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DBMS vs File System: Difference Between Them

05th Sep, 2023
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    DBMS vs File System: Difference Between Them

    The choice between a DBMS (Database Management System) and a file system plays a crucial role in effective data management. Both of them store and manage the data but differ in terms of their different capabilities, functionalities, and use cases. Understanding the difference between DBMS and file systems is crucial for making informed choices for your application. In this article, we will discuss file systems and DBMS differences based on different factors and later discuss which is the good choice for you.  Moreover, we compare DBMS and the filesystem. The article further discusses DBMS advantage over file systems. If you are new to DBMS we recommend you to take Online Database Training to upskill your knowledge.

    Differences Between Traditional File System vs. DBMS

    Let us now discuss the DBMS and file system differences below:



    File System


    Store the data as a table, key-value format or a graph. 

    Stores the data as a hierarchical structure where files are children of directories(parent).

    Data Redundancy 

    Performs normalization and referencing to avoid redundancy.

    No way to refer the data in file system, hence causing redundancy.

    Backup and Recovery

    Allows for automated backup and recovery of the data.

    Usually have to perform manual backup and recovery operations.

    Query Processing

    Queries process faster due to efficient data structures and indexing, caching support. 

    Queries usually take time due to unavailability of advanced fetching algorithms.


    It has ACID properties which help in data consistency.

    Lacks any mechanism for data consistency.


    More complex due to a lot of features and data management methods.

    Simpler than DBMS due to less number of features.


    Cost is high due to a lot of advanced features like distributed computing, load balancing, etc.

    Less costly due to simpler features.

    DBMS vs file system

    1. Structure

    The DBMS organizes and stores data in tables, graphs, or key-value format, with each table or collection consisting of rows and columns. Tables are the same as collections in NoSQL databases. However, we will use these two words interchangeably in this article. DBMS provides a structured framework for defining relationships between tables using keys and foreign keys. You can reference one or more tables on a record for reducing duplicacy.

    File System organizes data in a hierarchical manner, with directories containing files and subdirectories. Each file is a unit and accessed directly or sequentially. The file system provides basic file operations like create, read, update, and delete (CRUD), but lacks the querying capabilities and data relationships offered by a DBMS.

    2. Data Redundancy  

    Data redundancy refers to the duplication of the data in a system. DBMS handles data redundancy by using normalization and referencing. Normalization refers to the process of breaking larger records into smaller pieces and creating relationships between them to avoid duplicacy. Relationships are either One-to-One, Many-to-Many, or One-to-Many. Here is an example to demonstrate the working of normalization:





    John Smith



    Jane Doe



    Mark Johnson


    The above table is an example of the Many-to-many relationship between records. We put the ID of the department instead of its name. The next table holds the information about the department against its ID.







    If we store entire department information in the first table instead of its ID, we need to store the entire department information for 1st and 3rd record which will be very redundant.

    Normalization has one more advantage in the sense that we don't have to update anything in the first table if we update any record in the second table..

    In the case of File System, there is no way to normalize the data. We cannot store files in a single directory and reference it in another directory. This creates a lot of duplicacy in the system. Moreover, the change in data of one file is not reflected in other files. For example, if a customer's address is present in multiple files, updating the address in one file might not automatically update it in others, resulting in data discrepancies.

    3. Backup and Recovery  

    Backup and recovery are essential processes to ensure the safety and integrity of data. Backup refers to creating copies of data, serving as a safeguard against data loss due to various factors such as hardware failure, software issues, or accidental deletion. Recovery refers to the conversion of the data in reusable form from a backup.

    Both DBMS and file systems have the ability to create backups of the data. However, DBMS can backup the data in different file formats which gives us more control. This is not the case with file systems where you have to backup the data in the same format. For example, if you have MySQL records stored in a database, you can export to JSON, CSV, etc. for the purpose of easy storage and further use which is not possible in a file system.

    Moreover, DBMS has built-in features and automation tools to create backups while in the file systems, you have to create it manually most of the time. If you want to create a backup for a large amount of data, then file systems would take a lot of time to create backup and it could even cause some problems in creating backup for such a large data. But on the other hand, in DBMS you just start the in-built backup process and it will create the backup safely and if any problem occurs, it restores everything. You may also want to check out the Web Development Course Duration to learn how to build a website and then store and maintain its data with DBMS.

    4. Query processing  

    Query processing in DBMS is much more advanced than the file system. DBMS involves a lot of stages in query processing including parsing the query, optimizing the query execution plan, and executing the query with different optimization techniques like indexing, caching, etc.

