Index #atozchallenge

A lot of nonfiction books have both a Table of Contents and an Index. The Table of Contents is at the front of the book and is a roadmap through the contents, while the Index is an alphabetical list of subjects (people, places, events, and whatever else the author thinks will be of interest) along with page references to those indexed things.

But you already know that. Most of you are authors, that’s your business. So let’s talk about another kind of index.

Image by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay

In these days of relational databases (like the ones that run behind the scenes for almost everyone’s blog), where pretty much every column in a table is searchable, it seems archaic the way we used to handle different ways of searching through a file. These are methods that still exist, believe it or not.

Say I have an invoice file. The primary key (or index) is the invoice number, meaning if I want to look up the details of a specific invoice I need to know its number. If I don’t know the invoice number, I need to inquire against the entire file and choose the right one. Depending on the size of the file, that could take a long time.

It would help tremendously if I knew the vendor number, which just happens to be carried on the invoice record. Then, all I’d have to do would be to inquire by vendor number and list the invoices for that specific one. What I can do is to define an alternate index on the invoice file that looks at the vendor number and groups all the invoices that way. Then, instead of reading the invoice file sequentially, I can read the alternate index for that vendor and pull the records out directly.

As far as the technology we had in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that was as good as it got. Alternate indices (the plural of index) unfortunately had this tendency to get out of sync and had to be rebuilt every night just to make sure that all the records from the base file were indexed correctly. Even then, there were times when it was a shot in the dark.

If you’re really interested, here is a reaonably good tutorial on alternate indices. I only link to it because I’m pretty sure you’re not.

27 thoughts on “Index #atozchallenge

  1. I learned something new! Thanks, that was interesting 🙂

    Ronel visiting from the A-Z Challenge with Music and Writing: Imagine


  2. Okay, I never claimed to be a very smart person, but what I have studied I do know a lot about, but what I haven’t I know diddly!!! Okay, let me see if I can get through this. Index huh? Well, there’s one in the front of books, right? Okay…. uh….. uh….. uh…. Index cards and uh…. uh…. in front of books… oh wait I said that… well, gee look at the time… gotta run…. ~snicker~ See you tomorrow John! Great job on the Post!!! hugs


  3. In the age of electronic file-keeping and file-searching, the design of such things is vitally important. We (my old job) went over to On-Base a year or so before I left, where everything got scanned in and could be manipulated and moved around the office. It was the 3rd digital file management system we’d used. Each time there had to be a migration of the old system into the new system. One continuing flaw I see in those systems is that they are dependent on having the proper coding when entered. When the lowest paid people in the office are the ones affixing the codes, account #s, etc. it means problems. It’s a huge time-waster when things aren’t coded properly and sometimes they disappear into the ether. That’s why I hate a paperless filing system. There always needs to be a hard-copy backup, I don’t care how much physical space it takes!


    1. Very true. In a perfect world you could take the human element out of the equation, to where the documents get scanned and all the right information goes to all the right places, but you and I both know that ain’t gonna happen. The more foolproof you try to make something, the more creative the fools get…

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  4. John,

    Sometimes I think my blog isn’t indexing properly or maybe was initially caused by me by not tagging my posts properly. I try to catch things like that now anytime I have to go back to an archived post but had I known then what I know not then my life would be a little easier. Thanks for sharing the information. I’m not sure I’m interested in know any more right now but maybe I should. With that, I did click on the link you shared. The video length is enough to scare me off right now but what caused me to bail is the dude’s thick accent and with my hearing being so wonky I can’t understand him. 🙂

    Today’s letter I is for Intertidal Zone in my Little Mermaid Art Sketch series. Come join me and happy a2zing!


    1. I have the worst time tagging posts, or for that matter just about anything. I rely on the search capabilities in WordPress to find posts. I’m sure there are more efficient ways to deal with it, but implementing them would take too much time and effort…


  5. These days, John. With access and updates coming from in-house systems, cloud-based systems, web-based systems and multiple mobile devices, keeping those indices in sync is a more important and more difficult task. At least we aren’t using linked lists 🙂


          1. Very much so, John and with some of the same problems when you have to change / delete blocks and rebuild the chain. It consumes a lot of energy.


            1. I understand that there are now viruses that can be planted that make the target computer a slave to the whole process of building chains for cryptocurrencies. When my computer starts acting weird, I think I might be a victim, then I realize it’s just getting slow due to age, kind of like me…

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