Structured Query Language/SELECT: Fundamentals
The SELECT command retrieves data from one or more tables or views. It generally consists of the following language elements:
SELECT <things_to_be_displayed> -- the so called 'Projection' - mostly a list of columnnames FROM <tablename> -- table or view names and their aliases WHERE <where_clause> -- the so called 'Restriction' or 'search condition' GROUP BY <group_by_clause> HAVING <having_clause> ORDER BY <order_by_clause> OFFSET <offset_clause> FETCH <fetch_first_or_next_clause>;
With the exception of the first two elements all others are optional. The sequence of language elements is mandatory. At certain places within the command there may start new SELECT commands - in a recursive manner.
Projection (specify resulting columns)
In the projection part of the SELECT command you specify a list of columns, operations working on columns, functions, fixed values or new SELECT commands.
-- C/Java style comments are possible within SQL commands SELECT id, /* the name of a column */ concat(firstname, lastname), /* the concat() function */ weight + 5, /* the add operation */ 'kg' /* a value */ FROM person;
The DBMS will retrieve ten rows, each of them consists of four columns.
We can mix the sequence of columns in any order or retrieve them several times.
SELECT id, lastname, lastname, 'weighs', weight, 'kg' FROM person;
The asterisk '*' is an abbreviation for the list of all columns.
SELECT * FROM person;
For numeric columns we can apply the usual numeric operators +, -, * and /. There are also a lot of predefined functions depending on the data type: power, sqrt, modulo, string functions, date functions.
It is possible to compact results in the sense of UNIQUE values. In this case all resulting rows, which would be identical without the UNIQUE keyword, will be compressed to one row. In other words: duplicates are eliminated - just like in set theory.
-- retrieves 10 rows SELECT lastname FROM person; -- retrieves only 7 rows. Duplicate values are thrown away. SELECT DISTINCT lastname FROM person; -- Hint: The term 'DISTINCT' refers to the complete resulting row, which you can imagine as the -- aggregation of ALL columns of the projection. The keyword DISTINCT must follow directly behind the SELECT keyword. -- The following query leads to 10 rows although three persons have the same lastname. SELECT DISTINCT lastname, firstname FROM person; -- 7 rows again SELECT DISTINCT lastname, lastname FROM person;
Aliases for Column names
Sometimes we want to give resulting columns more expressive names. We can do so by choosing an alias within the projection. This alias is the new name within the result set. GUIs show the alias as the column label.
-- The keyword 'AS' is optional SELECT lastname as family_name, weight weight_in_kg FROM person;
There are predefined functions for use in projections (and at some other positions). The most frequently used are:
- count(<columnname>|'*'): Counts the number of resulting rows.
- max(<columnname>): The highest value in <column> of the resultset. Also applicable on strings.
- min(<columnname>): The lowest value in <column> of the resultset. Also applicable on strings.
- sum(<columnname>): The sum of all values in a numeric column.
- avg(<columnname>): The average of a numeric column.
- concat(<columnname_1>, <columnname_2>): The concatenation of two columns. Alternatively the function may be expressed by the '||' operator: <columnname_1> || <columnname_2>
Standard SQL and every DBMS offers much more functions.
We must differ between those functions which return one value per row like concat() and those which return only one row per complete resultset like max(). The former one may be mixed in any combination with column names as shown in the very first example of this page. With the later ones there exists a problem: If we mix them with a normal column name, the DBMS recognise a contradiction in the query. On the one hand it should retrieve exactly one value (in one row) and on the other hand it should retrieve a lot of values (in a lot of rows). The reaction of DBMS differ from vendor to vendor. Some throw an error message at runtime - in accordance to the SQL standard -, others deliver suspicious results.
-- works fine SELECT lastname, concat(weight, ' kg') FROM person; -- check the reaction of your DBMS. It should throw an error message. SELECT lastname, avg(weight) FROM person;
-- a legal mixture of functions resulting in one row with 4 columns SELECT min(weight), max(weight), avg(weight) as average_1, sum(weight) / count(*) as average_2 FROM person;
SELECT within SELECT
If we really want to see the result of a result-set-oriented-function in combination with columns of more than one row, we can start a very new SELECT on a location where - in simple cases - a column name occurs. This second SELECT is an absolutely independent command. Be careful: It will be executed for every resulting row of the first SELECT!
