions, which are used to enter new data or to modify existing data in the database; and (3) mixed transactions, which are used for more complex applications that do some retrieval and some update. For example, consider an airline reservations database. A retrieval transaction could first list all morning flights on a given date between two cities. An update transaction could be to book a seat on a particular flight. A mixed transaction may first display some data, such as showing a customer reservation on some flight, and then update the database, such as canceling the reservation by deleting it, or by adding a flight segment to an existing reser-vation. Transactions (applications) may originate in a front-end tool such as PowerBuilder (Sybase), which collect parameters online and then send a transaction to the DBMS as a backend.


Several techniques for requirements specification include notation for specifying processes, which in this context are more complex operations that can consist of several transactions. Process modeling tools like BPwin as well as workflow model-ing tools are becoming popular to identify information flows in organizations. The UML language, which provides for data modeling via class and object diagrams, has a variety of process modeling diagrams including state transition diagrams, activity diagrams, sequence diagrams, and collaboration diagrams. All of these refer to activities, events, and operations within the information system, the inputs and out-puts of the processes, the sequencing or synchronization requirements, and other conditions. It is possible to refine these specifications and extract individual trans-actions from them. Other proposals for specifying transactions include TAXIS, GALILEO, and GORDAS (see this chapter’s Selected Bibliography). Some of these have been implemented into prototype systems and tools. Process modeling still remains an active area of research.


Transaction design is just as important as schema design, but it is often considered to be part of software engineering rather than database design. Many current design methodologies emphasize one over the other. One should go through Phases 2a and 2b in parallel, using feedback loops for refinement, until a stable design of schema and transactions is reached.

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