A database is an organized collection of data. The term originated within the computer industry, but its meaning has been broadened by popular use, to the extent that the European Database Directive (which creates intellectual property rights for databases) includes non-electronic databases within its definition. This article is confined to a more technical use of the term; though even amongst computing professionals, some attach a much wider meaning to the word than others.
One possible definition is that a database is a collection of records stored in a computer in a systematic way, so that a computer program can consult it to answer questions. For better retrieval and sorting, each record is usually organized as a set of data elements (facts). The items retrieved in answer to queries become information that can be used to make decisions. The computer program used to manage and query a database is known as a database management system (DBMS). The properties and design of database systems are included in the study of information science.
The central concept of a database is that of a collection of records, or pieces of knowledge. Typically, for a given database, there is a structural description of the type of facts held in that database: this description is known as a schema. The schema describes the objects that are represented in the database, and the relationships among them. There are a number of different ways of organizing a schema, that is, of modeling the database structure: these are known as database models (or data models). The model in most common use today is the relational model, which in layman's terms represents all information in the form of multiple related tables each consisting of rows and columns (the true definition uses mathematical terminology). This model represents relationships by the use of values common to more than one table. Other models such as the hierarchical model and the network model use a more explicit representation of relationships.
Strictly speaking, the term database refers to the collection of related records, and the software should be referred to as the database management system or DBMS. When the context is unambiguous, however, many database administrators and programmers use the term database to cover both meanings.
Many professionals would consider a collection of data to constitute a database only if it has certain properties: for example, if the data is managed to ensure its integrity and quality, if it allows shared access by a community of users, if it has a schema, or if it supports a query language. However, there is no agreed definition of these properties.
Database management systems are usually categorized according to the data model that they support: relational, object-relational, network, and so on. The data model will tend to determine the query languages that are available to access the database. A great deal of the internal engineering of a DBMS, however, is independent of the data model, and is concerned with managing factors such as performance, concurrency, integrity, and recovery from hardware failures. In these areas there are large differences between products.