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A theoretical approach to the optimal design of a large multifile physical database is presented. The design algorithm is based on the theory that, given a set of join methods that satisfy a certain property called separability, the problem of optimal assignment of access structures to the whole database can be reduced to the subproblem of optimizing individual relations independently of one another. Coupling factors are defined to represent all the interactions among the relations. This approach not only reduces the complexity of the problem significantly, but also provides a better understanding of underlying mechanisms.