-- retrieves 10 rows; notice the additional parenthesis to delimit the two SELECTs from each other. SELECT lastname, (SELECT avg(weight) from person) FROM person; -- Compute the percentage of each persons weight in relation to the average weight of all persons SELECT lastname, weight, weight * 100 / (SELECT avg(weight) from person) as percentage_of_average FROM person;
The Keyword FROM is used to specify the table on which the command will work. This table name can be used as an identifier. In the first simple examples prefixing column names with the table name identifier can be used but isn't required. In the later more complex command the table name identifier is a needed feature.
SELECT person.firstname, person.lastname FROM person; -- Define an alias for the table name (analog to column names). To retain overview we usually -- abbreviate tables by the first character of their name. SELECT p.firstname, p.lastname FROM person AS p; -- Hint: not all systems accept keyword 'AS' with table aliases. Omit it in this cases! -- The keyword 'AS' is optional again. SELECT p.firstname, p.lastname FROM person p;
Restriction (specify resulting rows)
In the WHERE clause we specify some 'search conditions' which are among the named table(s) or view(s). The evaluation of this criteria is - mostly - one of the first things during the execution of a SELECT command. Before any row can be sorted or displayed, she must meet the conditions in the clause.
If we omit the clause all rows of the table are retrieved. Else the number of rows will be reduced according to the specified criteria. If we specify 'weight < 70', for example, only those rows are retrieved where the weight column stores a value less than 70. The restrictions act on rows of tables by evaluating column values (sometime they act on other things like the existence of rows, but for the moment we focus on basic principles). As a result, we can imagine that the evaluation of the 'where clause' produces a list of rows. This list of rows will be processed in further steps like sorting, grouping or displaying certain columns (projection).
We compare variables, constant values and results of function calls with each other in the same way as we would do in other programming languages. The only difference is, that we use column names instead of variables. The comparison operators must match the given data types they have to operate on. The result of the comparison is a boolean value. If it is 'true' the according row will be processed furthermore. Some examples:
- 'weight = 70' compares the column 'weight' with the constant value '70' whether the column is equal to the constant value.
- '70 = weight': same as before.
- 'firstname = lastname' compares two columns - each of the same row - for equality. Names like 'Frederic Frederic' evaluate to true.
- 'firstname < lastname' is a legal comparison of two columns according to the lexical order of strings.
- 'LENGTH(firstname) < 5' compares the result of a function call to the constant value '5'. The function LENGTH() operates on strings and returns a number.
Often we want to specify more than a single search criteria, e.g.: Are there people born in San Francisco with lastname Baker? To do this, we specify every necessary comparison independent from the next one and join them together with the boolean operators AND respectively OR.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' AND lastname = 'Baker';
The result of a comparison is a boolean. It may be toggled between 'true' and 'false' by the unary operator NOT.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' AND NOT lastname = 'Baker'; -- all except 'Baker' -- for clarification: The NOT in the foregoing example is an 'unary operation' on the result of the -- comparison. It's not an addition to the AND. SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' AND (NOT (lastname = 'Baker')); -- same as before, but explicit notated with parenthesis
The precedence of comparisons and boolean logic is as follows:
- all comparisons
- NOT operator
- AND operator
- OR operator
