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Don Burleson Blog 







The History and Evolution of Object Technology

Oracle Database Tips by Donald Burleson

Through the years computer databases and systems have developed with each succeeding database and system improving on the ones before it.  The next progression of database architecture is toward object-oriented databases.  Just like early file managers stored data, network databases stored data and relationships, object-oriented database store data, data relationships, and the behaviors of the data. 

With the properties of encapsulation, abstraction and polymorphism, object technology systems are moving toward a unified data model which models the real-world far more effectively than previous modeling techniques.  Furthermore, a properly designed object-oriented model promises to be maintenance free, because all changes to data attributes and behaviors become a database task, and not a programming task.

Presently, the relational database model is the most popular and widely used.  This popularity is attributed primarily it's innate flexibility and the ease of use that accompanies SQL. However, the relational model has been with us for more than a dozens years, which is an extremely long time for any computer architecture.  Customer needs are changing and the relational model needs to be updated to handle these changes.  Just as structured programming languages like PASCAL were first introduced to enforce structured programming techniques, object-oriented databases have been designed to handle the changing business needs of today.    

Object-oriented systems development is a natural extension of the structured programming approach.  Just as structured programming emphasized the benefits of properly nested loop structures, object-oriented development emphasizes the benefits of modular and reusable computer code, and the benefits of modeling real-world objects. 

The object-oriented technology approach started because some applications could not use traditional programming languages like Cobol or Fortran.  Unlike the ad-hoc nature of relational development, where data items can easily be added to a model, object-oriented systems require careful planning.  In order to achieve the promise of low maintenance, these systems need to be very well-defined become coding begins.  Unfortunately, the first object-oriented developer realized is that the object-oriented approach was a very foreign concept for many procedural programmers.  Object-oriented systems require a new way of looking at the problem.

The object-oriented languages such as C++ and Smalltalk have a very steep learning curve, but once mastered, the programmers may be many times more productive.  However, the object-oriented approach is only 5% technology and 95% philosophy.  In many cases, once the programmers are trained to think in object-oriented technology terms, they find that existing procedural languages can be used to accomplish many of the tasks which were once thought to be exclusively for C++ and Smalltalk.   For example, many object-oriented technology features such as fully-reentrant procedures and reusable code can be implemented with a classic language such as Cobol.

One of the main goals of object-oriented technology is increased productivity. Organizations that are willing to undertake the learning curve associated with object-oriented technology have found tremendous benefits, both in reduced development efforts as well as less ongoing maintenance costs.

Many programmers using C++ and Smalltalk store their own complex objects in a file system of their own design.  These "home-grown" databases are generally linked-list data structures which serve to store the objects, but they do not take advantage of the inherent benefits of a database management system.  Today, most systems professionals realize that it is possible to incorporate object-oriented functionality into existing relational database software, and some vendors are developing object-oriented front-ends for relational databases.




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