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c A data type is characterized by:

c a set of values
c a data representation, which is common to all these values, and
c a set of operations, which can be applied uniformly to all these values

c An Abstract Data Type (ADT) is:

c a set of values
c a set of operations, which can be applied uniformly to all these values

c To abstract is to leave out information, keeping (hopefully) the more important part

In computing, an abstract data type or abstract data structure is a mathematical model for a
certain class of data structures that have similar behavior; or for certain data types of one or more
programming languages that have similar semantics. An ADT is defined indirectly, only by the
operations that may be performed on it and by mathematical constraints on the effects (and
possibly cost) of those operations[1

For example, an abstract stack data structure could be defined by two operations: push, that
inserts some data item into the structure, and pop, that extracts an item from it; with the
constraint that each pop always returns the most recently pushed item that has not been popped
yet. When analyzing the efficiency of algorithms that use stacks, one may also specify that both
operations take the same time no matter how many items have been pushed into the stack, and
that the stack uses a constant amount of storage for each element.

ADTs are purely theoretical entities, used (among other things) to simplify the description of
abstract algorithms, to classify and evaluate data structures, and to formally describe the type
systems of programming languages. However, an ADT may be implemented by specific data
types or data structures, in many ways and in many programming languages; or described in a
formal specification language. ADTs are often implemented as modules: the module's interface
declares procedures that correspond to the ADT operations, sometimes with comments that
describe the constraints. This information hiding strategy allows the implementation of the
module to be changed without disturbing the client programs. Abstract data types are also an
important conceptual tool in object-oriented programming and design by contract methodologies
for software development.

  
    

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It is interesting to note that the ability to represent user-defined data types was commonly used
within pre-relational database, and was lost when the relational model was introduced. In pre-
relational databases, there were only a small number of allowable data types (numeric and
character), but these databases allowed for the atomic values to be grouped into larger units.
These larger units could then be easily moved around within the database. For example, a
full_address construct could be defined and copied into numerous record definitions, where it
could be manipulated as if it were a single unit.

There are several reasons why ADT's are useful within an object database:

1. Encapsulation - Because each user-defined data type exist as a complete entity, including
the data definitions, default values, and value constraints, this entity insures uniformity
and consistency. Once defined, a user-defined data type may participate in many other
user-defined data types, such that the same logical data type, always has the same
definition, default values and value constraints, regardless of where it appears in the
database.
2. Reusability - As a hierarchy of common data structures are assembled, these can be re-
used within many definitions, saving coding time and insuring uniformity.
3. Flexibility - The ability to create real-world data representations of data allows the
database object designer to model the real world as it exists.

As you can see there are many compelling reasons to have user-defined data typing, provided
that the data types are properly analyzed and incorporated into the database object model. Let's
take a look at some of the implementation issues that relate to the object model and data typing.

 
    

Now lets take this concept one step further and consider how user-defined data types can be
nested within other data types. A basic example, would be to create a data type that would
encapsulate all of the data in a table:

CREATE TYPE customer_stuff (


full_name customer_name,
home_address customer_address
business_addresscustomer_address);

With the customer_stuff type defined, table definition becomes simple:

CREATE TABLE CUSTOMER (customer_data customer_stuff);

Using this type of user-defined data type we are essentially duplicating the object-oriented
concept of encapsulation. That is, we are placing groups of related data types into a container
that is completely self-contained and has the full authority of the innate relational data types such
as int and char.

Select customer_stuff.customer_name.zip_code
from customer
where customer_stuff.customer_name.zip_codelike '144%';

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In many object databases it is possible to directly retrieve and pass an abstract data type. While
this is a matter of convenience for most programmers, there are some very useful applications of
this technique, especially for the object/relational databases. In object/relational databases,
ADT's can be directly retrieved and used inside other tables. In the following Oracle example, a
new table called good_customer is created by retrieving the entire ADT from the customer table.

create table good_customer as


(select value(a) from customer a where type = 'good')

In this example, the good_customer table will inherit the same ADT as the customer table.

Another feature of abstract data typing is the simplification of the transfer of data structures
between the database and the front-ends. In a traditional relational database, each column has to
be moved, one at a time, from the database into the map field for the display screen. In the
following example, we see the C syntax to move data onto a display screen:

strcpy(db_cust_first_name,screen_cust_first_name);
strcpy(db_cust_last_name,screen_cust_last_name);
strcpy(db_cust_MI,screen_cust_MI);

strcpy(db_cust_street_address,screen_cust_street_address);
strcpy(db_cust_city,screen_cust_city);
strcpy(db_cust_zip_code,screen_cust_zip_code);

When using an ADT, a single statement can be used to transfer the data from the database onto
the display screen:

strcpy(db_customer_struct, screen_customer_struct);