What is SQL and Why should I care?

SQL stands for Structured Query Language. Some people prefer to spell it out, S-Q-L, others pronounce it sequel [ˈsēkwəl]. SQL is a standard defined and maintained by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as well as International Organization for Standards – International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/EIC). It comes in numerous variants. These are specific to database systems that implement the standard. There are also numerous SQL like languages.


You should care about SQL if you care about data. SQL primarily functions to describe tables of data. It instructs the database system to create, modify, or retrieve some form of table. Is it possible to write SQL that in no way describes a table? Feel free to find and share cases that don’t fit neatly into “tables”?


Understanding tables will help you understand how you can use SQL. SQL has the keywords CREATE, ALTER, and DROP which can be used to make, change, and destroy tables. These keywords can make other objects like functions, stored procedures, and views (users, logins, triggers, audits, connections, … etc.). While technically not tables, they do exist as rows in tables. These keywords can also be used to make indexes which help table operations be performed more efficiently.


Often, a person will be working with tables that already exist. In these cases, the SQL keywords SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE will be used to perform CRUD operations. CRUD stands for Create, Read, Update, and Delete. These operations are often being performed by multiple users simultaneously.


Multi-user access is an important consideration. The SQL standard prescribes Isolation Levels. These are approaches to the problems that happen with multiple user simultaneous access. These contribute to ACID compliance. ACID stands for Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation and Durability. This is what a lot of “NoSQL” languages tend to do without. Without it, it’s a fast paced free for all that can leave a mess. With it deadlocking and blocking can occur.


These issues shouldn’t stop a data user from becoming an SQL Pro. They just mean you should consult a SQL Pro with experience and keep focused on what matters. SQL itself is by design simple and intuitive (maybe).


SQL is declarative. A user need not know how to create locks or latches, nor which algorithms most efficiently sort, sample, or join. SQL allows the user to declare the state they wish data to be in. The database platform determines based on the structures in play, the statistics available, and other factors how best to fill the request.

When operations are performed the database uses a state transformation known as a transaction. In short, a transaction is an all or nothing operation. It allows multiple tables to be either a start or finish state. Transactions are self-contained. The state is either as it was or as it was intended. Transactions operate independent of other transactions. They are permanent once completed.


In short SQL is a language for working with data in database systems. SQL allows you to describe what you want and get it. It allows a whole host of technical issues to be left to software engineers, database architects and administrators.

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