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Oracle Database


What is a Database Management System?

A database can be defined as a collection of information organized in such a way that it can be retrieved and used. A database management system (DBMS) can further be defined as the tool that enables us to manage and interact with the database. Most DBMSs perform the following functions:

  • Store data
  • Create and maintain data structures
  • Allow concurrent access to many users
  • Enforce security and privacy
  • Allow extraction and manipulation of stored data
  • Enable data entry and data loading
  • Provide an efficient indexing mechanism for fast extraction of selected data
  • Provide consistency among different records
  • Protect stored data from loss by backup and recovery process

Several different types of DBMSs have been developed to support these requirements. These systems can broadly be classified in the following classes:

  • A hierarchical DBMS stores data in a tree-like structure. It assumes a parent-child relationship between the data. The top of the tree, known as the root, can have any number of dependents. Dependents, in turn, can have any number of subdependents, and so on. Hierarchical database systems are now obsolete.
  • A network DBMS stores data in the form of records and links. This system allows more flexible many-to-many relationship than do hierarchical DBMSs. Network DBMSs are very fast and storage-efficient. Network database management systems allowed complex data structures but were very inflexible and required tedious design. An airline reservation system is one example of this type of DBMS system.
  • Relational DBMSs (RDBMSs) probably have the simplest structure a database can have. In an RDBMS, data is organized in tables. Tables, in turn, consist of records, and records of fields. Each field corresponds to one data item. Two or more tables can be linked (joined) if they have one or more fields in common. RDBMSs are easy to use and have flourished in the last decade. They're commonly used on low-end computer systems. In the last few years, however, their use has expanded to more powerful computer systems. Oracle, Informix, and Sybase are some popular RDBMSs available in the market.
  • Object-oriented DBMSs were designed to handle data such as numbers and words. During recent years, however, object-oriented DBMSs are emerging. These systems can handle objects such as videos, images, pictures, and so on.

Introduction to Oracle

The Oracle server is an object-relational database management system that provides an open, comprehensive, and integrated approach to information management.

Schemas and Schema Objects in Oracle

A schema is a collection of database objects that are available to a user. Schema objects are the logical structures that directly refer to the database's data. Schema objects include such structures as tables, views, sequences, stored procedures, synonyms, indexes, clusters, and database links.


A table is the basic unit of data storage in an Oracle database. The tables of a database hold all of the user-accessible data. Table data is stored in rows and columns. Every table is defined with a table name and set of columns. Each column is given a column name, a datatype (such as CHAR, DATE, or NUMBER), and a width (which may be predetermined by the datatype, as in DATE) or scale and precision (for the NUMBER datatype only). Once a table is created, valid rows of data can be inserted into it. The table's rows can then be queried, deleted, or updated.


A view is a custom-tailored presentation of the data in one or more tables. A view can also be thought of as a "stored query". Views do not actually contain or store data; rather, they derive their data from the tables on which they are based, referred to as the base tables of the views. Base tables can in turn be tables or can themselves be views. Like tables, views can be queried, updated, inserted into, and deleted from, with some restrictions. All operations performed on a view actually affect the base tables of the view. Views are often used to do the following:

  • Provide an additional level of table security by restricting access to a predetermined set of rows and columns of a table. For example, a view of a table can be created so that columns with sensitive data (for example, salary information) are not included in the definition of the view.
  • Hide data complexity. For example, a single view can combine 12 monthly sales tables to provide a year of data for analysis and reporting. A single view can also be used to create a join, which is a display of related columns or rows in multiple tables. However, the view hides the fact that this data actually originates from several tables.
  • Simplify commands for the user. For example, views allow users to select information from multiple tables without requiring the users to actually know how to perform a correlated subquery.
  • Present the data in a different perspective from that of the base table. For example, views provide a means to rename columns without affecting the tables on which the view is based.
  • Store complex queries. For example, a query might perform extensive calculations with table information. By saving this query as a view, the calculations are performed only when the view is queried.


A sequence generates a serial list of unique numbers for numeric columns of a database's tables.General Oracle Tutorial Sequences simplify application programming by automatically generating unique numerical values for the rows of a single table or multiple tables. For example, assume two users are simultaneously inserting new employee rows into the EMP table. By using a sequence to generate unique employee numbers for the EMPNO column, neither user has to wait for the other to input the next available employee number. The sequence automatically generates the correct values for each user. Sequence numbers are independent of tables, so the same sequence can be used for one or more tables. After creation, a sequence can be accessed by various users to generate actual sequence numbers.

Program Units

The term "program unit" is used to refer to stored procedures, functions, packages, triggers, and anonymous blocks. A procedure or function is a set of SQL (Structured Query Language used in Relational databases for data access) and PL/SQL (Oracle's procedural language extension to SQL) statements grouped together as an executable unit to perform a specific task. Procedures and functions allow you to combine the ease and flexibility of SQL with the procedural functionality of a structured programming language. Using PL/SQL, such procedures and functions can be defined and stored in the database for continued use. Procedures and functions are identical, except that functions always return a single value to the caller, while procedures do not return a value to the caller. Packages provide a method of encapsulating and storing related procedures, functions, and other package constructs together as a unit in the database. While packages provide the database administrator or application developer organizational benefits, they also offer increased functionality and database performance.


