#WDILTW – To use a RDBMS is to use a transaction

I learned this week that 30+ years of Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) experience still does not prepare yourself for the disappointment of working with organizations that use a RDBMS; MySQL specifically; have a released production product, have dozens to hundreds of developers, team leaders and architects, but do not know the importance of, nor use transactions. If I was to ask this when interviewing somebody that would work with a database and the response was it is not important, or not used these days it would be a hard fail.

To use a RDBMS is to understand a very simple principle, a foundation of a transactional system. It is called ACID. Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability.

In a simplistic description of this 50 year principle.

  • A – It’s all or nothing
  • C – Your work meets all existing constraints
  • I – Your work is independent and not affected by other concurrent work
  • D – Your work is reproducible in the event of a hard failure

A – Atomicity means a transaction. It’s not rocket science, it’s actually in the description of a RDBMS. What is a transaction? It is a means in Structure Query Language (SQL) notation that can ensure your unit of work is all or nothing.

The most basic of examples is very simple. You want to deposit a check that was given to you. For the bank to accept this deposit, it needs to ensure that the account holder that issued the check has sufficient funds, that is Step 1: subtract amount X from account A, and Step 2: deposit in account B. You cannot do Step 1 or Step 2 independently, you must do 1 and 2 together, otherwise real money could be lost or created from thin air. The lack of transactions also can be affected by not handling I – Isolation.

We have to ask our educators and responsible professionals why? Why can such a bedrock principle not be used? Why in a team of individuals in a company, one single individual from the years of development and support not say, well you have to use a transaction to ensure the integrity of the data you are working with? It’s called a database for a reason.

The unfortunately reality is there are several reasons for this utter failure, and the frustration of professionals like myself.

  1. RDBMS is not the bedrock of data management it was 20,30 even 50 years ago. Today with a proliferation of different products, transactions are simply not taught. Even SQL is not taught, yet most products that want to enable users to query data ultimately provide a SQL-like interface. Many users today want a drag & drop GUI interface but not realize that is not how you manipulate data. Hadoop was a life change with map-reduce approach to large datasets. iIt did not start with SQL, but it has a widely used SQL interface now. You look at the newest hot products like snowflake. What is it’s method of data access, SQL.
  2. MySQL, the most popular open source database does not enforce transactions, it’s optional. What you say? MySQL has some unique features including the capability for multiple storage engines, that provide different features and capabilities, such as index approaches, consistency and support for transactions. An entire generation of open source products were released and do not use transactions, but use a transactional storage engine within a transactional product.
  3. Still on the topic of MySQL, it also does not enforce strict handling like other RDBMS products. The default for decades was to enable an SQL statement to corrupt the data integrity, i.e. C – Consistency. Because MySQL supported warnings and they were always not checked for by developers, data in did not guarantee data out.
  4. Every mini-generation (e.g. 5 years) of new developers think they know more, than seasoned professionals.

As it was for me in the 80s, it should be for use of a relational database; and even a non-relational database; to read and understand the seminal works of An introduction to Database Systems by C.J. Date. It has been required learning at universities for decades, but it seems to have lost is favor with multiple iterations of new software developers.

#3 – What Did I learn this week. WDILTW.