What is SQL?

What is SQL?


  • SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a specialized programming language crucial for managing relational database management systems (RDBMS).
  • Originating in the 1970s, SQL has become the standard for managing data, with its development overseen by ANSI and ISO.
  • SQL finds applications across various fields such as healthcare, web development, marketing analysis, data analytics, and business intelligence.
  • Its functions include creating, modifying, and deleting databases and database objects, manipulating data, retrieving data, and controlling access.
  • SQL’s declarative nature simplifies data management tasks, making it widely adopted and standardized across different systems.
  • It supports complex queries, ensuring data integrity, security, and compatibility across databases and programming languages.
  • SQL operates through a series of commands, from syntax checking to query optimization, showcasing its versatility in data manipulation.
  • SQL Server, developed by Microsoft, is a prominent relational database management system known for its security features and performance.
  • SQL injection is a security vulnerability exploited by attackers to interfere with database queries, emphasizing the importance of proper input validation.
  • SQL commands are categorized into DDL, DML, DQL, DCL, and TCL, each serving specific functions in database management and manipulation.

The way data is stored, accessed, and managed has become crucial in today’s digital age for software development and business operations. SQL is at the center of this data-driven world. It serves as the primary language for interacting with databases. Despite the emergence of new technologies and programming languages, SQL continues to play a significant role. This makes it a necessary skill for developers and data analysts. In this article, we will discuss what SQL is, what it used for, and why it stands out in today’s tech world..

What is SQL? Defined

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a special-purpose programming language used for managing and manipulating relational database management systems (RDBMS). It’s not just any programming language. It is specifically designed to manage data held in a relational database management system, or for stream processing in a relational data stream management system​. The language is highly regarded for its ability to manage structured data, where there are relations between different data variables.

The history of SQL dates back to the 1970s when it was developed by IBM to use in their RDBMS. It did, however, represent a big leap over older read-write APIs, such as ISAM or VSAM, insofar as it allowed reading or writing access to many records with one command, without specification on how to reach a record. Initially named SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language), it has set the de facto standard in database management since then.

Seeing the urgency of the need to develop a standardized language for database management, in 1986, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed SQL. On top of that, it was officially approved as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 

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What is SQL used for?

Use CaseDescription
Healthcare AnalysisManage and analyze patient data, aiding in disease pattern identification and vaccine distribution optimization.
Web and Mobile DevelopmentSecurely manage user data for web and mobile applications, including account information and transaction history.
Marketing AnalysisComprehend customer behavior, preferences, and engagement trends to tailor marketing strategies effectively.
Data AnalyticsExtract, analyze, and interpret data to support informed decision-making based on identified trends and patterns.
Business AnalyticsImprove business processes and provide data-driven recommendations through comprehensive data analysis and dashboard creation.
Data ScienceFacilitate data extraction, preprocessing, and exploratory analysis, supporting the development of predictive models and machine learning algorithms.
Software TestingCreate and verify test data to ensure the proper functioning of new features, validating data integrity and system functionality.
Data EngineeringDesign and manage databases and data structures to optimize data flow and accessibility for efficient management and utilization.

SQL is widely used for various tasks such as querying data, updating databases, and managing database structures. It enables users to create and modify database structures, insert, update, and delete data, and retrieve data from databases in a variety of ways. The language allows for the creation of stored procedures, which are a set of SQL statements that can be saved and executed whenever needed. This capability is particularly useful for repetitive database manipulation tasks. Furthermore, SQL provides mechanisms like triggers, which are automatic operations initiated by changes or events in the database​.

Though SQL is mostly a declarative language, meaning you don’t tell the database how to get a result but what result you need to obtain, there are some procedural bits in it. This duality has provided a good, wide set of operations on data stored in a relational database. Here’s how it is used:

  • Creating Databases and Database Objects: By a set of Data Definition Language (DDL) commands, SQL creates, alters, and drops databases and database objects, for example, tables, views, and indexes.
  • Data Insertion, Update, and Deletion: SQL allows for the insertion of new data and updates available data in the database. Most importantly, it supports the deletion of databases using the Data Manipulation Language (DML).
  • Data Retrieval: One of the more common uses of SQL is in data retrieval, where it can be used to query a database for specific information and let the users retrieve the data according to the criteria they need.
  • Access Control: SQL enables control of access to the database and its objects using Data Control Language (DCL), whereby only authorized users are able to perform actions on a particular part of the database.

