Should Nulls be considered harmful?

An Issue Paper by FFE Software, Inc.

Dealing with missing information has been a problem since the beginnings of database management. Prior systems provided no features for processing missing information, so ad-hoc, application embedded solutions were applied. With the advent of the relational database model, a systematic method for representing missing information became available - Nulls.

Recently, the use of Nulls in relational database has been called into question by C. J. Date and other writers. They have suggested various schemes for using default values as a replacement for Null processing in relational database.

This paper examines these issues in detail, presenting both sides of the controversy. Are Nulls a problem similar to Dykstra's 'Goto's considered harmful.', or are they an effective, useful technique for dealing with missing information? There are many, including E. F. Codd, the father of relational database, who believe Nulls are the right solution for databases.


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