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Introducing Oracle

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The Oracle Family

Oracle9i Database Server describes the most recent major version of the Oracle Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) family of products that share common source code. Leveraging predecessors including the Oracle8 release that surfaced in 1997, the family includes:

  • Personal Oracle, a database for single users that's often used to develop code for implementation on other Oracle multiuser databases
  • Oracle Standard Edition, which was named Workgroup Server in its first iteration as part of the Oracle7 family and is often simply referred to as Oracle Server
  • Oracle Enterprise Edition, which includes additional functionality

In 1998, Oracle announced Oracle8i, which is sometimes referred to as Version 8.1 of the Oracle8 database. The "i " was added to denote added functionality supporting Internet deployment in the new version. Oracle9i followed, with Application Server available in 2000 and Database Server in 2001. The terms "Oracle," "Oracle8," "Oracle8i," and "Oracle9i" may appear to be used somewhat interchangeably in this book, since Oracle9i includes all the features of previous versions. When we describe a new feature that was first made available specifically for Oracle8i or Oracle9i we've tried to note that fact to avoid confusion, recognizing that many of you may have old releases of Oracle. We typically use the simple term "Oracle" when describing features that are common to all these releases.

Oracle has focused development around a single source code model since 1983. While each database implementation includes some operating system-specific source code, most of the code is common across the various implementations. The interfaces that users, developers, and administrators deal with for each version are consistent. Features are consistent across platforms for implementations of Oracle Standard Edition and Oracle Enterprise Edition. As a result, companies have been able to migrate Oracle applications easily to various hardware vendors and operating systems while leveraging their investments in Oracle technology. From the company's perspective, Oracle has been able to focus on implementing new features only once in its product set, instead of having to add functionality at different times to different implementations.

Oracle Standard Edition

When Oracle uses the names Oracle8 Server, Oracle8i Server, or Oracle9i Server to refer to a specific database offering, it refers to what was formerly known as Workgroup Server and is now sometimes called Standard Edition. From a functionality and pricing standpoint, this product intends to compete in the entry-level multiuser and small database category, which supports a smaller numbers of users. These releases are available today on Windows NT, Netware, and Unix platforms such as Compaq (Digital), HP/UX, IBM AIX, Linux, and Sun Solaris.

Oracle Enterprise Edition

Oracle Enterprise Edition is aimed at larger-scale implementations that require additional features. Enterprise Edition is available on far more platforms than the Oracle release for workgroups and includes advanced management, networking, programming, and data warehousing features, as well as a variety of special-purpose options.

Oracle Personal Edition

Oracle Personal Edition is the single-user version of Oracle Enterprise Edition. It is most frequently used by developers because it allows development activities on a single machine. Since the features match those of Enterprise Edition, a developer can write applications using the Personal Edition and deploy them to multiuser servers. Some companies deploy single-user applications using this product. However, Oracle Lite offers a much more lightweight means of deploying the same applications.

Oracle Lite

Oracle Lite, formerly known as Oracle Mobile, is intended for single users who are using wireless devices. It differs from other members of the Oracle database family in that it doesn't use the same database engine. Instead, Oracle developed a lightweight engine compatible with the limited memory and storage capacity of notebooks and handheld devices. Oracle Lite is described in more detail at the end of this chapter.

Because the SQL supported by Oracle Lite is largely the same as the SQL for other Oracle databases, you can run applications developed for those database engines using Oracle Wireless. Replication of data between Oracle Wireless and other Oracle versions is a key part of most implementations.

Table 1-2 summarizes the situations in which you would typically use each database product. We've used the Oracle product names to refer to the different members of the Oracle database family.

Table 1-2: Oracle Family of Database Products

Database Name

When Appropriate

Oracle Server/
Standard Edition

Version of Oracle server for a small number of users and a smaller database

Oracle Enterprise Edition

Version of Oracle for a large number of users or a large database with advanced features for extensibility, performance, and management

Oracle Personal

Single-user version of Oracle typically used for development of applications for deployment on other Oracle versions

Oracle Lite

Lightweight database engine for mobile computing on notebooks and handheld devices

Summary of Oracle Features

The Oracle database is a broad and powerful product. The remainder of this book examines different aspects of Oracle--for example, data structures, performance, and parallel processing. But before you can understand each of the different areas of Oracle in depth, you must familiarize yourself with the range of features in the Oracle database.

The rest of this chapter gives you a high-level overview of the basic areas of functionality in the Oracle product family. By the end of this chapter, you will at least have some orientation points to guide you in exploring the topics in the rest of this book.

To give some structure to the broad spectrum of the Oracle database, we've organized the features into the following sections:

  • Database application development features
  • Database connection features
  • Distributed database features
  • Data movement features
  • Performance features
  • Database management features

At the end of each of the following sections describing database features we've included a subsection called "Availability," which indicates the availability of each feature in specific Oracle products. You should be aware that as this feature list grows and Oracle implements packaging changes in new versions, the availability of these features in the version you implement may vary slightly.