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Why is SQL Important?

SQL plays a critical role in managing and manipulating relational databases. Here’s why it’s considered so important:

  • Foundation for Managing Data: SQL provides a powerful but simple means to execute data operations, making it essential for database management. It allows for accessing, modifying, and managing data in relational database management systems (RDBMS).
  • Widespread Use and Standardization: Since its inception in the 1970s by IBM researchers, SQL has become the standard language for database management. Its syntax and operations, such as SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE, have remained largely unchanged, ensuring consistency across different systems.
  • Adaptability and Compatibility: SQL has evolved over time to include new features and functionalities, making it more powerful and user-friendly. Various dialects like PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQLite, and SQL Server have developed, each compatible with specific RDBMS but still maintaining the core principles of SQL.
  • Critical in Data Science and Analysis: The rise of data science has further cemented SQL’s importance. With data now being a crucial asset, the ability to efficiently query and manipulate data for insights is invaluable. SQL’s role in data science is to enable the extraction, manipulation, and analysis of structured data.
  • Enabler of Standards in Data Communication: SQL serves as an international standard for database communication, allowing for seamless interaction between different databases and programming languages. This standardization simplifies data management tasks and supports various functions that might not be possible in other databases.

What Can SQL do?

  • Data Retrieval: With SQL, it is easy to retrieve data from a database. For instance, while trying to get movie titles from a ‘movies’ table, one would issue a command as basic as SELECT title FROM movies;.
  • Sorting and Filtering: Your data may be filtered, hence sorted either in ascending or in descending order, and SQL will help you in that. For example, to find the employees with salaries above $6,000 or those whose salaries are below $2,000, one would do something like SELECT first_name, last_name, salary FROM employees WHERE salary > 6000 OR salary < 2000;.
  • Data aggregation: SQL functions give summarized information regarding the data to find its totals, averages, minimum, and maximum. For instance, in order to find the total sales from each department, one could go ahead with the query SELECT department, SUM(sales) AS total_sales FROM sales GROUP BY department;.
  • Joining Data from Two Tables: SQL allows the user to join data from two different tables and produces one result set. This feature thus enables users to answer tough questions that require data from many sources.
  • Data Manipulation: In addition to fetching data, records can be added, updated, or even deleted. To insert a new movie into the films table, it will look something like INSERT INTO films (title, release_year, budget) VALUES (‘New Movie’, 2021, 1000000);.
  • Database Management: SQL is not only used for querying data but also in the creation and managing process of databases. For example, it can be used in creating new tables, creating relationships between different tables, defining rules in the table for providing integrity tables, and so forth.

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What are the Characteristics of SQL?

  • Standardized Language: SQL is widely recognized and used across different database systems. While there are variations between systems, the core language remains consistent, making skills transferable.
  • Declarative Nature: Unlike procedural programming languages where you define how to do something, in SQL, you specify what you want to do, and the database figures out how to perform the task. This makes SQL easier to learn and use for managing data.
  • Versatility and Power: SQL can handle databases of any size, from small local databases to large-scale, complex systems used by multinational corporations. Its versatility allows it to be used for a wide range of tasks, from simple data retrieval to complex data analysis and reporting​.
  • Support for Complex Queries: SQL supports complex queries that can retrieve data based on sophisticated conditions. This capability is essential for deep data analysis and making informed decisions based on large volumes of data​.
  • Data Integrity and Security: SQL databases enforce data integrity through constraints and provide various security features to protect data, such as permissions and encryption, ensuring that data remains accurate, consistent, and secure.

How SQL Works

SQL operates through a series of commands that interact with databases. The process begins when a query is written and executed. This query then goes through stages including syntax checking (parsing), semantic checks (binding), and optimization to generate an effective execution plan. This optimization stage is crucial as it determines the most efficient way to execute the query. SQL’s versatility is showcased in its ability to execute queries, retrieve data, insert and update records, and more, within a database​.

What is SQL Server?

SQL Server is a relational database management system developed by Microsoft. It’s designed to efficiently handle and manage data across a wide range of applications. SQL Server is equipped to handle a range of tasks, including transaction management, business insights, and data analytics within corporate technology setups. It falls under the broader category of SQL database technologies, standing out for its strong security measures, efficient performance, and extensive capabilities in managing data.

