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Access isn’t a relational database

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Even if you think that this is a rather extreme view, there are more than enough other arguments to keep the regulars at the “Table and Join” pub debating long after last records have been called. So, let’s see how the discussion might go between two protagonists.

Of course, whilst it’s fine for trivial work, let’s face it; Access isn’t really a relational database.

You are just so right. A database is a collection of data, so Access isn’t a relational database, neither is Oracle, SQL Server etc.

OK, OK. What I meant was Access is not a relational engine.

Correct again. Access isn’t an engine. It makes calls to the Jet database engine which is supplied along with Access. Incidentally, in Access 2007 the Jet engine is finally being phased out (after 15 years of valiant service) and is being replaced by the new Ace engine.

Let’s not get pedantic here. Tell you what, from now on we’ll use the term ‘Access’ to include the Jet/Ace engine. It doesn’t matter how you wriggle and squirm, Access still isn’t relational.

Be more specific; in what way is it not relational?

What I mean is that it is nowhere near as relational as, say, Oracle.

But an engine can’t be partially relational. That’s like being slightly null. This relational business is binary: you either are, or you aren’t. Take a look at Codd’s first rule.

That’s silly. In common usage we know what the word ‘relational’ means. It refers to a database engine that stores data in tables. The tables have columns and rows, primary and foreign keys. Relational databases engines are the ones that allow joins between tables, use referential integrity to provide high data integrity, use SQL for querying and all of that jazz. That’s the relational database engine in the real world, not some airy-fairy definition by some guy 30 years ago.

Fair enough, you’ve convinced me. I’ve totally changed my mind. We should use the real world definition. In which case Access clearly is a relational database engine because it does all that you have mentioned and more.

No, that wasn’t the point. There are bits of the relational model that Access doesn’t support, like transactions.

Yes it does; they have been supported since Jet 4.0.

Ah, but it doesn’t support transaction logs!

True, but the whole question about transactions is immaterial to the current discussion because transactions aren’t really part of the relational model.

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