Not the model, Bill

February 12, 2008

According to InfoWorld, Bill Gates thinks that declarative modelling of business logic has not caught on because of "weak models".

This is a surprise. E.F.Codd's earliest papers on the Relational Model described a relational calculus for the purpose of supporting declarative business logic. Even the SQL standards committee added some powerful features to standard SQL, such as CREATE ASSERTION and generalised CHECK constraints with subqueries. Despite this, InfoWorld identifies the Relational Model as one of the "weak" models referred to by Gates!

What is stopping people putting declarative business logic in their data models today? The answer is not the model. It is the DBMS products that are supposed to implement the model. Here's what Terry Halpin said about declarative constraint support in SQL back in 2001

"Although the above SQL syntax [CREATE DOMAIN and CHECK constraint with subquery] is legal as far back as SQL-92, some commercial versions of SQL do not yet support all of this syntax. For data definition, some versions have barely progressed beyond the old SQL-89 standard (which had no domain clauses, and restricted check clauses to conditions on a single row). In practice, some features of a relational schema may need to be specified as a procedural code rather than declaratively."

(Information Modeling and Relational Databases, p411)

In 2000, Fabian Pascal wrote:

"most commercial DBMSs have not implemented the [SQL] standard's advanced level integrity features. Some implement integrity procedurally via user-written stored procedures expressed in proprietary SQL extensions that can be quite complex, vary across products and have various limitations."

(Practical Issues in Database Management, p64)

And here's my take on the same problem:

A logical flaw with function-based CHECK constraints

Database practitioners have been saying for years that most SQL DBMSs do a poor job of supporting declarative business logic. Dear Bill: the relational model is just great. Please fix the omissions in the current products before going on to invent whole new ones!