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What is the Difference Between DBMS and RDBMS?

Troy Holmes
Troy Holmes

A database is a software application that enables the storage of data. Within database architecture there are different theories and implementations for storing the physical data. A relation database management system (RDBMS) is a database that stores data in tables with relationships to other tables. In comparison, a database management system (DBMS) does not require the definition of relationships between tables. Both DBMS and RDBMS are models for storing information in a physical database.

Information is a critical factor for competitive advantage in business today. Typically large organizations use multiple databases to perform business operations. These databases can include both large DBMS and RDBMS. Typically large sophisticated sets of data require an RDBMS solution, whereas smaller data collections can be managed with a DBMS.

DBMS are typically used for the databases on a single hard drive, while RDBMS are more common for large networks.
DBMS are typically used for the databases on a single hard drive, while RDBMS are more common for large networks.

A logical data model is a schematic that is used to express data for an organization. Today there are multiple techniques for creating a data model. A relational data model includes tables, keys, indexes, and foreign key relationships to other tables. Both DBMS and RDBMS support the concept of foreign keys, only RDBMS enforces those rules.

Cardinality is a mathematical term that explains the number of elements in a set. The cardinality relationship in a database explains the number of elements that can belong to a table with relationships. An example of cardinality is easily described with a person and phone numbers. Typically people have multiple phone numbers. This would be a one-to-many relationship in relational database theory.

Relational database theory was first introduced by Edgar Frank Codd in 1970. Within his theory Mr. Codd defined 13 rules, often termed “Cod’s 12 rules” because he numbered them zero through 12, on satisfying a relational model. The relational model requires a RDMS be built based on relationships to other data within the data model.

Before a software application can be considered a database it must have a mechanism to save data to a physical device. This will allow other software to retrieve the saved data later. The DBMS and RDBMS both allow this to happen.

A flat file is data that is 'flat' in logical nature. This data has no relationship to other data and requires programming logic to retrieve records from a physical device. These types of files are good for simple lists but are not recommended for large complex operations. The flat file is allowed in DBMS design, but not accepted in RDBMS design.

Relational database design is the next generation forward from database management system design. The relational database used the fundamentals of DBMS as the base model for storing data. DBMS and RDBMS are supported by most database vendors. Typically, RDBMS is used for more complex business applications.

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Discussion Comments


I have a different view about this concept. DBMS is basically set of system programs which helps to store, retrieve and manipulate the database. If this system programs support a database (to perform the above mentioned tasks) which got designed using relational theory (or methodology), then it is called as RDBMS.

Same thing is applicable to Hierarchical and Network models.

In short, DBMS is an abstract concept and RDBMS, NDBMS, HDBMS are specific implementations depending upon the data model used.


@donbri5--The dbms systems that were first designed in the seventies did not have the relation aspect. In today's world of management systems, most of them are relation database management systems. As the technology advanced so did the type of database systems. It's not likely to see on these days without the relation capabilities, though you might see it in a very small system.


I am surprised that database management systems are still around. It would seem that the relation database management systems would replace them entirely. I see how the relation database management system helps to keep related information available for future use. This is really relevant when you are working with a lot of data.

I don't see the relevance of the database management system in today's world. Does anyone have any examples of when this would be better to use over the relation database?

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    • DBMS are typically used for the databases on a single hard drive, while RDBMS are more common for large networks.
      By: naraz
      DBMS are typically used for the databases on a single hard drive, while RDBMS are more common for large networks.