TIP:   In this chapter, we've included a lot of terminology and rather abbreviated descriptions of features. Oracle is a huge system. Our goal here is to quickly familiarize you with the full range of features in the system. Subsequent chapters will provide additional details. Obviously, though, whole books can be (and have been!) written about each of the features summarized here.

Database Application Development Features

Applications are often built on the foundation of the Oracle database system. The features of the Oracle database and related products described in this section are used to create applications. We've divided the discussion in this section into two categories: database programming and database extensibility options. Later in this chapter, we describe the Internet Developer Suite, a set of optional tools used in Oracle9i Database Server and Oracle9i Application Server development.

Database Programming

All flavors of the Oracle database include different languages and interfaces that allow programmers to access and manipulate the data in the database. Database programming features usually interest two groups: developers building Oracle-based applications that will be sold commercially, and IT organizations within companies that custom-develop applications unique to their businesses. The following sections describe the languages and interfaces supported by Oracle.


The ANSI standard Structured Query Language (SQL) provides basic functions for data manipulation, transaction control, and record retrieval from the database. However, most end users interact with Oracle through applications that provide an interface that hides the underlying SQL and its complexity.


Oracle's PL/SQL, a procedural language extension to SQL, is commonly used to implement program logic modules for applications. PL/SQL can be used to build stored procedures and triggers, looping controls, conditional statements, and error handling. You can compile and store PL/SQL procedures in the database. You can also execute PL/SQL blocks via SQL*Plus, an interactive tool provided with all versions of Oracle.

Java features and options

Oracle8i introduced the use of Java as a procedural language with a Java Virtual Machine ( JVM) in the database (originally called JServer). JVM includes support for Java stored procedures, methods, triggers, Enterprise JavaBeans? (EJBs), CORBA, IIOP, and HTTP. The Accelerator is used for project generation, translation, and compilation. As of Oracle Version 8.1.7, it can also be used to deploy/install shared libraries.

The inclusion of Java within the Oracle database allows Java developers to leverage their skills as Oracle applications developers. Java applications can be deployed in the client, Oracle9i Application Server, or database, depending on what is most appropriate. We discuss Java development in Chapters 13 and 14.

Large objects

Interest in the use of large objects (LOBs) is growing, particularly for the storage of nontraditional datatypes such as images. The Oracle database has been able to store large objects for some time. Oracle8 added the capability to store multiple LOB columns in each table.

Object-oriented programming

Support of object structures has been included since Oracle8i to provide support for an object-oriented approach to programming. For example, programmers can create user-defined datatypes, complete with their own methods and attributes. Oracle's object support includes a feature called Object Views through which object-oriented programs can make use of relational data already stored in the database. You can also store objects in the database as varying arrays (VARRAYs), nested tables, or index organized tables (IOTs). We discuss the object-oriented features of Oracle further in Chapter 13.

Third-generation languages (3GLs)

Programmers can interact with the Oracle database from C, C++, Java, COBOL, or FORTRAN applications by embedding SQL in those applications. Prior to compiling the applications using a platform's native compilers, you must run the embedded SQL code through a precompiler. The precompiler replaces SQL statements with library calls the native compiler can accept. Oracle provides support for this capability through optional "programmer" precompilers for languages such as C and C++ (Pro*C) and COBOL (Pro*COBOL). More recently, Oracle added SQLJ, a precompiler for Java that replaces SQL statements embedded in Java with calls to a SQLJ runtime library, also written in Java.

Database Drivers

All versions of Oracle include database drivers that allow applications to access Oracle via ODBC (the Open DataBase Connectivity standard) or JDBC (the Java DataBase Connectivity open standard).

The Oracle Call Interface

If you're an experienced programmer seeking optimum performance, you may choose to define SQL statements within host-language character strings and then explicitly parse the statements, bind variables for them, and execute them using the Oracle Call Interface (OCI).

OCI is a much more detailed interface that requires more programmer time and effort to create and debug. Developing an application that uses OCI can be time-consuming, but the added functionality and incremental performance gains often make spending the extra time worthwhile.

Why Use OCI?

Why would someone want to use OCI instead of the higher-level interfaces? In certain programming scenarios, OCI improves application performance or adds functionality. For instance, in high-availability implementations in which multiple systems share disks and implement Real Application Clusters/Oracle Parallel Server, you may want users to reattach to a second server transparently if the first fails. You can write programs that do this using OCI.

National Language Support

National Language Support (NLS) provides character sets and associated functionality, such as date and numeric formats, for a variety of languages. Oracle9i features full Unicode 3.0 support. All data may be stored as Unicode, or select columns may be incrementally stored as Unicode. UTF-8 encoding and UTF-16 encoding provide support for more than 57 languages and 200 character sets. Extensive localization is provided (for example, for data formats) and customized localization can be added through the Oracle Locale Builder.


All of these database programming features are included in both Oracle Standard Edition and Oracle Enterprise Edition.

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This article was originally published on February 11, 2003

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