records


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

In computer science, a record (also called struct or compound data) is a basic data structure (a tuple may or may not be considered a record, and vice versa, depending on conventions and the language at hand). A record is a collection of elements, typically in fixed number and sequence and typically indexed by serial numbers or identity numbers. The elements of records may also be called fields or members. For example, a date could be stored as a record containing a numeric year field, a month field represented as a string, and a numeric day-of-month field. As another example, a Personnel record might contain a name, a salary, and a rank. As yet another example, a Circle record might contain a center and a radius. In this instance, the center itself might be represented as a Point record containing x and y coordinates. Records are distinguished from arrays by the fact that their number of fields is typically fixed, each field has a name, and that each field may have a different type. A record type is a data type that describes such values and variables. Most modern computer languages allow the programmer to define new record types. The definition includes specifying the data type of each field and an identifier (name or label) by which it can be accessed. In type theory, product types (with no field names) are generally preferred due to their simplicity, but proper record types are studied in languages such as System F-sub. Since type-theoretical records may contain first-class function-typed fields in addition to data, they can express many features of object-oriented programming. Records can exist in any storage medium, including main memory and mass storage devices such as magnetic tapes or hard disks. Records are a fundamental component of most data structures, especially linked data structures. Many computer files are organized as arrays of logical records, often grouped into larger physical records or blocks for efficiency. The parameters of a function or procedure can often be viewed as the fields of a record variable; and the arguments passed to that function can be viewed as a record value that gets assigned to that variable at the time of the call. Also, in the call stack that is often used to implement procedure calls, each entry is an activation record or call frame, containing the procedure parameters and local variables, the return address, and other internal fields. An object in object-oriented language is essentially a record that contains procedures specialized to handle that record; and object types are an elaboration of record types. Indeed, in most object-oriented languages, records are just special cases of objects, and are known as plain old data structures (PODSs), to contrast with objects that use OO features. A record can be viewed as the computer analog of a mathematical tuple. In the same vein, a record type can be viewed as the computer language analog of the Cartesian product of two or more mathematical sets, or the implementation of an abstract product type in a specific language.