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An activity or request. Orders, purchases, changes, additions and deletions are typical business transactions stored in the computer. Transactions update one or more master files and serve as both an audit trail and history for future analyses. Ad hoc queries are a type of transaction as well, but are usually just acted upon and not saved. Transaction volume is a major factor in figuring computer system size and speed.

Keeping Transactions in Sync
A major problem in a transaction processing system is ensuring that all master files are updated before the transaction is considered completely processed. For example, if two files must be updated, but a system failure occurs after the first one, but before the second one, the software must be able to roll back the first update and start over later. In a distributed environment, this is called "two-phase commit." See transaction file.

transaction file

A collection of transaction records. The data in transaction files is used to update the master files, which contain the data about the subjects of the organization (customers, employees, vendors, etc.). Transaction files also serve as audit trails and history for the organization. Where before they were transferred to offline storage after some period of time, they are increasingly being kept online for routine analyses. See data warehouse, transaction processing and information system.

Following are the kinds of fields that make up a typical transaction record in a business information system. There can be many more fields depending on the organization. The "key" fields below are the ones that are generally indexed for fast matching against the master record. The account number is usually the primary key, but name may also be used as a primary key. See master file for examples of typical master records.

  key  Employee account number
       Today's date
       Hours worked

  key  Customer account number
       Today's date
       Product number

  key  Customer number
       Today's date
       Invoice number
       Amount paid
       Check number

  key  Purchase order number
       Today's date
       Authorizing agent
       Vendor account number
       Product number
       Due date
       Total cost

  key  Purchase order number
  key  Invoice number
       Today's date
       Product number

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