Evaluation of Relational Algebras Incorporating the Time Dimension in Databases

L. Edwin McKenzie, Richard Thomas Snodgrass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


The relational algebra is a procedural query language for relational databases. In this paper we survey extensions of the relational algebra that can query databases recording time-varying data. Such an algebra is a critical part of a temporal DBMS. We identify 26 criteria that provide an objective basis for evaluating temporal algebras, Seven of the criteria are shown to be mutually unsatisfiable, implying there can be no perfect temporal algebra, Choices made as to which of the incompatible criteria are satisfied characterize existing algebras Twelve time-oriented algebras are summarized and then evaluated against the criteria. We demonstrate that the design space has in some sense been explored in that all combinations of basic design decisions have at least one representative algebra. Coverage of the remaining criteria provides one measure of the quality of each algebra We argue that all of the criteria are independent and that the criteria identified as compatible are indeed so, Finally, we list plausible properties proposed by others that are either subsumed by other criteria, are not well defined, or have no objective basis for being evaluated. The algebras realize many different approaches to what appears initially to be a straightforward design task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-543
Number of pages43
JournalACM Computing Surveys (CSUR)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 12 1991


  • aggregate
  • chronon
  • historical relation
  • homogeneity
  • query optimization
  • snapshot relation
  • transaction time
  • valid time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


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