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The fundamentals of the administration of the SAP system. When you say SAP Basis, you must think about the guys who will install, configure, update, patch, migrate, troubleshoot any technical problem on your SAP system and manage all the daily operations for that specific sap system or system landscape. Basis area emphasize the administration of RDBMS(Relational Database Management System - or simply the database sap system is using), client-server architecture and the SAP GUI. Moreover Basis defines the interface between the system components and the Basis components, which includes also the development platform for sap applications and data dictionary. System administration, user administration and monitoring tools are also features of the Basis components in the SAP system.
SAP Basis directly describes the technical part of the older releases of SAP systems. I will not go into too much detail now about the older releases but what is worth mentioning is that back in the days when SAP basically offered two products(SAP R/2 and SAP R/3) the development of the technical (basis) part was closely linked to the development of the application part. The release names of SAP Basis corresponded to the SAP R/3 version, for example, SAP Basis 4.0B was the technical basis for the sap release SAP R/3 4.0B. After the year 2000, SAP Basis was evolving with additional enhancements needed for new products which lead to the transition of SAP Basis to SAP Web Application Server, and later on to the SAP Netweaver Application Server.