Encyclopedia of Database Systems

Living Edition
| Editors: Ling Liu, M. Tamer Özsu


  • Bernhard ThalheimEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-7993-3_4-2



Abstraction allows developers to concentrate on the essential, relevant, or important parts of an application. It uses a mapping to a model from things in reality or from virtual things. The model has the truncation property, i.e., it lacks some of the details in the original, and a pragmatic property, i.e., the model use is only justified for particular model users, tools of investigation, and periods of time. Database engineering uses construction abstraction, context abstraction, and refinement abstraction. Construction abstraction is based on the principles of hierarchical structuring, constructor composition, and generalization. Context abstraction assumes that the surroundings of a concept are commonly understood by a community or within a culture and focuses on the concept, turning away attention from its surroundings such as the environment and setting. Refinement abstraction uses the principle of modularization and information hiding. Developers typically use conceptual models or languages for representing and conceptualizing abstractions. The enhanced entity-relationship model schema are typically depicted by an EER diagram.

Key Points

Database engineering distinguishes three kinds of abstraction: construction abstraction, context abstraction, and refinement abstraction.

Constructor composition depends on the constructors as originally introduced by J. M. Smith and D.C.W. Smith. Composition constructors must be well founded and their semantics must be derivable by inductive construction. There are three main methods for construction: development of ordered structures on the basis of hierarchies, construction by combination or association, and construction by classification into groups or collections. The set constructors ⊂ (subset), × (product), and \( {\mathrm{P}} \) (powerset) for subset, product and nesting are complete for the construction of sets.

Subset constructors support hierarchies of object sets in which one set of objects is a subset of some other set of objects. Subset hierarchies are usually a rooted tree. Product constructors support associations between object sets. The schema is decomposed into object sets related to each other by association or relationship types. Power set constructors support a classification of object sets into clusters or groups of sets – typically according to their properties.

Context abstraction allows developers to commonly concentrate on those parts of an application that are essential for some perspectives during development and deployment of systems. Typical types of context abstraction are component abstraction, separation of concern, interaction abstraction, summarization, scoping, and focusing on typical application cases.

Component abstraction factors out repeating, shared or local patterns of components or functions from individual concepts. It allows developers to concentrate on structural or behavioral aspects of similar elements of components. Separation of concern allows developers to concentrate on those concepts under development and to neglect all other concepts that are stable or not under consideration. Interaction abstraction allows developers to concentrate on parts of the model that are essential for interaction with other systems or users. Summarisation maps the conceptualizations within the scope to more abstract concepts. Scoping is typically used to select those concepts that are necessary for current development and removes those concepts which that do not have an impact on the necessary concepts.

Database models may cover a large variety of different application cases. Some of them reflect exceptional, abnormal, infrequent and untypical application situations. Focusing on typical application cases explicitly separates models intended for the normal or typical application case from those that are atypical. Atypical application cases are not neglected but can be folded into the model whenever atypical situations are considered.

The context abstraction concept is the main concept behind federated databases. Context of databases can be characterized by schemata, version, time, and security requirements. Sub-schemata, types of the schemata or views on the schemata, are associated with explicit import/export bindings based on a name space. Parametrization lets developers consider collections of objects. Objects are identifiable under certain assumptions and completely identifiable after instantiation of all parameters.

Interaction abstraction allows developers to display the same set of objects in different forms. The view concept supports this visibility concept. Data is abstracted and displayed in various levels of granularity. Summarization abstraction allows developers to abstract from details that are irrelevant at a certain point. Scope abstraction allows developers to concentrate on a number of aspects. Names or aliases can be multiply used with varying structure, functionality and semantics.

Refinement abstraction mainly concerns implementation and modularisation. It allows developers to selectively retain information about structures. Refinement abstraction is defined on the basis of the development cycle (refinement of implementations). It refines, summarizes and views conceptualizations, hides or encapsulates details, or manages collections of versions. Each refinement step transforms a schema to a schema of finer granularity. Refinement abstraction may be modeled by refinement theory and infomorphisms.

Encapsulation removes internal aspects and concentrates on interface components. Blackbox or graybox approaches hide all aspects of the objects being considered. Partial visibility may be supported by modularization concepts. Hiding supports differentiation of concepts into public, private (with the possibility to be visible as “friends”) and protected (with visibility to subconcepts). It is possible to define a number of visibility conceptualizations based on inflection. Inflection is used for the injection of combinable views into the given view, for tailoring, ordering and restructuring of views, and for enhancement of views by database functionality. Behavioral transparency is supported by the glassbox approach. Security views are based on hiding. Versioning allows developers to manage a number of concepts which can be considered to be versions of each other.


Recommended Reading

  1. 1.
    Börger E. The ASM refinement method. Form Asp Comput. 2003;15:237–57.CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Smith JM, Smith DCW. Data base abstractions: aggregation and generalization. ACM Trans Database Syst. 1977;2(2):105–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Thalheim B. Entity-relationship modeling – foundations of database technology. Springer; 2000.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Christian-Albrechts University KielKielGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • David W. Embley
    • 1
  1. 1.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA