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The database development life cycle
The database development life cycle

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1.2 A development life cycle

Database development is just one part of the much wider field of software engineering, the process of developing and maintaining software. A core aspect of software engineering is the subdivision of the development process into a series of phases, or steps, each of which focuses on one aspect of the development. The collection of these steps is sometimes referred to as a development life cycle. The software product moves through this life cycle (sometimes repeatedly as it is refined or redeveloped) until it is finally retired from use. Ideally, each phase in the life cycle can be checked for correctness before moving on to the next phase. However, software engineering is a very rich discipline with many different methods for the subdivision of the development process and a detailed exploration of the many different ways in which development can be structured is beyond the scope of this course.

Here, we start with an overview of the waterfall model such as you will find in most software engineering text books. (Do note that in this course we aim to present database development principles and techniques that are common to many development methods, not just the waterfall model.) Figure 4 illustrates a general waterfall model which could apply to any computer system development. It shows the process as a strict sequence of steps where the output of one step is the input to the next and all of one step has to be completed before moving onto the next. However, in reality there is usually some degree of refinement and feedback as the product proceeds through the development stages (it would be rare to find that each task is performed perfectly and never needs revisiting – although that is one possibility!).

Figure 4
Figure 4 A general model of system development: the waterfall model

We can use Figure 4 as a means of identifying the tasks that are required, together with the input and output for each activity. What is important is the scope of the activities, which can be summarised as follows:

  • Establishing requirements involves consultation with, and agreement among, stakeholders as to what they want of a system, expressed as a statement of requirements.

  • Analysis starts by considering the statement of requirements and finishes by producing a system specification. The specification is a formal representation of what a system should do, expressed in terms that are independent of how it may be realised.

  • Design begins with a system specification and produces design documents, and provides a detailed description of how a system should be constructed.

  • Implementation is the construction of a computer system according to a given design document and taking account of the environment in which the system will be operating (for example specific hardware or software available for the development). Implementation may be staged, usually with an initial system than can be validated and tested before a final system is released for use.

  • Testing compares the implemented system against the design documents and requirements specification and produces an acceptance report or, more usually, a list of errors and bugs that require a review of the analysis, design and implementation processes to correct (testing is usually the task that leads to the waterfall model iterating through the life cycle).

  • Maintenance involves dealing with changes in the requirements, or the implementation environment, bug fixing or porting of the system to new environments (for example migrating a system from a standalone PC to a UNIX workstation or a networked environment). Since maintenance involves the analysis of the changes required, design of a solution, implementation and testing of that solution over the lifetime of a maintained software system, the waterfall life cycle will be repeatedly revisited.

Exercise 3

The following are problems that have been identified during the testing process in the development of a new system. In which part of the life cycle do you think these problem could have originated and been identified by a thorough review following that stage in the development life cycle?

  1. The performance of the system is poor – failing to respond quickly enough to meet the stated user requirement of interactive, screen-based use.

  2. No backup facilities were included to meet the users' requirement of long-term archival of their data.

  3. No user manuals were provided!


  1. The user requirement for interactive, screen-based use forms part of the system specification, but actual performance can only be identified at implementation time, when the system has been built and is being evaluated. In the development of some systems, attempts at performance prediction can occur during the design stage; however, with database development it is normal to validate such design predictions at the testing stage.

  2. The missing feature was in the requirements, so during analysis, design or implementation someone has overlooked this requirement. Without further information it is impossible to say when the feature fell out of the development life cycle.

  3. No user manuals – were they asked for as part of the requirements? If they were then see the answer to (2). If they weren’t part of the requirements, then such a basic omission should have been identified at the requirements gathering – user documentation should be considered as a standard requirement for any new system.

There are many issues outstanding from this brief description, but we do not want to elaborate on the general model any further, simply because it is general and does not address the development of a database system explicitly. However, we can use this framework as the basis for a model of database development which incorporates three assumptions:

  • We can separate the development of a database – that is, specification and creation of a schema to define data in a database – from the user processes that make use of the database.

  • We can use the three-schema architecture as a basis for distinguishing the activities associated with a schema.

  • We can represent the constraints to enforce the semantics of the data once, within a database, rather than within every user process that uses the data.

Using these assumptions, Figure 5 represents a model of the activities and their outputs for database development. It is applicable to any class of DBMS (database management system), not just a relational approach.

In the rest of this course we will look at each of these tasks in more detail.

Figure 5
Figure 5 Model of database development