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Software documentation is a distinct specialty within the larger discipline of Technical Writing. It’s a world with its own rules and lingo.
Here is the fifth installment in our series of software industry terms you should be familiar and comfortable with as a technical writer…
Flat File – This refers to a database in which the data is kept in a text file instead of a database file. Every line of text corresponds to a “data record.”
The data components are separated by a text character like a comma or a tab (which is invisible unless you toggle on your paragraph marks).
That’s why this type of file is sometimes also called “Delimited Data File” or “Delimited Text File” since a comma, a tab, etc. is also known as a “delimiter.”
For example, here is what a flat file of student record data may look like:
(Last Name,Name,Gender,Age,School,Overall Point Grade Average,Sports Code)
Johnson,Jamell,M,20,Univ of Maryland,3.8,B
The advantage of a flat file is that it has a much smaller file size than a corresponding relational database file. You can email a flat file much more easily. Anyone with a text editor can open and read a flat file.
Disadvantage of a flat file is that it is not easy to search anything in it, or manipulate and re-classify it, filter it according to different criteria, and generate reports from it.
This major disadvantage escalates to a near impossibility when the data records (that is, lines of text) climb up to thousands.
In my personal experience, such flat files easily get out of hand and become almost useless once the number of records go over a thousand.