What Is a Network Database?

March 21, 2024

A network database represents data in a graph-like structure, where pointers connect records in a network or graph structure. In this model, data is organized into nodes (representing entities or records) and edges (representing relationships between nodes).

Unlike the hierarchical model where a parent can have multiple children, but a child can only have one parent, in a network database, nodes can have multiple connections to other nodes, enabling them to form a more flexible and complex structure. This structure allows for more sophisticated relationships between data entities, making it suitable for representing interconnected data.

One of the key advantages of a network database is its ability to handle complex relationships and queries. Since nodes can have multiple connections, data retrieval is more flexible and intuitive compared to hierarchical databases. This architecture is particularly useful in scenarios where data entities have intricate relationships with each other, such as in social networks, supply chain networks, or organizational structures.

Managing a network database can be more complex compared to other database models, as maintaining data integrity and managing the navigation paths within the network require careful design and implementation.

How Does a Network Database Work?

A network database organizes data into a graph-like structure consisting of nodes and edges. Nodes represent entities or records, while edges represent the relationships between these entities. Allowing nodes to have multiple connections makes it possible to represent complex relationships and enables efficient querying and navigation through the data.

When data is stored in a network database, each node typically contains both data fields (attributes) and pointers (references) to other nodes with which it is connected. These pointers establish the relationships between nodes, enabling efficient navigation through the database.

Queries in a network database are performed by traversing these connections, starting from a designated node and following the paths defined by the relationships. This approach allows for sophisticated queries that can efficiently retrieve interconnected data.

Network Database Model Pros and Cons

The network database model has certain advantages and drawbacks.

Network Database Model Pros

  • Flexibility. One of the main advantages of the network database model is its flexibility in representing complex relationships between entities. The network model allows for many-to-many relationships between nodes, making it suitable for scenarios where entities have intricate and interconnected relationships, such as in social networks or organizational structures.
  • Efficient querying. The network database model facilitates efficient querying by allowing direct access to related records through pointers. This means that traversing the relationships between nodes can be done quickly and directly without the need to perform multiple joins or lookups like in relational databases.
  • Data integrity. The network model supports data integrity using controlled pointers. Relationships between nodes are established via these pointers, which ensure that connections between entities remain consistent and valid, preserving data integrity.
  • Scalability. Network databases can be scaled effectively to accommodate growing volumes of data and increasing relationship complexity. The model allows for adding new nodes and relationships without significantly restructuring the entire database.
  • Hierarchical representation. While the network model is more flexible than hierarchical databases, it still retains the ability to represent hierarchical relationships when necessary. This makes it suitable for applications that require both hierarchical and network-like structures.

Network Database Model Cons

  • Complexity. The network database model can be more complex to design, implement, and maintain compared to simpler database models such as hierarchical or relational databases. Development and maintenance of these databases are more demanding, leading to higher costs and potential complexity.
  • Lack of standardization. Unlike relational databases, which have well-defined standards and widely adopted query languages like SQL, the network database model lacks standardization. Different implementations have varying conventions and proprietary query languages, making it more challenging for developers to work with and migrate between different systems.
  • Data redundancy. In the network model, data redundancy can be a concern, specifically when multiple nodes share common relationships. Unlike relational databases, network databases don’t use normalization to reduce redundancy. This lack of normalization can result in duplicated data across different nodes connected by the same relationship, leading to inefficiencies in storage utilization and potential inconsistencies if data updates are not properly synchronized.
  • Limited support and tools. Compared to relational databases, which have a mature ecosystem of tools, frameworks, and resources, the network database model often has limited support and fewer available tools. This makes it more challenging for developers to find appropriate solutions for database administration, query optimization, and application integration.
  • Performance concerns. While the network model can offer efficient querying for certain types of relationships, it may not perform as well for all scenarios. Complex queries involving traversals of multiple nodes and relationships can result in longer processing times and higher resource utilization, especially as the size of the database grows.

Popular Network Databases

Here are some of the most common network databases, each offering unique features and capabilities.

IDMS (Integrated Database Management System)

IDMS, developed by Cullinet and later acquired by CA Technologies, was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s for its efficiency in handling complex data relationships within mainframe environments. IDMS organizes data in a network structure, allowing for many-to-many relationships between records. This structure enables the efficient representation of interconnected data, making the system particularly suitable for applications with intricated data relationships, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and large-scale transaction processing. Furthermore, this database system provides efficient querying through its proprietary query language, DL/I (DataLanguage/I), which allows for complex queries.