-- AND (born in SF and lastname Baker; 1 hit as an intermediate result) will be processed before -- OR (person Yorgos; 1 hit) -- 1 + 1 ==> 2 rows SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' -- 4 hits SF AND lastname = 'Baker' -- 1 hit Baker OR firstname = 'Yorgos' -- 1 hit Yorgos ; -- Same example with parentheses added to make the precedence explicit. -- AND gets processed before OR. -- results ==> same 2 rows as above SELECT * FROM person WHERE (place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' -- 4 hits SF AND lastname = 'Baker') -- 1 hit Baker OR firstname = 'Yorgos' -- 1 hit Yorgos ; -- AND (person Yorgos Baker; no hit as an intermediate result) will be processed before -- OR (born in SF; 4 hits) -- 0 + 4 ==> 4 rows SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' -- 4 hits SF OR firstname = 'Yorgos' -- 1 hit Yorgos AND lastname = 'Baker' -- 1 hit Baker ; -- Same example with parentheses added to make the precedence explicit. -- AND gets processed before OR. -- results ==> same 4 rows as above SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' -- 4 hits SF OR (firstname = 'Yorgos' -- 1 hit Yorgos AND lastname = 'Baker') -- 1 hit Baker ; -- We can modify the sequence of evaluations by specifying parentheses. -- Same as first example, adding parentheses, one row. SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' -- 4 hits SF AND (lastname = 'Baker' -- 1 hit Baker OR firstname = 'Yorgos') -- 1 hit Yorgos ;
Sometimes we shorten the syntax by using the BETWEEN keyword. It defines a lower and upper limit and is used mainly for numeric and date values, but also applicable to strings.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE weight >= 70 AND weight <= 90; -- An equivalent shorter and more expressive wording SELECT * FROM person WHERE weight BETWEEN 70 AND 90; -- BETWEEN includes the two cutting edges
For the comparison of a column or function with a number of values we can use the short IN expression.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE lastname = 'de Winter' OR lastname = 'Baker'; -- An equivalent shorter and more expressive wording SELECT * FROM person WHERE lastname IN ('de Winter', 'Baker');
FETCH: Pick and Choose certain Rows
Sometimes we are not interested in all resulting rows, eg: we may want to see only the first 3 or 10 rows. This can be achieved with the OFFSET and FETCH clauses. OFFSET specifies the number of rows to be skipped (counting from the beginning of the result set) and FETCH specifies the number of rows, after which the delivery of rows shall stop.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco' ORDER BY firstname FETCH FIRST 2 ROWS ONLY -- only the first 2 rows ; SELECT * FROM person ORDER BY id -- the WHERE clause (and the ORDER BY clause) are optional OFFSET 5 ROWS FETCH FIRST 2 ROWS ONLY -- only the 6th and 7th row (according to the ORDER BY) ;
Please notice that the OFFSET and FETCH clauses are separate parts of the SELECT command. Some implementations handle this functionality as part of the WHERE clause or with different key words (ROWNUM, START, SKIP, LIMIT).
The functionality of OFFSET and FETCH can be achieved likewise by window functions with their more general syntax.
We will offer the GROUP BY clause in combination with the HAVING clause in a later chapter.
The DBMS is free to deliver the resulting rows in an arbitrary order. Rows may be returned in the order of the Primary Key, in the chronological order they are stored into the database, in the order of an B-tree organised internal key, or even in a random order. Concerning the sequence of delivered rows the DBMS may do what it wants to do. Don't expect anything.
If we expect a certain order of rows, we must express our wishes explicitly. We can do this in the ORDER BY clause. There we specify a list of columnnames in combination with an option for ascending respectively descending sorting.
-- all persons in ascending (which is the default) order of their weight SELECT * FROM person ORDER BY weight; -- all persons in descending order of their weight SELECT * FROM person ORDER BY weight desc;
In the above result there are two rows with identical values in the column weight. As this situation leads to random results, we have the possibility to specify more columns. These following columns are processed only for those rows with identical values in all preceding columns.
-- All persons in descending order of their weight. In ambiguous cases order the -- additional column place_of_birth ascending: Birmingham before San Francisco. SELECT * FROM person ORDER BY weight desc, place_of_birth;
In the ORDER BY clause we can specify any column of the processed table. We are not limited to the ones which are returned by the projection.
-- same ordering as above SELECT firstname, lastname FROM person ORDER BY weight desc, place_of_birth;
Combine the Language Elements
Only the first two elements of the SELECT command are mandatory: the part up to the first table (or view) name. All others are optional. If we specify also the optional ones, their predetermined sequence must be kept in mind. But they are combinable according to our needs.
