The Database Tier

The database tier is the base of a web database application. Understanding system requirements, choosing database-tier software, designing databases, and building the tier are the first steps in successful web database application development. We discuss techniques for modeling system requirements, converting a model into a database, and the principles of database technology in Appendix C. In this section, we focus on the components of the database tier and introduce database software by contrasting it with other techniques for storing data. Chapter 3 covers the standards and software we use in more detail.

In a three-tier architecture application, the database tier manages the data. The data management typically includes storage and retrieval of data, as well as managing updates, allowing simultaneous, or concurrent, access by more than one middle-tier process, providing security, ensuring the integrity of data, and providing support services such as data backup. In many web database applications, these services are provided by a RDBMS system, and the data stored in a relational database.

Managing relational data in the third tier requires complex RDBMS software. Fortunately, most DBMSs are designed so that the software complexities are hidden. To effectively use a DBMS, skills are required to design a database and formulate commands and queries to the DBMS. For most DBMSs, the query language of choice is SQL. An understanding of the underlying architecture of the DBMS is unimportant to most users.

In this tutorial, we use the MySQL RDBMS to manage data. Much like choosing a middle-tier scripting language, there are often arguments about which DBMS is most suited to an application. MySQL has a well-deserved reputation for speed, and it is particularly well designed for applications where retrieval of data is more common than updates and where small, simple updates are the general class of modifications. These are characteristics typical of most web database applications. Also, like PHP and Apache, MySQL is open source software. However, there are down sides to MySQL we'll discuss later in this section.

There are other, nonrelational DBMS software choices for storing data in the database tier. These include search engines, document management systems, and simple gateway services such as email software.