A synonym is an alias for a table, view, sequence, or program unit. A synonym is not actually a schema object itself, but instead is a direct reference to a schema object. Synonyms are used to

  • mask the real name and owner of a schema object
  • provide public access to a schema object
  • provide location transparency for tables, views, or program units of a remote database
  • simplify the SQL statements for database users

A synonym can be public or private. An individual user can create a private synonym, which is available only to that user. Database administrators most often create public synonyms that make the base schema object available for general, system-wide use by any database user.


Indexes are optional structures associated with tables, which can be created to increase the performance of data retrieval. Just as the index in this manual helps you locate specific information faster than if there were no index, an Oracle index provides a faster access path to table data. When processing a request, Oracle can use some or all of the available indexes to locate the requested rows efficiently. Indexes are useful when applications often query a table for a range of rows (for example, all employees with a salary greater than 1000 dollars) or a specific row. Indexes are created on one or more columns of a table. Once created, an index is automatically maintained and used by Oracle. Changes to table data (such as adding new rows, updating rows, or deleting rows) are automatically incorporated into all relevant indexes with complete transparency to the users. Indexes are logically and physically independent of the data. They can be dropped and created any time with no effect on the tables or other indexes. If an index is dropped, all applications continue to function; however, access to previously indexed data may be slower.

The Data Dictionary

Each Oracle database has a data dictionary. An Oracle data dictionary is a set of tables and views that are used as a read-only reference about the database. For example, a data dictionary stores information about both the logical and physical structure of the database. In addition to this valuable information, a data dictionary also stores such information as:

  • the valid users of an Oracle database
  • information about integrity constraints defined for tables in the database
  • how much space is allocated for a schema object and how much of it is in use

A data dictionary is created when a database is created. To accurately reflect the status of the database at all times, the data dictionary is automatically updated by Oracle in response to specific actions (such as when the structure of the database is altered). The data dictionary is critical to the operation of the database, which relies on the data dictionary to record, verify, and conduct ongoing work. For example, during database operation, Oracle reads the data dictionary to verify that schema objects exist and that users have proper access to them.

Data Access in Oracle

Structured Query Language (SQL)

SQL (pronounced SEQUEL) is the programming language that defines and manipulates the database. SQL databases are relational databases; this means simply that data is stored in a set of simple relations. A database can have one or more tables. And each table has columns and rows. A table that has an employee database, for example, might have a column called employee number and each row in that column would be an employee's employee number. You can define and manipulate data in a table with SQL commands. You use data definition language (DDL) commands to set up the data. DDL commands include commands for creating and altering databases and tables. You can update, delete, or retrieve data in a table with data manipulation commands (DML). DML commands include commands to alter and fetch data. The most common SQL command is the SELECT command, which allows you to retrieve data from the database. In addition to SQL commands, the Oracle server has a procedural language called PL/SQL. PL/SQL enables the programmer to program SQL statements. It allows you to control the flow of a SQL program, to use variables, and to write error-handling procedures.

SQL Statements

All operations on the information in an Oracle database are performed using SQL statements. A SQL statement is a string of SQL text that is given to Oracle to execute. A statement must be the equivalent of a complete SQL sentence, as in:
SELECT ename, deptno FROM emp;
Only a complete SQL statement can be executed, whereas a sentence fragment, such as the following, generates an error indicating that more text is required before a SQL statement can execute: SELECT ename A SQL statement can be thought of as a very simple, but powerful, computer program or instruction. SQL statements are divided into the following categories:

  • Data Definition Language (DDL) statements
  • Data Manipulation Language (DML) statements
  • transaction control statements
  • session control statements
  • system control statements
  • embedded SQL statements

Data Definition Statements (DDL)

DDL statements define, maintain, and drop schema objects when they are no longer needed. DDL statements also include statements that permit a user to grant other users the privileges, or rights, to access the database and specific objects within the database.

Data Manipulation Statements (DML)

DML statements manipulate the database's data. For example, querying, inserting, updating, and deleting rows of a table are all DML operations; locking a table or view and examining the execution plan of an SQL statement are also DML operations.

Transaction Control Statements

Transaction control statements manage the changes made by DML statements. They allow the user or application developer to group changes into logical transactions. Examples include COMMIT, ROLLBACK, and SAVEPOINT.

Session Control Statements

Session control statements allow a user to control the properties of his current session, including enabling and disabling roles and changing language settings. The two session control statements are ALTER SESSION and SET ROLE.

System Control Statements

System control commands change the properties of the Oracle server instance. The only system control command is ALTER SYSTEM; it allows you to change such settings as the minimum number of shared servers, to kill a session, and to perform other tasks.

Embedded SQL Statements

Embedded SQL statements incorporate DDL, DML, and transaction control statements in a procedural language program (such as those used with the Oracle Precompilers). Examples include OPEN, CLOSE, FETCH, and EXECUTE.


A transaction is a logical unit of work that comprises one or more SQL statements executed by a single user. According to the ANSI/ISO SQL standard, with which Oracle is compatible, a transaction begins with the user's first executable SQL statement. A transaction ends when it is explicitly committed or rolled back by that user. Consider a banking database. When a bank customer transfers money from a savings account to a checking account, the transaction might consist of three separate operations: decrease the savings account, increase the checking account, and record the transaction in the transaction journal. Oracle must guarantee that all three SQL statements are performed to maintain the accounts in proper balance. When something prevents one of the statements in the transaction from executing (such as a hardware failure), the other statements of the transaction must be undone; this is called "rolling back." If an error occurs in making either of the updates, then neither update is made.

