Generating or Modifing RDBTables


Any editor may be used to construct or modify an rdbtable, since it is a regular UNIX file, and this 'direct editing' method is occasionally used, especially for small amounts of data. However, avoid using an editor that destroys TAB characters, like the RAND 'e' editor.

To generate a new rdbtable the best plan (and usually the safest one) is to first generate a template file, then convert it to rdbtable format and add the rows of data. Any convenient editor may be used to generate a template file. To convert it to an rdbtable the command 'headchg -gen' may be used, which will produce an empty rdbtable. Next use the operator 'etbl' to edit in rows of data.

An alternate method is to generate a template file with an editor and then use the command 'dataent -init template_file' to enter the rows of data.

A typical template file is shown below:

# These are lines of table documentation. They can be of any length,
# and any number of such lines may exist.
# Each line must start correctly, e.g with "# " or " #". Any number of
# space characters may preceed the sharp sign in the second case above.
0       Name  24   Name of item
1       Type   1   Type: 1,2,3,7,9,A,B,X
2      Count   3N  Number of items
3          K   1   Constant modifier
4        SS7   2   Special status for type 7
5       Size  12N  In Kilobytes

It makes sense to have all significant or critical documentation about an rdbtable embedded in the rdbtable, rather than in some other place. The above template file contains the usual elements to describe a table of six columns: table documentation (the comment lines that each start with a sharp sign '#'), index number (the first number on each of the column lines), column name ("Name", "Type", "Count", ...), column definition ("24", "1", "3N", ...), and column documentation for each column (the text at the end of each column line).

Note that the index number, column name, and column definition all consist of contiguous characters, each forming a word separated by whitespace. Also note that there is one or more space characters after the column definition and before the column documentation. That is, the column documentation starts with the fourth word on the line.

When the template file is converted into an rdbtable, all documentation will remain in the header (although the column documentation may be hard to read if there are many columns). At any time the entire header, including documentation, can be viewed by using the command 'valid -templ < rdbtable' (or 'headchg -templ < rdbtable). The output from either command will be essentially like the above example.

Modifying Existing RDBtables

Basically there are three ways to modify an existing rdbtable: Use 'dataent', 'etbl', or 'mergetbl'. The operator 'dataent' can only add new rows of data, and they are added at the end of the existing table. Therefore the table may need sorting after the modification process is done. The following command might be used to update an rdbtable using 'dataent':
    dataent  rdbtable

The operator 'etbl' can be used to add new rows, change existing rows, or delete existing rows of data in an rdbtable. To modify an rdbtable 'etbl' can be used in either column or list form. The choice of form to use depends somewhat on the structure of the rdbtable. If the rdbtable has several columns of relatively narrow data (that will all fit in the width of the current window or terminal) and also several very wide columns (none of which will fit) and changes need to be made to some of the narrow columns, then it makes sense to use 'etbl' on the desired narrow columns in 'column' form, as in:

    etbl  table  narrow_cola  narrow_colb  ...
If changes need to be made to some of the wide columns then use 'etbl' in 'list' form on the wide columns, plus any key columns necessary, as in:
    etbl  -list  table  control_col  ...  wide_cola  wide_colb  ...

After editing an rdbtable it is always recommended that the structure of the rdbtable be checked with the operator 'valid'. If there are data values that are longer than the defined column width, use the command 'valid -n' to avoid many warning messages.

The 'mergetbl' process actually involves other operators like 'search', and 'etbl', and works only when the existing rdbtable is sorted on one or more columns (which is a fairly common case). The process includes selecting rows from an existing sorted rdbtable (using 'search') into a small rdbtable which is easy to edit (using 'etbl') and then combining the two rdbtables again (using 'mergetbl'). Since 'etbl' is used modifications may include changes, additions, or delitions of rows. Also note that 'mergetbl' keeps the final table in sort order.

The difference is that 'search' is much faster than 'row' or 'etbl', the editing is done on a table of conveniently small size, and that the 'mergetbl' operation can be done in the background. Remember that whether one uses 'mergetbl' or 'etbl', putting the data back together after editing requires the entire original table to be passed, which can take some time if the original rdbtable is large.


The need to concatenate rdbtables comes up every so often and although it is simple to do it may not be obvious. The UNIX 'cat' command can not be used as it would result in duplicating the header and thus make an invalid rdbtable. And of course, only rdbtables with the same header should be concatenated, otherwise an invalid rdbtable would result (in this case it could be a gross inconsistency if the number of columns were different). If we have two rdbtables, TABA and TABB, then to concatenate TABB onto the end of TABA we use the command:
        headchg -del < TABB >> TABA
Note that this avoids duplicating the header. Note also that in this case the operator 'headchg' does not use a template file.

Note also that the operator 'mergetbl' may be used to merge two like rdbtables based on a key of one or more columns. In this case however the two rdbtables must be sorted on the key.