    Indexing in DBMS creates a subset of data in some order to quickly fetch it from the memory. Without indexing, the system has to traverse all the records one by one and search the target record.

    Caching is another optimization technique which stores the data as key-value pairs and quickly fetches it in constant time.

    On the other hand, file systems have a much simpler way of processing the query. They usually include file-level operations, such as creating, reading, updating, and deleting files. As a result, it may sometimes traverse large data for performing a task which is very inefficient.

    5. Consistency

    Consistency refers to the integrity of the data across all tables and nodes. In simple words, if the data updates at one place, it gets reflected at other places as well. ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) properties in DBMS guarantee that database transactions proceed in a consistent manner. DBMS provides features such as data validation rules, constraints, and referential integrity, which help maintain data integrity and enforce consistency across multiple places.

    On the other hand, file systems usually focus on providing reliable storage and have no such consistency features. You can update the data at any place without constraints.

    6. Complexity  

    DBMS manages advanced data structures for optimized performance of the queries. It offers features like data integrity constraints, transactions, indexing, and query optimization, which makes it complex to understand and work with. The complexity also arises from the need to design and create appropriate database schemas, establish relationships between entities, define data types, and ensure data consistency and integrity.

    On the other hand, file systems primarily focus on storing and retrieving files, organizing them into directories, and managing basic file-level operations which make them easier to manage and understand.

    7. Cost  

    Implementing a DBMS requires licensing fees, hardware infrastructure, management costs, and sometimes, an experienced professional to work with it. Besides, DBMS provides scalability options when your data becomes huge. All these factors contribute to the high cost of working with DBMS.

    File Systems mainly focus on reliable storage of the data rather than optimization and scalability which makes it much cheaper than DBMS.

    How are DBMS and File Systems similar?

    • Both DBMS and File System can store the data and perform operations like READ, UPDATE, DELETE, and CREATE.
    • Data security is present in both. You can store all your private data in either of them without worrying about data loss. Both of them can hash your data to ensure data is secure even if it leaks.
    • Both of them offer data backup and recovery features.
    • They both can store large amounts of data.

    What Should You Choose Between DBMS vs File System?

    Choosing between a DBMS (Database Management System) and a file system depends on various factors and specific needs. If you have structured data, complex relationships, and require advanced data management capabilities, a DBMS is typically the preferred choice as DBMS has advantages over file systems. For example, you are creating data storage for an E-commerce application where you need customers, products, bank accounts and complex relationships between them.

    On the other hand, if you have unstructured or semi-structured data, and you primarily need basic file-level storage and retrieval, a file system may suffice. File systems are simpler, more lightweight, and suitable for smaller-scale data management tasks. For example, if you are creating data of students in a single class having their name, roll number, and marks, you don't need any advanced data management techniques.


    That wraps up the difference between the file system and DBMS. DBMS (Database Management System) and file systems are used for the purpose of data storage and management. However, DBMSs offer advanced features like structured data, complex relationships, and query optimization, making them suitable for handling large-scale data and scalability. On the other hand, file systems are simpler, more lightweight, and better suited for managing unstructured or simple data.

    When choosing between a DBMS and a file system, it is crucial to consider the nature of your data and the complexity of your requirements.

    Learning DBMS and being well versed with databases is required in every industry as multiple businesses become digitalized and hence all their data would be managed by databases. You may consider enrolling for a Full Stack Web Developer course as well to understand the usage of DBMS.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1How does a DBMS provide a more scalable solution than a file system?

    DBMS is able to perform distribution and clustering of the data across multiple nodes to handle large amounts of data.

    2What are the limitations of a file system in managing large amounts of data?
    • Lack of proper structure of data
    • Data Redundancy
    • Scalability Challenge
    • Large query processing time
    3How does a DBMS handle complex data relationships compared to a file system?

    DBMS performs normalization to split large data into smaller pieces and creates references between the records to establish relationships. The file system has no such feature of creating relationships between records.

    4How does a DBMS handle data access control better than a file system?

    It uses the following features to handle the data access control:

    • Role-based Access control: Define the roles and their permissions in the DBMS.
    • User Authentication and Authorization: Provide passwords before accessing the data.
    • Access Control Policies: Users must meet specific requirements before accessing the data. For example, users in a particular region cannot access the data.

    Simran Kaur Arora

    Trainer & Consultant

    Experienced Senior Content Developer with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. Enthusiastic and dedicated person in the field of Computer Science. Skilled at my work area and believe in working with passion and work ethics. Have a good understanding of programming languages, operating systems, and databases. I have good communication skills and interested in staying updated with technology and learning new things.

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