Database Redesign and User Interface Refactoring

In this series about database user interfaces, until now I’ve focused on a single table with just three attributes. As I did with version control, I’ll be introducing additional entities and attributes and exploring how they could be presented or updated via the interface.

Here are some of the attributes we could add to our lonely film table:

  • a single-valued attribute
  • a multi-valued attribute with few values per entity
  • a multi-valued attribute with a potentially large number of values per entity
  • an audit trail attribute

Single valued attributes

Practically every film in existence has a primary spoken language (or intertitle language in the case of silent films). Rather than using the language table I showed before (patterned after Pagila), i.e., a smallint language_id, it is preferable to use a standard coding scheme, i.e., ISO 639. For purposes of this tutorial, ISO 639-1 will suffice. Another attribute we’ll add is the film running time in minutes.

Multi-valued attribute, small fan-out

Films are classified into one or more categories, usually identifying a genre, e.g., action, comedy, science fiction. Although there is no definitive list of genres and there are disagreements on categorizing any given film, there is a limited set of genres and most films fall into one or two categories and rarely more than six. Instead of the serial integer and separate film_category table used before (also as in Pagila), since we are using PostgreSQL, perhaps we’ll experiment with an array of varchar (or text) to list the categories in the film table.

Multi-valued attribute, large fan-out

Making a movie is of course a collective endeavor, employing several individuals as cast and crew (even student films). We’ll need a table to record their names and possibly other information and a second table to connect each film to those involved in it.

Challenges

Each of these kinds of attributes present different issues for the user interface.

Assuming we limit ourselves to a short list of genres, we could use a drop-down list to allow the user to choose the categories for each film, but we have to cater for multiple items being selected.

We may allow the user to enter the film language using a two-letter code, but we probably want to display the full language name as confirmation.

On the other hand, we don’t want to force the user to remember (or even be aware of) person identifiers to enter the cast and crew, so some search capability seems necessary.

Refactoring the Interface

To explore these additions, we’ll go back to the minimalist command line interface. However, we’ll first refactor it with the knowledge we gained up to this point.

Instead of the bl.py module we had earlier, we’ll copy the bl/film.py module from the CherryPy interface. We’ll also replace the dblib.py module by the more robust version, but adding a DbConnection.close() method.

The major refactoring occurs in dbapp.py. First, we add a top level “menu” (only two options for now: Films and Quit) and split film-related functionality to a separate film.py module. The latter is patterned after the corresponding module in the CherryPy version. A brief review of the result may be useful:

  • The Film class (in bl/film.py) is the part that knows how to fetch from and update the film table
  • The FilmForm class is the component that obtains valid data from the user
  • The FilmHandler, for the most part, acts a controller, sequencing the various operations

The code is available on GitHub, tagged as v0.4.0.

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