Committing and Rolling Back Transactions

The changes made by the SQL statements that constitute a transaction can be either committed or rolled back. After a transaction is committed or rolled back, the next transaction begins with the next SQL statement. Committing a transaction makes permanent the changes resulting from all SQL statements in the transaction. The changes made by the SQL statements of a transaction become visible to other user sessions' transactions that start only after the transaction is committed. Rolling back a transaction retracts any of the changes resulting from the SQL statements in the transaction. After a transaction is rolled back, the affected data is left unchanged as if the SQL statements in the transaction were never executed.


For long transactions that contain many SQL statements, intermediate markers, or savepoints, can be declared. Savepoints can be used to divide a transaction into smaller parts. By using savepoints, you can arbitrarily mark your work at any point within a long transaction. This allows you the option of later rolling back all work performed from the current point in the transaction to a declared savepoint within the transaction. For example, you can use savepoints throughout a long complex series of updates, so if you make an error, you do not need to resubmit every statement.

Data Consistency Using Transactions

Transactions provide the database user or application developer with the capability of guaranteeing consistent changes to data, as long as the SQL statements within a transaction are grouped logically. A transaction should consist of all of the necessary parts for one logical unit of work--no more and no less. Data in all referenced tables are in a consistent state before the transaction begins and after it ends. Transactions should consist of only the SQL statements that make one consistent change to the data. Consider the banking example. A transfer of funds between two accounts (the transaction) should include increasing one account (one SQL statement), decreasing another account (one SQL statement), and the record in the transaction journal (one SQL statement). All actions should either fail or succeed together; the credit should not be committed without the debit. Other non-related actions, such as a new deposit to one account, should not be included in the transfer of funds transaction; such statements should be in other transactions.


PL/SQL is Oracle's procedural language extension to SQL. PL/SQL combines the ease and flexibility of SQL with the procedural functionality of a structured programming language, such as IF ... THEN, WHILE, and LOOP. When designing a database application, a developer should consider the advantages of using stored PL/SQL:

  • Because PL/SQL code can be stored centrally in a database, network traffic between applications and the database is reduced, so application and system performance increases.
  • Data access can be controlled by stored PL/SQL code. In this case, the users of PL/SQL can access data only as intended by the application developer (unless another access route is granted).
  • PL/SQL blocks can be sent by an application to a database, executing complex operations without excessive network traffic.
  • Even when PL/SQL is not stored in the database, applications can send blocks of PL/SQL to the database rather than individual SQL statements, thereby again reducing network traffic.

PL/SQL Program Units

Procedures and Functions

Procedures and functions consist of a set of SQL and PL/SQL statements that are grouped together as a unit to solve a specific problem or perform a set of related tasks. A procedure is created and stored in compiled form in the database and can be executed by a user or a database application. Procedures and functions are identical except that functions always return a single value to the caller, while procedures do not return values to the caller.


Packages provide a method of encapsulating and storing related procedures, functions, variables, and other package constructs together as a unit in the database. While packages allow the administrator or application developer the ability to organize such routines, they also offer increased functionality (for example, global package variables can be declared and used by any procedure in the package) and performance (for example, all objects of the package are parsed, compiled, and loaded into memory once).

Database Triggers

Oracle allows you to write procedures that are automatically executed as a result of an insert in, update to, or delete from a table. These procedures are called database triggers. Database triggers can be used in a variety of ways for the information management of your database. For example, they can be used to automate data generation, audit data modifications, enforce complex integrity constraints, and customize complex security authorizations.


A method is a procedure or function that is part of the definition of a user-defined datatype (object type, nested table, or variable array). Methods are different from stored procedures in two ways:

  • You invoke a method by referring to an object of its associated type.
  • A method has complete access to the attributes of its associated object and to information about its type.

Every user-defined datatype has a system-defined constructor method, that is, a method that makes a new object according to the datatype's specification. The name of the constructor method is the name of the user-defined type. In the case of an object type, the constructor method's parameters have the names and types of the object type's attributes. The constructor method is a function that returns the new object as its value. Nested tables and arrays also have constructor methods. Comparison methods define an order relationship among objects of a given object type. A map method uses Oracle's ability to compare built-in types. For example, Oracle can compare two rectangles by comparing their areas if an object type called RECTANGLE has attributes HEIGHT and WIDTH and you define a map method area that returns a number, namely the product of the rectangle's HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes. An order method uses its own internal logic to compare two objects of a given object type. It returns a value that encodes the order relationship. For example, it may return -1 if the first is smaller, 0 if they are equal, and 1 if the first is larger.

Data Integrity

It is very important to guarantee that data adheres to certain business rules, as determined by the database administrator or application developer. For example, assume that a business rule says that no row in the INVENTORY table can contain a numeric value greater than 9 in the SALE_DISCOUNT column. If an INSERT or UPDATE statement attempts to violate this integrity rule, Oracle must roll back the invalid statement and return an error to the application. Oracle provides integrity constraints and database triggers as solutions to manage a database's data integrity rules.

Integrity Constraints

An integrity constraint is a declarative way to define a business rule for a column of a table. An integrity constraint is a statement about a table's data that is always true:

  • If an integrity constraint is created for a table and some existing table data does not satisfy the constraint, the constraint cannot be enforced.
  • After a constraint is defined, if any of the results of a DML statement violate the integrity constraint, the statement is rolled back and an error is returned.

