• 2013-09-15 12:00:00

    Let the RDBMS do more than just store data

    One of the common "mistakes" that programmers (and have been guilty as charged many a times in the past) is not to use the tools that are available to them to the maximum extent possible.

    A common example is using the RDBMS of your choice to only store and retrieve data, without taking advantage of its power and its features to the full extent.

    A RDBMS can do much, much more. One can use triggers that can auto update fields (as I will demonstrate in this blog post), log data into tables, trigger cascade deletes etc.; stored procedures can compute complex data sets, joining tables and transforming data; views can offer easier representations of data, hiding complex queries from the actual application. In addition, such features, like stored procedures/views, can offer security enhancements as well as maintainability to an application. Execution for instance can be restricted to particular groups/logins, while changing the stored procedure/view only requires a change on the database layer and not the application itself.

    In this blog post I will show you a simple example on how one can transfer some of the processing of an application to the RDBMS. I am using MariaDB as the RDBMS and PhalconPHP as the PHP framework.

    The RDBMS

    Each table of my database has several common fields that are used for logging and reporting as well as recording status.

    An example table is as follows

      id             int(11)      unsigned NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
      address_line_1 varchar(150) COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      address_line_2 varchar(150) COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      address_line_3 varchar(150) COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      region         varchar(6)   COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      post_code      varchar(24)  COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      country        varchar(2)   COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci DEFAULT NULL,
      created_id     int(11)      unsigned NOT NULL DEFAULT '0',
      created_date   datetime              NOT NULL,
      updated_id     int(11)      unsigned NOT NULL DEFAULT '0',
      updated_date   datetime              NOT NULL,
      deleted        tinyint(1)   unsigned NOT NULL DEFAULT '0',
      PRIMARY KEY (id),
      KEY created_id (created_id),
      KEY created_date (created_date),
      KEY updated_id (updated_id),
      KEY updated_date (updated_date),
      KEY deleted (deleted)
    ) ENGINE=InnoDB  
    COMMENT='Holds addresses for various entities' AUTO_INCREMENT=1 ;

    The fields are:

    Field Name Description
    created_id The id of the user that created the record
    created_date The date/time that the record was created
    updated_id The id of the user that last updated the record
    updated_date The date/time that the record was last updated
    deleted A soft delete flag

    There is not much I can do with the user ids (created/updated) or the deleted column (see also notes below regarding this). However as far as the dates are concerned I can definitely let MariaDB handle those updates.


    The work is delegated to triggers, attached to each table.

    -- Triggers address
    DROP TRIGGER IF EXISTS trg_created_date;
    CREATE TRIGGER trg_created_date BEFORE INSERT ON address
     FOR EACH ROW SET NEW.created_date = NOW(), NEW.updated_date = NOW()
    DROP TRIGGER IF EXISTS trg_updated_date;
    CREATE TRIGGER trg_updated_date BEFORE UPDATE ON address
     FOR EACH ROW SET NEW.updated_date = NOW()

    The triggers above update the created_date and updated_date fields automatically upon insert/update.

    Phalcon Model

    I needed to make some changes to my model Address, in order to allow the triggers to work without interference from the model.

    class Model extends PhModel
        public function initialize()
            // Disable literals
            $this->setup(['phqlLiterals' => false]);
            // We skip these since they are handled by the RDBMS
        public function getSource()
            return 'address';
        public function getCreatedDate()
            return $this->created_date;
        public function getUpdatedDate()
            return $this->updated_date;

    By using skipAttributes, I am instructing the Phalcon model not to update those fields. By doing so, I am letting my triggers worry about that data.


    It might seem a very trivial task that I am delegating but in the grand scheme of things, the models of an application can be very complex and have a lot of logic in them (and so might controllers). Delegating some of that logic in the RDBMS simplifies things and also increases performance of the application, which now requires just a bit less computational power.


    For a soft delete feature i.e. automatically updating the deleted field when a DELETE is called, a trigger will not work. Instead one can use a stored procedure for it. See this Stack Overflow answer.