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Lead Your Team Strategy

What is SQL?

What is SQL?
Credit: wavebreakmedia | Shutterstock.

SQL, which stands for Structured Query Language, is a programming language that is used to communicate with and manipulate databases. In order to get the most of the mounds of data they collect, many businesses must become versed in SQL.

SQL programs are put in place by businesses and other organizations as a way to access and manipulate the information and data that is stored in their databases, as well as for creating and altering new tables. To fully understand SQL, it is important to first know exactly what a database is.

According to Microsoft, a database is a tool for collecting and organizing information. Databases can store information about people, products, orders or anything else. Many databases start in a word processing program or spreadsheet, but as they get larger many businesses will find it helpful to transfer them to a database created by a database management system.

In order to control the information in those databases, SQL is used, which allows users to retrieve the specific data they are looking for when they need it. While it is a simple programming language, SQL is also very powerful. The website Database Dir says SQL can insert data into database tables, modify data in existing database tables and delete data from SQL database tables. In addition, SQL can modify the database structure itself by creating, modifying and deleting tables and other database objects.

According to Database Dir, SQL uses a set of commands to manipulate the data in databases. Examples include SQL INSERT, which is used to add data in database tables, the SQL SELECT command to retrieve data from database tables and SQL UPDATE to modify existing database records.

With so many companies now relying on big data analytics to drive their direction, employees with SQL skills and backgrounds are some of the most sought after by employers.

Ibro Palic, CEO of Resume Templates for Mac, told BusinessNewsDaily that SQL is a highly sought-after technical skill due to its ability to work with nearly all databases.

"Every company today that gathers data needs somebody who is able to utilize SQL to quickly pull out key data components and generate reports that aid the decision-making process," Palic said.

The SQL programming language was first developed in the 1970s by IBM researchers Raymond Boyce and Donald Chamberlin. The programming language, known then as SEQUEL, was created following the publishing of Edgar Frank Todd's paper, "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks," in 1970.

In his paper, Todd proposed that that all data in a database be represented in the form of relations. It was based on this theory that Boyce and Chamberlin came up with SQL. In the book "Oracle Quick Guides (Cornelio Books 2013)," author Malcolm Coxall writes that the original SQL version was designed to manipulate and retrieve data stored in IBM's original relational database management systems known as "System R."

It wasn't until several years later, however, that the SQL language was made available publicly. In 1979, a company called Relational Software, which later became Oracle, commercially released its own version of the SQL language called Oracle V2.

Since then, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Standards Organization have deemed the SQL language the standard language in relational database communication. While major SQL vendors do modify the language to their desires, most base their SQL programs off of the ANSI approved version.

Rather than trying to write an SQL for their own databases, many companies use a database management system that has SQL already built in to it. Developed and distributed by Oracle, MySQL is one of the most popular SQL database management systems currently available. The software is an open source version, which means it can be downloaded and used for free.

According to the web hosting service GoDaddy, MySQL is a sophisticated and powerful relational database used by many websites to create and change content quickly.

"For example, many blogs and bulletin boards use a MySQL database in conjunction with a Web scripting language (PHP, Perl, Python)," GoDaddy writes on its website.

While MySQL can be used for a variety of applications, it is often found on Web servers, according to the website TechTerms.com

"A website that uses MySQL may include Web pages that access information from a database," TechTerms writes. "These pages are often referred to as "dynamic," meaning the content of each page is generated from a database as the page loads. Websites that use dynamic Web pages are often referred to as database-driven websites."

Currently, many of the world's largest and most well-known brands rely on MySQL to make their websites function properly, including Facebook, Google, Adobe, Alcatel Lucent and Zappos.

In addition to MySQL, there are a number of other open source SQL database management systems, including PostgreSQL, Ingres and Firebird.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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