-- We have seen on this page: SELECT / FROM / WHERE / ORDER BY SELECT p.lastname, p.weight, p.weight * 100 / (SELECT avg(p2.weight) FROM person p2) AS percentage_of_average FROM person p WHERE p.weight BETWEEN 70 AND 90 ORDER BY p.weight desc, p.place_of_birth;
There is more information about additional options of the SELECT command.
- Join Operation
- IS NULL Predicate
- Predefined Functions
- Set Operations
- Case Expression
- Like Predicate
Show hobbyname and remark from the hobby table.
SELECT hobbyname, remark FROM hobby;
Show hobbyname and remark from the hobby table. Order the result by hobbyname.
SELECT hobbyname, remark FROM hobby ORDER BY hobbyname;
Show hobbyname and remark from the hobby table. Choose 'Hobby' as first columnname and 'Short_Description_of_Hobby' as second columnname.
SELECT hobbyname as Hobby, remark as Short_Description_of_Hobby FROM hobby; -- columnname without underscore: Use quotes SELECT hobbyname as Hobby, remark as "Short Description of Hobby" FROM hobby;
Show firstname and lastname of persons born in San Francisco.
SELECT firstname, lastname FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco';
Show all information items of persons with lastname 'de Winter'.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE lastname = 'de Winter';
How many rows are stored in the contact table?
SELECT count(*) FROM contact; 9
How many E-Mails are stored in the contact table?
SELECT count(*) FROM contact WHERE contact_type = 'email'; 3
What is the mean weight of persons born in San Francisco?
SELECT avg(weight) FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'San Francisco'; 71.25
Find persons born after 1979-12-31, which weigh more than / less than 50 kg.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE date_of_birth > DATE '1979-12-31' AND weight > 50; -- SELECT * FROM person WHERE date_of_birth > DATE '1979-12-31' AND weight < 50;
Find persons born in Birmingham, Mumbai, Shanghai or Athens in the order of their firstname.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth = 'Birmingham' OR place_of_birth = 'Mumbai' OR place_of_birth = 'Shanghai' OR place_of_birth = 'Athens' ORDER BY firstname; -- equivalent: SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth IN ('Birmingham', 'Mumbai', 'Shanghai', 'Athens') ORDER BY firstname;
Find persons born in Birmingham, Mumbai, Shanghai or Athens within the 21. century.
SELECT * FROM person WHERE ( place_of_birth = 'Birmingham' OR place_of_birth = 'Mumbai' OR place_of_birth = 'Shanghai' OR place_of_birth = 'Athens' ) AND date_of_birth >= DATE '2000-01-01'; -- equivalent: SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth IN ('Birmingham', 'Mumbai', 'Shanghai', 'Athens') AND date_of_birth >= DATE '2000-01-01';
Find persons born between Dallas and Richland ('between' not in the sense of a geographic area but of the lexical order of citynames)
-- strings have a lexical order. So we can use some operators known -- from numeric data types. SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth >= 'Dallas' AND place_of_birth <= 'Richland' ORDER BY place_of_birth; -- equivalent: SELECT * FROM person WHERE place_of_birth BETWEEN 'Dallas' AND 'Richland' ORDER BY place_of_birth;
Which kind of contacts are stored in the contact table? (Only one row per value.)
SELECT DISTINCT contact_type FROM contact; fixed line email icq mobile
How many different kind of contacts are stored in the contact table? (Hint: Count the rows of above query.)
SELECT count(DISTINCT contact_type) FROM contact; 4
Show contact_type, contact_value and a string of the form 'total number of contacts: <x>', where <x> is the quantity of all existing contacts.
SELECT contact_type, contact_value, (SELECT concat('total number of contacts: ', count(*)) FROM contact) FROM contact; -- Some systems need explicit type casting from numeric to string SELECT contact_type, contact_value, (SELECT concat('total number of contacts: ', cast(count(*) as char)) FROM contact) FROM contact; -- The '||' operator is some kind of 'syntactical sugar'. It's an abbreviation for the concat() function. -- The operator is part of the SQL standard, but not implemented by all vendors. SELECT contact_type, contact_value, (SELECT 'total number of contacts: ' || count(*) FROM contact) FROM contact;