Integrity constraints are defined with a table and are stored as part of the table's definition, centrally in the database's data dictionary, so that all database applications must adhere to the same set of rules. If a rule changes, it need only be changed once at the database level and not many times for each application. The following integrity constraints are supported by Oracle:

  • NOT NULL Disallows nulls (empty entries) in a table's column.
  • UNIQUE Disallows duplicate values in a column or set of columns.
  • PRIMARY KEY Disallows duplicate values and nulls in a column or set of columns.
  • FOREIGN KEY Requires each value in a column or set of columns match a value in a related table's UNIQUE or PRIMARY KEY (FOREIGN KEY integrity constraints also define referential integrity actions that dictate what Oracle should do with dependent data if the data it references is altered).
  • CHECK Disallows values that do not satisfy the logical expression of the constraint.


The term "key" is used in the definitions of several types of integrity constraints. A key is the column or set of columns included in the definition of certain types of integrity constraints. Keys describe the relationships between the different tables and columns of a relational database. The different types of keys include:

  • primary key The column or set of columns included in the definition of a table's PRIMARY KEY constraint. A primary key's values uniquely identify the rows in a table. Only one primary key may be defined per table.
  • unique key The column or set of columns included in the definition of a UNIQUE constraint.
  • foreign key The column or set of columns included in the definition of a referential integrity constraint.
  • referenced key The unique key or primary key of the same or different table that is referenced by a foreign key.

Individual values in a key are called key values.

Database Triggers

Centralized actions can be defined using a non-declarative approach (writing PL/SQL code) with database triggers. A database trigger is a stored procedure that is fired (implicitly executed) when an INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE statement is issued against the associated table. Database triggers can be used to customize a database management system with such features as value-based auditing and the enforcement of complex security checks and integrity rules. For example, a database trigger might be created to allow a table to be modified only during normal business hours.

Oracle Database Administration

Database Structure

An Oracle database has both a physical and a logical structure. Because the physical and logical server structures are separate, the physical storage of data can be managed without affecting the access to logical storage structures.

Physical Database Structure

An Oracle database's physical structure is determined by the operating system files that constitute the database. Each Oracle database is made of three types of files: one or more datafiles, two or more redo log files, and one or more control files. The files of an Oracle database provide the actual physical storage for database information.

Logical Database Structure

An Oracle database's logical structure is determined by:

  • one or more tablespaces A tablespace is a logical area of storage explained later in this tutorial.
  • the database's schema objects A schema is a collection of objects. Schema objects are the logical structures that directly refer to the database's data. Schema objects include such structures as tables, views, sequences, stored procedures, synonyms, indexes, clusters, and database links.

The logical storage structures, including tablespaces, segments, and extents, dictate how the physical space of a database is used. The schema objects and the relationships among them form the relational design of a database.

Data Utilities

There are three utilities for moving a subset of an Oracle database from one database to another: Export, Import, and SQL*Loader.


The Export utility provides a simple way for you to transfer data objects between Oracle databases, even if they reside on platforms with different hardware and software configurations. Export extracts the object definitions and table data from an Oracle database and stores them in an Oracle binary-format Export dump file located typically on disk or tape. Such files can then be copied via ftp or physically transported (in the case of tape) to a different site and used, with the Import utility, to transfer data between databases that are on machines not connected via a network or as backups in addition to normal backup procedures. When you run Export against an Oracle database, objects (such as tables) are extracted, followed by their related objects (such as indexes, comments, and grants) if any, and then written to the Export file.


The Import utility inserts the data objects extracted from one Oracle database by the Export utility (and stored in an Export dump file) into another Oracle database. Export dump files can only be read by Import. Import reads the object definitions and table data that the Export utility extracted from an Oracle database and stored in an Oracle binary-format Export dump file located typically on disk or tape. The Export and Import utilities can also facilitate certain aspects of Oracle Advanced Replication functionality like offline instantiation.


Export dump files can only be read by the Oracle Import utility. If you need to read load data from ASCII fixed-format or delimited files, you can use the SQL*Loader utility. SQL*Loader loads data from external files into tables in an Oracle database. SQL*Loader accepts input data in a variety of formats, can perform filtering (selectively loading records based upon their data values), and can load data into multiple Oracle database tables during the same load session.

An Oracle Instance

Every time a database is started, a system global area (SGA) is allocated and Oracle background processes are started. The system global area is an area of memory used for database information shared by the database users. The combination of the background processes and memory buffers is called an Oracle instance. An Oracle instance has two types of processes: user processes and Oracle processes.

  • A user process executes the code of an application program (such as an Oracle Forms application) or an Oracle Tool (such as Oracle Enterprise Manager).
  • Oracle processes are server processes that perform work for the user processes and background processes that perform maintenance work for the Oracle server.

Oracle Databases

An Oracle database is a collection of data that is treated as a unit. The general purpose of a database is to store and retrieve related information. The database has logical structures and physical structures

Logical Database Structures

The logical structures of an Oracle database include tablespaces, schema objects, data blocks, extents, and segments.


A database is divided into logical storage units called tablespaces, which group related logical structures together. For example, tablespaces commonly group all of an application's objects to simplify some administrative operations.

