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In relational databases and flat file databases, a table is a set of data elements (values) that is organized using a model of vertical columns (which are identified by their name) and horizontal rows. A table has a specified number of columns, but can have any number of rows. Each row is identified by the values appearing in a particular column subset which has been identified as a candidate key.
Table is another term for relations; although there is the difference in that a table is usually a multi-set (bag) of rows whereas a relation is a set and does not allow duplicates. Besides the actual data rows, tables generally have associated with them some meta-information, such as constraints on the table or on the values within particular columns.
The data in a table does not have to be physically stored in the database. Views are also relational tables, but their data are calculated at query time. Another example are nicknames, which represent a pointer to a table in another database.
Tables versus relations
In terms of the relational model of databases, a table can be considered a convenient representation of a relation, but the two are not strictly equivalent. For instance, an SQL table can potentially contain duplicate rows, whereas a true relation cannot contain duplicate tuples. Similarly, representation as a table implies a particular ordering to the rows and columns, whereas a relation is explicitly unordered. However, the database system does not guarantee any ordering of the rows unless an
ORDER BY clause is specified in the SELECT statement that queries the table.
An equally valid representations of a relation is as an n-dimensional chart, where n is the number of attributes (a table's columns). For example, a relation with two attributes and three values can be represented as a table with two columns and three rows, or as a two-dimensional graph with three points. The table and graph representations are only equivalent if the ordering of rows is not significant, and the table has no duplicate rows.
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