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Preconceived Notions of Business Logic in the Database

Mala Mahadevan discusses business logic:

There are many things on which I’ve changed my opinion in my journey as a data professional. For this blog post, I picked a common one – where business logic should reside. During my years as a production DBA – there was (and probably is) a hard-held belief that databases are meant for CRUD operations only and business logic belongs in the application/middle tier. This belief has its place – DBAs don’t like debugging code that is application-specific, or be tasked with why data looks a certain way or what code caused it. Business logic can also be very complex and get deeply embedded in one place (the database). I have believed in this and fought for this at most places I’ve worked as a DBA.

Over time though, my opinion has changed. 

Building on top of Mala’s point, people often conflate “business logic” with “data logic.” Rules governing the shape of data are as much data logic rules as they are business logic. The simplest cases include things like nullability, data sizes and lengths, and how data elements interact. It can also include ensuring the non-existence of invalid states through constraints. There can be practical reasons why we wouldn’t implement some piece of data logic in the database itself—for example, perhaps the particular data logic rule would be prohibitively expensive or becomes too complex to maintain as triggers—but in general, I’d estimate that people and firms under-specify their data logic in the database rather than over-specifying business logic.

One last bit that I’d hit on is that it’s okay to have overlapping logic in both, especially when it comes to data validation. We shouldn’t blithely accept inputs from client-side scripts—we evaluate it server-side and ensure that nobody has fiddled with the form and tried to create an invalid state. Then, when writing to the database, it can still make sense to check again for the exact same reason.

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