Schemas and Schema Objects

A schema is a collection of database objects. Schema objects are the logical structures that directly refer to the database's data. Schema objects include such structures as tables, views, sequences, stored procedures, synonyms, indexes, clusters, and database links

Data Blocks, Extents, and Segments

Oracle allows fine-grained control of disk space usage through the logical storage structures, including data blocks, extents, and segments.

Oracle Data Blocks

At the finest level of granularity, an Oracle database's data is stored in data blocks. One data block corresponds to a specific number of bytes of physical database space on disk. A data block size is specified for each Oracle database when the database is created. A database uses and allocates free database space in Oracle data blocks.


The next level of logical database space is called an extent. An extent is a specific number of contiguous data blocks, obtained in a single allocation, used to store a specific type of information.


The level of logical database storage above an extent is called a segment. A segment is a set of extents allocated for a certain logical structure. For example, the different types of segments include:

  • data segment Each non-clustered table has a data segment. All of the table's data is stored in the extents of its data segment. For a partitioned table, each partition has a data segment. Each cluster has a data segment. The data of every table in the cluster is stored in the cluster's data segment.
  • index segment Each index has an index segment that stores all of its data. For a partitioned index, each partition has an index segment.
  • rollback segment One or more rollback segments for a database are created by the database administrator to temporarily store "undo" information. The information in a rollback segment is used to generate read-consistent database information during database recovery to rollback uncommitted transactions for users.
  • temporary segment Temporary segments are created by Oracle when a SQL statement needs a temporary work area to complete execution. When the statement finishes execution, the temporary segment's extents are returned to the system for future use.

Oracle dynamically allocates space when the existing extents of a segment become full. Therefore, when the existing extents of a segment are full, Oracle allocates another extent for that segment as needed. Because extents are allocated as needed, the extents of a segment may or may not be contiguous on disk.

Physical Database Structures


Every Oracle database has one or more physical datafiles. A database's datafiles contain all the database data. The data of logical database structures such as tables and indexes is physically stored in the datafiles allocated for a database. The characteristics of datafiles are:

  • A datafile can be associated with only one database.
  • Datafiles can have certain characteristics set to allow them to automatically extend when the database runs out of space.
  • One or more datafiles form a logical unit of database storage called a tablespace.

The data in a datafile is read, as needed, during normal database operation and stored in the memory cache of Oracle. For example, assume that a user wants to access some data in a table of a database. If the requested information is not already in the memory cache for the database, it is read from the appropriate datafiles and stored in memory. Modified or new data is not necessarily written to a datafile immediately. To reduce the amount of disk access and increase performance, data is pooled in memory and written to the appropriate datafiles all at once, as determined by the DBWn background process of Oracle.

Redo Log Files

Every Oracle database has a set of two or more redo log files. The set of redo log files for a database is collectively known as the database's redo log. A redo log is made up of redo entries (also called redo records), each of which is a group of change vectors describing a single atomic change to the database. The primary function of the redo log is to record all changes made to data. Should a failure prevent modified data from being permanently written to the datafiles, the changes can be obtained from the redo log and work is never lost. Redo log files are critical in protecting a database against failures. To protect against a failure involving the redo log itself, Oracle allows a multiplexed redo log so that two or more copies of the redo log can be maintained on different disks.

The information in a redo log file is used only to recover the database from a system or media failure that prevents database data from being written to a database's datafiles. For example, if an unexpected power outage abruptly terminates database operation, data in memory cannot be written to the datafiles and the data is lost. However, any lost data can be recovered when the database is opened, after power is restored. By applying the information in the most recent redo log files to the database's datafiles, Oracle restores the database to the time at which the power failure occurred. The process of applying the redo log during a recovery operation is called rolling forward

Control Files

Every Oracle database has a control file. A control file contains entries that specify the physical structure of the database. For example, it contains the following types of information:

  • database name
  • names and locations of a database's datafiles and redo log files
  • time stamp of database creation

Like the redo log, Oracle allows the control file to be multiplexed for protection of the control file. Every time an instance of an Oracle database is started, its control file is used to identify the database and redo log files that must be opened for database operation to proceed. If the physical makeup of the database is altered (for example, a new datafile or redo log file is created), the database's control file is automatically modified by Oracle to reflect the change. A database's control file is also used if database recovery is necessary

Memory Structure and Processes

An Oracle server uses memory structures and processes to manage and access the database. All memory structures exist in the main memory of the computers that constitute the database system. Processes are jobs or tasks that work in the memory of these computers.

Memory Structures

Oracle creates and uses memory structures to complete several jobs. For example, memory stores program code being executed and data that is shared among users. Several basic memory structures are associated with Oracle: the system global area (which includes the database buffers, redo log buffers, and the shared pool) and the program global areas

System Global Area (SGA)

The System Global Area (SGA) is a shared memory region that contains data and control information for one Oracle instance. An SGA and the Oracle background processes constitute an Oracle instance. Oracle allocates the system global area when an instance starts and deallocates it when the instance shuts down. Each instance has its own system global area. Users currently connected to an Oracle server share the data in the system global area. For optimal performance, the entire system global area should be as large as possible (while still fitting in real memory) to store as much data in memory as possible and minimize disk I/O. The information stored within the system global area is divided into several types of memory structures, including the database buffers, redo log buffer, and the shared pool. These areas have fixed sizes and are created during instance startup.

Database Buffer Cache

Database buffers of the system global area store the most recently used blocks of database data; the set of database buffers in an instance is the database buffer cache. The buffer cache contains modified as well as unmodified blocks. Because the most recently (and often the most frequently) used data is kept in memory, less disk I/O is necessary and performance is improved.

