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Databases

What is a database?

Databases are a method for storing data in a structured way on a computer, to make it easier to store, search, and work with that data.

Data is typically stored in tables in a database. You can visualise each table as having columns, or fields, which hold particular categories of data (e.g. first name), and rows, or records, which hold all of the information about a particular thing (e.g. a customer).

With this data, you can run queries, which are basically advanced searches that allow you to sort and filter data. These searches can be saved so you can keep working with the data that fits those criteria, without making unnecessary copies of your data.

Databases are good for working with relational data, which is data where the information in different tables link together in particular ways. Storing information as relational data with these relationships saved in the computer makes it easier to work with and removes the need for data duplication across tables.

For more on how data and relational data works, see the 'Understanding Data' section of the Working with Data site.

Database options

There are different ways to work with a database, using different kinds of database software. Some are fairly user-friendly, whereas others require you to understand a coding language called SQL.

The resources on this page focus on Microsoft Access, which is part of the Office suite of applications. Access allowing you to create, manage, and query databases without knowing SQL and using an interface that will be familiar to users of other Office apps like Word and Excel.

However, Access is only available on Windows PCs, and Access databases aren't suitable for use on the web.

IT Services have more details about database services available at the University of York.

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Essential Access

Our Essential Access course has been designed so you can work through it at your own pace. There are two booklets and an exercise sheet, plus some accommpanying MS Access files to use for the exercises.

To get started:

  1. Download your own copies of the materials from below or copy them from the T: Drive on a University PC (including the VDS)
  2. Read through the Essential Access introduction slides
  3. Work through the sections in the booklets, reading over the content and familiarising yourself with Access, then try the exercises for that section

Structured Query Language

To work with databases, you often need to use a special language the database software understands, called Structured Query Language, or SQL for short. It works with a huge variety of database systems, which makes it a useful transferable coding language if you want to work with databases.

There are lots of online resources for learning SQL. Below is one from w3schools.com, a site for learning web development skills, but there are many others out there.

Note: you don't need to know SQL to use MS Access. However, you can view the SQL code from the queries you create by toggling your query view to SQL, which can be a good way to start picking up the basics of how SQL works.