What is SQL Injection?

SQL injection refers to a type of security vulnerability. It lets an intruder tamper with the database queries an application sends. It ranks among the earliest, most common, and riskiest threats to web applications. Through SQL injection, attackers can not only steal data but also modify or delete it, affecting data integrity. Preventing SQL injections involves validating and sanitizing user inputs and adopting prepared statements with parameterized queries.

Also Read: What is Python Syntax? A Beginner’s Guide

What are SQL Commands?

SQL commands are instructions used to communicate with a database to perform tasks, queries, and manage data. The commands can be broadly classified into several types, each serving different purposes:

  • DDL (Data Definition Language): These commands are used to define and modify the structure of database objects, like tables. Examples include CREATE to create a new table or database, ALTER to change an existing table, and DROP to delete tables.
  • DML (Data Manipulation Language): These commands deal with the manipulation of data itself. This includes INSERT to add new rows to a table, UPDATE to modify existing data, and DELETE to remove rows from a table.
  • DQL (Data Query Language): The primary command used here is SELECT, which is used to query data from a database. This allows for data retrieval based on specific criteria.
  • DCL (Data Control Language): These commands are related to permissions and access controls for database objects. GRANT gives user’s access privileges to the database, while REVOKE takes back permissions.
  • TCL (Transaction Control Language): Commands like COMMIT to save the work done, ROLLBACK to undo transactions that are not saved to the database, and SAVEPOINT to roll back the transaction to a certain point without rolling back the entire transaction.
Data AnalystFocuses on analyzing data to uncover trends and insights that influence strategic decisions, utilizing SQL for data manipulation and analysis.
Business AnalystUtilizes SQL for analyzing business processes and data to recommend improvements in various operational aspects.
Data ScientistUtilizes SQL alongside other skills for data manipulation and analysis, contributing to the development of predictive models and insights.
Data EngineerRequires deep SQL knowledge to build and manage databases and data pipelines, ensuring efficient data flow and accessibility.
Software DeveloperInteracts with databases using SQL during application development, ensuring seamless integration and data management within software systems.
Software TesterUtilizes SQL to verify that data manipulation in applications meets requirements, ensuring data integrity and system functionality through testing.
Marketing ProfessionalIncreasingly requires SQL skills to analyze customer data and refine marketing strategies for better engagement and conversion.
Business ManagerManagers with these skills can directly access and analyze performance data, leading to more informed decision-making.


SQL remains a fundamental part of the tech landscape for good reasons. Despite the emergence of NoSQL databases and other data storage solutions, SQL’s role in data management and analysis continues to grow, adapting to new challenges and integrating with modern technologies.

Understanding SQL not only empowers you to work effectively with relational databases but also provides a foundation for exploring more advanced data science and analytics concepts. The language’s consistency, reliability, and efficiency in data manipulation and retrieval tasks ensure its place in both current and future tech environments. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SQL and what is it used for?

  • SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is a specialized programming language.
  • It is primarily used for managing and manipulating relational database management systems (RDBMS).
  • SQL allows users to perform various tasks such as querying data, updating databases, managing database structures, and controlling access to data.

What are some common tasks performed using SQL?

  • Creating and modifying database structures, including tables, views, and indexes, using Data Definition Language (DDL) commands.
  • Inserting, updating, and deleting data within databases using Data Manipulation Language (DML) commands.
  • Retrieving specific data from databases based on predefined criteria using SELECT statements.
  • Controlling access to databases and their objects using Data Control Language (DCL) commands.

Why is SQL important in the tech industry?

  • SQL serves as the foundation for managing and manipulating data in relational databases, which are widely used in various industries.
  • It is the standard language for interacting with databases and is essential for roles such as data analysis, software development, and database administration.
  • SQL’s versatility, consistency, and compatibility across different systems make it indispensable for handling data-related tasks efficiently.

How can I learn SQL and improve my skills?

  • Start with online tutorials and courses that cover the basics of SQL syntax, commands, and concepts.
  • Practice writing SQL queries and performing tasks on databases using platforms like MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQLite.
  • Engage in real-world projects or challenges that require you to apply SQL skills to solve practical problems.
  • Join online communities or forums where you can seek help, share knowledge, and learn from others’ experiences with SQL.

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