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Updated Jan 30, 2024

What Is SQL?

SQL is a programming language used to communicate with and manipulate databases.

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Chad Brooks, Business Ownership Insider and Managing Editor
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SQL (Structured Query Language) is a programming language used to communicate with and manipulate databases. To get the most of the mounds of data they collect, many businesses must become versed in SQL. Here’s everything you should know about using SQL to access and manipulate data.

What is SQL?

Businesses and other organizations use SQL programs to access and manipulate the information and data in their databases and create and alter new tables. To fully understand SQL, you need to 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. As they get larger, many businesses find it helpful to transfer them to a database created by a database management system.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
SQL programs access and manipulate data stored in databases for user analysis.

When to use SQL

SQL helps control information stored in databases, allowing users to retrieve the specific data they’re looking for when they need it.

While it’s a simple programming language, SQL is very powerful. In fact, 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.

SQL uses a set of commands to manipulate the data in databases. Examples include SQL INSERT, which is used to add data to database tables; SQL SELECT, which retrieves data from database tables; and SQL UPDATE, which modifies existing database records.

With so many companies relying on big data analytics to drive their direction, SQL experience is one of the most in-demand career skills.

Did You Know?Did you know
Big data and CRM tools go hand in hand. Advanced CRM tools can help small business users by providing only the essential data when it matters most.

SQL history

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

In his paper, Codd proposed that all data in a database be represented in relations. Based on this theory, Boyce and Chamberlin came up with SQL. In Oracle Quick Guides (Cornelio Books, 2013), author Malcolm Coxall writes that the original version of SQL was designed to manipulate and retrieve data stored in IBM’s original relational database management system, System R.

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

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

Did You Know?Did you know
Oracle is known for more than its premier database solution. The extensive Oracle certification program includes six certification levels that span nine categories with more than 200 individual credentials.

The MySQL database management system

Rather than writing an SQL for their databases, many companies use a database management system with built-in SQL. MySQL, developed and distributed by Oracle, is one of the most popular SQL database management systems currently available.

What is MySQL?

MySQL is open-source, which means you can download and use it for free. MySQL is a sophisticated and powerful relational database used by many websites to create and change content quickly.

When is MySQL used?

MySQL can be used for various applications, including data warehousing, e-commerce and logging. However, it’s often found on web servers.

Examples of widely used MySQL systems

Many of the world’s largest and best-known brands rely on MySQL to make their websites function correctly, including Facebook, Google, Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent and Zappos.

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

Benefits of SQL

SQL is a common programming language used to manage and share data. While there are some drawbacks of SQL, such as a clunky interface and cost inefficiencies, the advantages tend to outweigh its disadvantages. SQL is extremely accessible across various platforms, and its user-friendliness can help anyone become an expert.

If you’re unsure whether you should use SQL for your data, consider these benefits:

  • SQL is portable. You can use it on PCs, servers, laptops and some mobile devices. It runs on local internet and intranet systems. Its portability makes it a convenient option for users, as they can transfer it from one device to another with no issues.
  • It processes queries quickly. No matter how large data might be, SQL can retrieve it quickly and efficiently. It can also achieve processes such as insertion, deletion and data manipulation relatively quickly. Fast query processing saves time while ensuring accuracy, so you don’t waste hours waiting around for your data or sharing it with others.
  • It doesn’t require coding skills. Coding is a complicated way of communicating with computers. Also called computer programming, coding can require lots of practice and knowledge before use, making it difficult for others to interpret. Thankfully, SQL does not require coding skills, just the use of simple keywords like “select,” “insert into” and “update.”
  • It uses standardized language. The standardized language used in SQL makes it highly accessible to all users. SQL provides a uniform platform and uses mainly English words and statements, so it’s easy to learn and write, even for those with no prior experience.
  • It provides multiple data views. When using SQL, you can create multiple data views, giving different users various views of the database’s structure and content.
  • It has open source code. MySQL, MariaDB and PostGres offer free SQL databases that large communities can use at a low cost.
  • It’s used by major database management system vendors. Most major database management systems – such as those from IBM, Oracle and Microsoft – use SQL. SQL’s accessibility is a great benefit to keep in mind.
  • It’s highly interactive. Even if you fully understand SQL, you might wonder if others can read and interpret the data. Thankfully, SQL is an interactive language for all users, so you don’t have to worry about miscommunications or misunderstandings. Learn how to improve communication at your business.

There are many benefits to using SQL, and hiring employees with SQL knowledge and experience can revolutionize how you view, analyze, and make better business decisions from your data.

Sean Peek contributed to the writing and research in this article.

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Chad Brooks, Business Ownership Insider and Managing Editor
Chad Brooks is the author of How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business. He has spent more than 10 years guiding prospective entrepreneurs and business owners on the ins and outs of launching a startup, scaling a company and maintaining profitable growth. Within the world of entrepreneurship, he is particularly passionate about small business communications tools, such as unified communications systems, video conferencing solutions and conference call services. Brooks, who holds a degree in journalism from Indiana University, has lent his business expertise to a number of esteemed publications, including Huffington Post, CNBC, Fox Business and Laptop Mag. He regularly consults with B2B companies to stay on top of the latest business trends and direct growing enterprises toward the modern-day business technology required in today's digitally advanced world.
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