From theory to practice

For the past several months I am implementing the bitemporal framework on the real life objects, not on the lab mice :). And this process was quite a revelation!

I’ve written the functions for bitemporal basic operations almost two years ago, and talked about them on several conferences and workshops. I could not imagine something can go wrong with them – and yet it did. And that’s exactly what happens when all your test cases are cloned lab mice!

One of the first errors I’ve got was an empty assertion interval, and that’s when I’ve realized than we never discussed the relations between transactions and bitemporal operations. Well, a transaction is a transaction, isn’t it? Nobody is supposed to see what’s inside, until transaction is finished – committed or rolled back. So… if there are several modifications (say INSERT, UPDATE and CORRECT for the same logical record) within one transaction… what we are supposed to see when transaction is committed? Just an INSERT, if the first operation was INSERT? But this “won’t be true”!

Yes, but on the other hand, imagine what will happen if we would record the “interim” state, and then later we would like to run a query “as asserted” at some time in the past, and at that exact moment some transactions will be in the uncommitted state? Then we will get results which will be in the inconsistent  status. As of now I didn’t come up with how I want these situations to be handled. I am almost convinced that I want to give a user an option: if you want to be “anti-transactional”, you can :)). But then you’ll need to accept the consequences.

Another set of problems is rather philosophical: do we believe in reincarnation? 🙂 More precisely, if an object is “bitemporally deleted”, and then a new object with the same business key value is created, is this “the same object” or a “new object”? Both ways can be supported, but I think that by default we should assume a “formal approach”, and say the this is “the same” object. And if the real world (i.e. business rules) is such, that the new object is a different object… well, that means, that something else should be included into the business key. For example, if the SSN is reused, then we need an extra piece of information, like person’d data of birth.

Related questions: can we update a deleted (inactive) record? What are the differences between UPDATE and CORRECTION if the date ranges are “equal”?  I can only imagine how many issues like this are just waiting to be discovered!

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Filed under Data management, Development and testing, research, SQL

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