Entity Types, Entity Sets, Keys, and Value Sets-2
Entity Types and Entity Sets:. A database usually contains groups of entities that are similar. For example, a company employing hundreds of employees may want to store similar information concerning each of the employees. These employee entities share the same attributes, but each entity has its own value(s) for each attribute. An entity type defines a collection (or set) of entities that have the same attributes. Each entity type in the database is described by its name and attributes. Figure shows two entity types: EMPLOYEE and COMPANY, and a list of some of the attributes for
each. A few individual entities of each type are also illustrated, along with the values of their attributes. The collection of all entities of a particular entity type in the database at any point in time is called an entity set; the entity set is usually referred to using the same name as the entity type. For example, EMPLOYEE refers to both a type of entity as well as the current set of all employee entities in the database. An entity type is represented in ER diagrams5 as a rectangular box enclosing the entity type name. Attribute names are enclosed in ovals and are attached to their entity type by straight lines. Composite attributes are attached to their component attributes by straight lines. Multivalued attributes are displayed in double ovals. Figure shows a CAR entity type in this notation. An entity type describes the schema or intension for a set of entities that share the same structure. The collection of entities of a particular entity type is grouped into an entity set, which is also called the extension of the entity type.
Key Attributes of an Entity Type.: An important constraint on the entities of an entity type is the key or uniqueness constraint on attributes. An entity type usually has one or more attributes whose values are distinct for each individual entity in the entity set. Such an attribute is called a key attribute, and its values can be used to identify each entity uniquely. For example, the Name attribute is a key of the COMPANY entity type in Figure because no two companies are allowed to have the same name. For the PERSON entity type, a typical key attribute is Ssn (Social Security number). Sometimes several attributes together form a key, meaning that the combination of the attribute values must be distinct for each entity. If a set of attributes possesses this property, the proper way to represent this in the ER model that we describe here is to define a composite attribute and designate it as a key attribute of the entity type. Notice that such a composite key must be minimal; that is, all component attributes must be included in the composite attribute to have the uniqueness property. Superfluous attributes must not be included in a key. In ER diagrammatic notation, each key attribute has its name underlined inside the oval, as illustrated in Figure . Specifying that an attribute is a key of an entity type means that the preceding uniqueness property must hold for every entity set of the entity type. Hence, it is a constraint that prohibits any two entities from having the same value for the key attribute at the same time. It is not the property of a particular entity set; rather, it is a constraint on any entity set of the entity type at any point in time. This key constraint is derived from the constraints of the miniworld that the database represents. Some entity types have more than one key attribute. For example, each of the Vehicle_id and Registration attributes of the entity type CAR is a key in its own right. The Registration attribute is an example of a composite key formed from two simple component attributes, State and Number, neither of which is a key on its own. An entity type may also have no key, in which case it is called a weak entity type . In our diagrammatic notation, if two attributes are underlined separately, then each is a key on its own. Unlike the relational model , there is no concept of primary key in the ER model that we present here;
Value Sets (Domains) of Attributes.: Each simple attribute of an entity type is associated with a value set (or domain of values), which specifies the set of values that may be assigned to that attribute for each individual entity. In Figure, if the range of ages allowed for employees is between 16 and 70, we can specify the value set of the Age attribute of EMPLOYEE to be the set of integer numbers between 16 and 70. Similarly, we can specify the value set for the Name attribute to be the set of strings of alphabetic characters separated by blank characters, and so on. Value sets are not displayed in ER diagrams, and are typically specified using the basic data types available in most programming languages, such as integer, string, Boolean, float, enumerated type, subrange, and so on. Additional data types to represent common database types such as date, time, and other concepts are also employed.
Mathematically, an attribute A of entity set E whose value set is V can be defined as a function from E to the power set6 P(V) of V: A : E → P(V)
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