IMS (Information Management System)

IMS, developed by IBM, is a cornerstone of database management for industries such as banking and finance because of its hierarchical structure with network-like capabilities, facilitating high-volume transaction processing. This hierarchical model enables efficient data access and retrieval, which is crucial for applications requiring rapid processing of vast amounts of data, such as online transaction processing (OLTP) systems.


UNIDATA/UniVerse is a multi-dimensional database management system (DBMS) known for its flexibility and scalability. Developed by Rocket Software, UNIDATA/UniVerse is used in various industries, including manufacturing, distribution, finance, and healthcare. What sets UNIDATA/UniVerse apart is its ability to support network database structures alongside multi-dimensional data organization, providing users with a versatile platform for managing complex data relationships and analytics. This approach allows organizations to store and analyze data in a way that best suits their specific requirements, making it suitable for diverse applications ranging from transaction processing to business intelligence and decision support.


Relex is a specialized network database system designed for engineering and asset management applications, particularly in industries such as aerospace, defense, and automotive. Developed to address the unique challenges of managing complex engineering data and relationships, Relex offers a comprehensive solution for organizations seeking to streamline their engineering processes and optimize the lifecycle management of their assets. At the core of Relex’s capabilities is its ability to model intricate connections between various components, subsystems, and systems, providing engineers with a holistic view of their product architectures and enabling informed decision-making throughout the product lifecycle.

Model 204

Model 204 is a network database management system developed by the Computer Corporation of America (CCA). It is known for its exceptional performance in real-time transaction processing and decision support systems. Model 204 has been widely adopted in various industries, including finance, telecommunications, and government sectors, where high-performance database access and scalability are essential. This database management system’s architecture is optimized for efficiently handling large volumes of concurrent transactions, making it a preferred choice for mission-critical applications where rapid response times are essential.

Network Databases vs. Other Models

Here are the comparisons between network databases and other models.

Hierarchical vs. Network Model

Hierarchical and network database models are both early approaches to organizing and structuring data, but they differ significantly in their architectures and abilities.

In a hierarchical database model, data is organized in a tree-like structure, where each record is linked to one parent record, which can have multiple child records. This rigid parent-child relationship restricts the flexibility of data representation, as each child record can only have one parent.

Conversely, in a network database model, data is organized in a more flexible graph-like structure, where records can have multiple connections to other records, forming complex relationships. This approach allows for multiple relationships between records, enabling a richer and more versatile representation of data.

While hierarchical databases excel in representing simple, well-defined relationships, they struggle to accommodate more complex data structures with interconnected entities. Network databases, on the other hand, offer greater flexibility in modeling complex relationships, making them suitable for applications where data entities have intricate interdependencies.

The hierarchical model is often more efficient in querying and navigating through data due to its straightforward structure, while the network model may require more complex traversal algorithms.

Relational Model vs. Network Model

Relational and network database models are two fundamentally different approaches to organizing and representing data.

In a relational database model, data is organized into tables consisting of rows and columns, with each table representing an entity and relationships between entities established through foreign key constraints. This allows for flexible querying using SQL and supports normalization. Relational databases excel in managing structured data with well-defined relationships, making them ideal for business operations and data analytics.

In contrast, a network database model organizes data into a graph-like structure, where records are interconnected through pointers, forming a complex network of relationships. This model allows for many-to-many relationships between entities, offering greater flexibility in representing interconnected data. Network databases are suitable for applications with highly interconnected data entities, such as social networks or complex supply chain management systems.

Navigating through the network structure and querying data in network databases can be more complex compared to relational databases, as it often involves traversing paths between nodes and executing specialized query languages specific to the database system.

Graph Model vs. Network Model

Graph and network database models are both designed to represent and manage interconnected data but they have different underlying structures and use cases.

In a graph database model, data is organized as a collection of nodes (representing entities) and edges (representing relationships) between these nodes. Each node can have multiple incoming and outgoing edges, allowing for rich and flexible representations of complex relationships. Graph databases are particularly well-suited for applications where relationships between entities are of paramount importance, such as social networks, recommendation engines, and network analysis. They offer efficient traversal of relationships and support advanced graph algorithms for tasks such as pathfinding, community detection, and centrality analysis.

The network database model also organizes data into a graph-like structure, but with some differences compared to graph databases. In a network database, records are interconnected through pointers to form a network of relationships. Unlike in a graph database, where relationships are explicitly defined between nodes, network databases rely on pointers to establish connections between records. While network databases offer flexibility in representing complex relationships, they may lack some of the advanced graph algorithms and query capabilities found in dedicated graph databases.

Network databases are often used in legacy systems or specific industries like engineering, where the focus is on managing interconnected data entities efficiently rather than performing complex graph analysis tasks.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.