Redo Log Buffer

The redo log buffer of the system global area stores redo entries--a log of changes made to the database. The redo entries stored in the redo log buffers are written to an online redo log file, which is used if database recovery is necessary. Its size is static.

Shared Pool

The shared pool is a portion of the system global area that contains shared memory constructs such as shared SQL areas. A shared SQL area is required to process every unique SQL statement submitted to a database . A shared SQL area contains information such as the parse tree and execution plan for the corresponding statement. A single shared SQL area is used by multiple applications that issue the same statement, leaving more shared memory for other uses.

Large Pool

The large pool is an optional area in the SGA that provides large memory allocations for Oracle backup and restore operations, I/O server processes, and session memory for the multi-threaded server and Oracle XA.

Statement Handles or Cursors

A cursor is a handle (a name or pointer) for the memory associated with a specific statement. (The Oracle Call Interface, OCI, refers to these as statement handles.) Although most Oracle users rely on the automatic cursor handling of the Oracle utilities, the programmatic interfaces offer application designers more control over cursors. For example, in precompiler application development, a cursor is a named resource available to a program and can be specifically used for the parsing of SQL statements embedded within the application. The application developer can code an application so that it controls the phases of SQL statement execution and thus improve application performance.

Program Global Area (PGA)

The Program Global Area (PGA) is a memory buffer that contains data and control information for a server process. A PGA is created by Oracle when a server process is started. The information in a PGA depends on the configuration of Oracle.

Process Architecture

A process is a "thread of control" or a mechanism in an operating system that can execute a series of steps. Some operating systems use the terms job or task. A process normally has its own private memory area in which it runs. An Oracle server has two general types of processes: user processes and Oracle processes.

User (Client) Processes

A user process is created and maintained to execute the software code of an application program (such as a Pro*C/C++ program) or an Oracle tool (such as Oracle Enterprise Manager). The user process also manages the communication with the server processes. User processes communicate with the server processes through the program interface, which is described in a later section.

Oracle Process Architecture

Oracle processes are called by other processes to perform functions on behalf of the invoking process. The different types of Oracle processes and their specific functions are discussed in the following sections. They include server processes and background processes.

Server Processes

Oracle creates server processes to handle requests from connected user processes. A server process is in charge of communicating with the user process and interacting with Oracle to carry out requests of the associated user process. For example, if a user queries some data that is not already in the database buffers of the system global area, the associated server process reads the proper data blocks from the datafiles into the system global area. Oracle can be configured to vary the number of user processes per server process. In a dedicated server configuration, a server process handles requests for a single user process. A multi-threaded server configuration allows many user processes to share a small number of server processes, minimizing the number of server processes and maximizing the utilization of available system resources. On some systems, the user and server processes are separate, while on others they are combined into a single process. If a system uses the multi-threaded server or if the user and server processes run on different machines, the user and server processes must be separate. Client/server systems separate the user and server processes and execute them on different machines.

Background Processes

Oracle creates a set of background processes for each instance. They consolidate functions that would otherwise be handled by multiple Oracle programs running for each user process. The background processes asynchronously perform I/O and monitor other Oracle processes to provide increased parallelism for better performance and reliability. An SGA and the set of Oracle background processes constitute an Oracle instance. Each Oracle instance may use several background processes. The names of these processes are DBWn, LGWR, CKPT, SMON, PMON, ARCn, RECO, Dnnn, LCK0, SNPn, and QMNn.

The Program Interface

The program interface is the mechanism by which a user process communicates with a server process. It serves as a method of standard communication between any client tool or application (such as Oracle Forms) and Oracle software. Its functions are to:

  • act as a communications mechanism, by formatting data requests, passing data, and trapping and returning errors
  • perform conversions and translations of data, particularly between different types of computers or to external user program datatypes

Data Concurrency and Consistency


A primary concern of a multiuser database management system is how to control concurrency, or the simultaneous access of the same data by many users. Without adequate concurrency controls, data could be updated or changed improperly, compromising data integrity. If many people are accessing the same data, one way of managing data concurrency is to make each user wait his or her turn. The goal of a database management system is to reduce that wait so it is either non-existent or negligible to each user. All data manipulation (DML) statements should proceed with as little interference as possible and destructive interactions between concurrent transactions must be prevented. Destructive interaction is any interaction that incorrectly updates data or incorrectly alters underlying data structures. Neither performance nor data integrity can be sacrificed. Oracle resolves such issues by using various types of locks and a multiversion consistency model.

Read Consistency

Read consistency, as supported by Oracle, does the following:

  • guarantees that the set of data seen by a statement is consistent with respect to a single point-in-time and does not change during statement execution (statement-level read consistency)
  • ensures that readers of database data do not wait for writers or other readers of the same data
  • ensures that writers of database data do not wait for readers of the same data
  • ensures that writers only wait for other writers if they attempt to update identical rows in concurrent transactions

The simplest way to think of Oracle's implementation of read consistency is to imagine each user operating a private copy of the database, hence the multiversion consistency model.

