The Object Database

Most web portals store their data in a relational database like PostgreSQL, MySQL or Oracle. A relational database is organized in tables of rows and columns, with a unique key for each row. Each data entity gets its own table. Rows in tables can be linked to rows in other tables by storing the unique key of the row to which it should be linked. This sounds quite simple. Many computer users are familiar with this kind of data storage because they are used to spreadsheet programmes like Excel oder Calc which also organize data in tables. Kofa’s persistent data are stored in a native object database designed for the Python programming language, the so-called ZODB. An object database stores objects with attributes and not records as rows with columns in tables. These persistent objects can hold any kind of information in attributes and must not adhere to a specific schema like records in tables of a relational database.

The ZODB also supports a hierarchical, treelike storage of objects. Objects can contain other objects if they are declared as containers. Objects are stored like folders and files in a filesystem. This makes the object handling very fast and transparent because we can access objects, or more precisely views of objects, by indicating their path in the database, i.e. by traversing the database tree to the object’s location. Furthermore, we are accessing the views of objects through a web browser by entering a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). This publication path corresponds more or less to the traversal path of our objects. In Kofa the path always contains the object identifiers of all objects which are passed when traversing the database tree. Example:

is the URL which requests a display view of a course ticket with id DCO. This object is stored in a study level container object with id 100, stored in a study course container object with id studycourse, stored in the student container object with id K1000000, stored in the students root container, stored in the root container of the application, stored in the root of the database itself.

This kind of storage requires that each object gets a unique object identifier (object id) within its container. The id string is visible in the browser address bar. Though it’s technically possible for ids to contain spaces or slashes we do not allow these kinds of special characters in object ids to facilitate the readability of URLs.

Batch Processing

Administrators of web portals, which store their data in relational databases, are used to getting direct access to the portal’s database. There are even tools to handle the administration of these databases over the Internet, like phpMyAdmin or phpPgAdmin to handle MySQL or PostgreSQL databases respectively. These user interfaces bypass the portals’ user interfaces and give direct access to the database. They allow to easily import or export (dump) data tables or the entire database structure into CSV or SQL files. What at first sight appears to be very helpful and administration-friendly proves to be very dangerous on closer inspection. Data structures can be easily damaged or destroyed, or data can be easily manipulated by circumventing the portal’s security machinery or logging system. Kofa does not provide any external user interface to access the ZODB directly, neither for viewing nor for editing data. This includes also the export and import of sets of data. Exports and imports are handled via the Kofa user interface itself. This is called batch processing which means either producing CSV files (comma-separated values) from portal data (export) or processing CSV files in order to add, update or remove portal data (import). Main premise of Kofa’s batch processing technology is that the data stored in the ZODB can be specifically backed up and restored by exporting and importing data. But that’s not all. Batch processors can do much more. They are an integral part of the student registration management.


Although exporters are part of Kofa’s batch processing module, we will not call them batch processors. Only importers are called batch processors. Exporters produce CSV files, importers process them.