Access Methods

Selecting Access Methods
Choosing between BTree and Hash
Choosing between Queue and Recno

While this manual will focus primarily on the BTree access method, it is still useful to briefly describe all of the access methods that DB makes available.

Note that an access method can be selected only when the database is created. Once selected, actual API usage is generally identical across all access methods. That is, while some exceptions exist, mechanically you interact with the library in the same way regardless of which access method you have selected.

The access method that you should choose is gated first by what you want to use as a key, and then secondly by the performance that you see for a given access method.

The following are the available access methods:

Access Method Description

Data is stored in a sorted, balanced tree structure. Both the key and the data for BTree records can be arbitrarily complex. That is, they can contain single values such as an integer or a string, or complex types such as a structure. Also, although not the default behavior, it is possible for two records to use keys that compare as equals. When this occurs, the records are considered to be duplicates of one another.


Data is stored in an extended linear hash table. Like BTree, the key and the data used for Hash records can be of arbitrarily complex data. Also, like BTree, duplicate records are optionally supported.


Data is stored in a queue as fixed-length records. Each record uses a logical record number as its key. This access method is designed for fast inserts at the tail of the queue, and it has a special operation that deletes and returns a record from the head of the queue.

This access method is unusual in that it provides record level locking. This can provide beneficial performance improvements in applications requiring concurrent access to the queue.


Data is stored in either fixed or variable-length records. Like Queue, Recno records use logical record numbers as keys.

Selecting Access Methods

To select an access method, you should first consider what you want to use as a key for you database records. If you want to use arbitrary data (even strings), then you should use either BTree or Hash. If you want to use logical record numbers (essentially integers) then you should use Queue or Recno.

Once you have made this decision, you must choose between either BTree or Hash, or Queue or Recno. This decision is described next.

Choosing between BTree and Hash

For small working datasets that fit entirely in memory, there is no difference between BTree and Hash. Both will perform just as well as the other. In this situation, you might just as well use BTree, if for no other reason than the majority of DB applications use BTree.

Note that the main concern here is your working dataset, not your entire dataset. Many applications maintain large amounts of information but only need to access some small portion of that data with any frequency. So what you want to consider is the data that you will routinely use, not the sum total of all the data managed by your application.

However, as your working dataset grows to the point where you cannot fit it all into memory, then you need to take more care when choosing your access method. Specifically, choose:

  • BTree if your keys have some locality of reference. That is, if they sort well and you can expect that a query for a given key will likely be followed by a query for one of its neighbors.

  • Hash if your dataset is extremely large. For any given access method, DB must maintain a certain amount of internal information. However, the amount of information that DB must maintain for BTree is much greater than for Hash. The result is that as your dataset grows, this internal information can dominate the cache to the point where there is relatively little space left for application data. As a result, BTree can be forced to perform disk I/O much more frequently than would Hash given the same amount of data.

    Moreover, if your dataset becomes so large that DB will almost certainly have to perform disk I/O to satisfy a random request, then Hash will definitely out perform BTree because it has fewer internal records to search through than does BTree.

Choosing between Queue and Recno

Queue or Recno are used when the application wants to use logical record numbers for the primary database key. Logical record numbers are essentially integers that uniquely identify the database record. They can be either mutable or fixed, where a mutable record number is one that might change as database records are stored or deleted. Fixed logical record numbers never change regardless of what database operations are performed.

When deciding between Queue and Recno, choose:

  • Queue if your application requires high degrees of concurrency. Queue provides record-level locking (as opposed to the page-level locking that the other access methods use), and this can result in significantly faster throughput for highly concurrent applications.

    Note, however, that Queue provides support only for fixed length records. So if the size of the data that you want to store varies widely from record to record, you should probably choose an access method other than Queue.

  • Recno if you want mutable record numbers. Queue is only capable of providing fixed record numbers. Also, Recno provides support for databases whose permanent storage is a flat text file. This is useful for applications looking for fast, temporary storage while the data is being read or modified.