Read Consistency, Rollback Segments, and Transactions

To manage the multiversion consistency model, Oracle must create a read-consistent set of data when a table is being queried (read) and simultaneously updated (written). When an update occurs, the original data values changed by the update are recorded in the database's rollback segments. As long as this update remains part of an uncommitted transaction, any user that later queries the modified data views the original data values--Oracle uses current information in the system global area and information in the rollback segments to construct a read-consistent view of a table's data for a query. Only when a transaction is committed are the changes of the transaction made permanent. Statements that start after the user's transaction is committed only see the changes made by the committed transaction. Note that a transaction is key to Oracle's strategy for providing read consistency. This unit of committed (or uncommitted) SQL statements:

  • dictates the start point for read-consistent views generated on behalf of readers
  • controls when modified data can be seen by other transactions of the database for reading or updating.

Read-Only Transactions

By default, Oracle guarantees statement-level read consistency. The set of data returned by a single query is consistent with respect to a single point in time. However, in some situations, you may also require transaction-level read consistency--the ability to run multiple queries within a single transaction, all of which are read-consistent with respect to the same point in time, so that queries in this transaction do not see the effects of intervening committed transactions. If you want to run a number of queries against multiple tables and if you are doing no updating, you may prefer a read-only transaction. After indicating that your transaction is read-only, you can execute as many queries as you like against any table, knowing that the results of each query are consistent with respect to the same point in time.

Locking Mechanisms

Oracle also uses locks to control concurrent access to data. Locks are mechanisms intended to prevent destructive interaction between users accessing Oracle data. Locks are used to achieve two important database goals:

  • consistency Ensures that the data a user is viewing or changing is not changed (by other users) until the user is finished with the data.
  • integrity Ensures that the database's data and structures reflect all changes made to them in the correct sequence.

Locks guarantee data integrity while allowing maximum concurrent access to the data by unlimited users

Distributed Processing and Distributed Databases

As computer networking becomes more and more prevalent in today's computing environments, database management systems must be able to take advantage of distributed processing and storage capabilities. This section explains the architectural features of Oracle that meet these requirements.

Client/Server Architecture: Distributed Processing

Distributed processing uses more than one processor to divide the processing for a set of related jobs. Distributed processing reduces the processing load on a single processor by allowing different processors to concentrate on a subset of related tasks, thus improving the performance and capabilities of the system as a whole. An Oracle database system can easily take advantage of distributed processing by using its client/server architecture. In this architecture, the database system is divided into two parts: a front-end or a client portion and a back-end or a server portion.

The Client

The client portion is the front-end database application and interacts with a user through the keyboard, display, and pointing device such as a mouse. The client portion has no data access responsibilities; it concentrates on requesting, processing, and presenting data managed by the server portion. The client workstation can be optimized for its job. For example, it might not need large disk capacity or it might benefit from graphic capabilities.

The Server

The server portion runs Oracle software and handles the functions required for concurrent, shared data access. The server portion receives and processes the SQL and PL/SQL statements that originate from client applications. The computer that manages the server portion can be optimized for its duties. For example, it can have large disk capacity and fast processors.

Multi-Tier Architecture: Application Servers

A multi-tier architecture has the following components:

  • A client or initiator process that starts an operation.
  • One or more application servers that perform parts of the operation. An application server is a process that provides access to the data for the client and performs some of the query processing, thus removing some of the load from the database server. It can serve as an interface between clients and multiple database servers, including providing an additional level of security.
  • An end or database server that serves as the repository for most of the data used in the operation.

This architecture allows you to use an application server to:

  • validate the credentials of a client, such as a web browser
  • connect to an Oracle database server
  • perform the requested operation on behalf of the client

The identity of the client is maintained throughout all tiers of the connection. The Oracle database server audits operations that the application server performs on behalf of the client separately from operations that the application server performs on its own behalf (such as a request for a connection to the database server). The application server's privileges are limited to prevent it from performing unneeded and unwanted operations during a client operation.

Distributed Databases

A distributed database is a network of databases managed by multiple database servers that appears to a user as a single logical database. The data of all databases in the distributed database can be simultaneously accessed and modified. The primary benefit of a distributed database is that the data of physically separate databases can be logically combined and potentially made accessible to all users on a network. Each computer that manages a database in the distributed database is called a node. The database to which a user is directly connected is called the local database. Any additional databases accessed by this user are called remote databases. When a local database accesses a remote database for information, the local database is a client of the remote server. While a distributed database allows increased access to a large amount of data across a network, it must also provide the ability to hide the location of the data and the complexity of accessing it across the network. The distributed DBMS must also preserve the advantages of administrating each local database as though it were non-distributed.

Table Replication

Distributed database systems often locally replicate remote tables that are frequently queried by local users. By having copies of heavily accessed data on several nodes, the distributed database does not need to send information across a network repeatedly, thus helping to maximize the performance of the database application. Data can be replicated using materialized views (snapshots).

Startup and Shutdown Operations

An Oracle database is not available to users until the Oracle server has been started up and the database has been opened. These operations must be performed by the database administrator. Starting a database and making it available for systemwide use takes three steps:
1. Start an instance of the Oracle server.
2. Mount the database.
3. Open the database.
Shutting down an instance and the database to which it is connected takes three steps:
4. Close the database.
5. Dismount the database.
6. Shut down the instance of the Oracle server.
Oracle automatically performs all three steps when an instance is shut down.

Database Security

Multi-user database systems, such as Oracle, include security features that control how a database is accessed and used. For example, security mechanisms:

  • prevent unauthorized database access
  • prevent unauthorized access to schema objects
  • control disk usage
  • control system resource usage (such as CPU time)
  • audit user actions

Associated with each database user is a schema by the same name. A schema is a logical collection of database objects (tables, views, sequences, synonyms, indexes, clusters, procedures, functions, packages, and database links). By default, each database user creates and has access to all objects in the corresponding schema. Database security can be classified into two distinct categories: system security and data security. System security includes the mechanisms that control the access and use of the database at the system level. For example, system security includes:

  • valid username/password combinations
  • the amount of disk space available to a user's schema objects
  • the resource limits for a user

System security mechanisms check whether a user is authorized to connect to the database, whether database auditing is active, and which system operations a user can perform. Data security includes the mechanisms that control the access and use of the database at the schema object level. For example, data security includes:

  • which users have access to a specific schema object and the specific types of actions allowed for each user on the schema object (for example, user SCOTT can issue SELECT and INSERT statements but not DELETE statements using the EMP table)
  • the actions, if any, that are audited for each schema object

Security Mechanisms

The Oracle server provides discretionary access control, which is a means of restricting access to information based on privileges. The appropriate privilege must be assigned to a user in order for that user to access a schema object. Appropriately privileged users can grant other users privileges at their discretion; for this reason, this type of security is called "discretionary". Oracle manages database security using several different facilities:

  • database users and schemas
  • privileges
  • roles
  • storage settings and quotas
  • resource limits
  • auditing

Database Users and Schemas

Each Oracle database has a list of usernames. To access a database, a user must use a database application and attempt a connection with a valid username of the database. Each username has an associated password to prevent unauthorized use.

Security Domain

Each user has a security domain--a set of properties that determine such things as the:

  • actions (privileges and roles) available to the user
  • tablespace quotas (available disk space) for the user
  • system resource limits (for example, CPU processing time) for the user

Each property that contributes to a user's security domain is discussed in the following sections.


A privilege is a right to execute a particular type of SQL statement. Some examples of privileges include the:

  • right to connect to the database (create a session)
  • right to create a table in your schema
  • right to select rows from someone else's table
  • right to execute someone else's stored procedure

The privileges of an Oracle database can be divided into two distinct categories: system privileges and schema object privileges.

System Privileges

System privileges allow users to perform a particular systemwide action or a particular action on a particular type of schema object. For example, the privileges to create a tablespace or to delete the rows of any table in the database are system privileges. Many system privileges are available only to administrators and application developers because the privileges are very powerful.

Schema Object Privileges

Schema object privileges allow users to perform a particular action on a specific schema object. For example, the privilege to delete rows of a specific table is an object privilege. Object privileges are granted (assigned) to end-users so that they can use a database application to accomplish specific tasks.

Granting Privileges

Privileges are granted to users so that users can access and modify data in the database. A user can receive a privilege two different ways:

  • Privileges can be granted to users explicitly. For example, the privilege to insert records into the EMP table can be explicitly granted to the user SCOTT.
  • Privileges can be granted to roles (a named group of privileges), and then the role can be granted to one or more users. For example, the privilege to insert records into the EMP table can be granted to the role named CLERK, which in turn can be granted to the users SCOTT and BRIAN.

Because roles allow for easier and better management of privileges, privileges are normally granted to roles and not to specific users. The following section explains more about roles and their use.


Oracle provides for easy and controlled privilege management through roles. Roles are named groups of related privileges that are granted to users or other roles. Database administrators often create roles for a database application. The DBA grants an application role all privileges necessary to run the application. The DBA then grants the application role to other roles or users. An application can have several different roles, each granted a different set of privileges that allow for more or less data access while using the application.

Storage Settings and Quotas

Oracle provides means for directing and limiting the use of disk space allocated to the database on a per user basis, including default and temporary tablespaces and tablespace quota

Profiles and Resource Limits

Each user is assigned a profile that specifies limitations on several system resources available to the user, including the

  • number of concurrent sessions the user can establish
  • CPU processing time
  • available to the user's session
  • available to a single call to Oracle made by a SQL statement
  • amount of logical I/O
    • available to the user's session
    • available to a single call to Oracle made by a SQL statement
  • amount of idle time for the user's session allowed
  • amount of connect time for the user's session allowed
  • password restrictions
    • account locking after multiple unsuccessful login attempts
    • password expiration and grace period
    • password reuse and complexity restrictions

Different profiles can be created and assigned individually to each user of the database. A default profile is present for all users not explicitly assigned a profile. The resource limit feature prevents excessive consumption of global database system resources.


Oracle permits selective auditing (recorded monitoring) of user actions to aid in the investigation of suspicious database use.

Database Backup and Recovery

In every database system, the possibility of a system or hardware failure always exists. Should a failure occur and affect the database, the database must be recovered. The goals after a failure are to ensure that the effects of all committed transactions are reflected in the recovered database and to return to normal operation as quickly as possible while insulating users from problems caused by the failure. Oracle provides for complete and quick recovery from all possible types of hardware failures including disk crashes. Options are provided so that a database can be completely recovered or partially recovered to a specific point in time. If some datafiles are damaged in a disk failure but most of the database is intact and operational, the database can remain open while the required tablespaces are individually recovered. Therefore, undamaged portions of a database are available for normal use while damaged portions are being recovered.

Structures Used for Recovery

Oracle uses several structures to provide complete recovery from an instance or disk failure: the redo log, rollback segments, a control file, and database backups.

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