Let’s face it: No one at a cocktail party gets excited to hear you talk about the programming language SQL.
But if, instead of at a museum gala or country club, you’re showing off your SQL knowledge among a group of database managers?
Now everyone’s listening … and probably wanting to debate you on a few points.
SQL, which stands for Structured Query Language, has been the go-to choice for managing databases for decades. It’s a standard language used for managing relational databases, known for its ease of use, flexibility and the ability to manipulate data efficiently.
So why is SQL such a big deal?
Before we dive into the specifics of SQL, you have to know what relational databases are and why they are used. A relational database organizes data into one or more tables, with each table consisting of rows and columns. Each row in a table represents a unique record, while each column represents a specific attribute of that record. For example, a table of employees may have columns for first name, last name, date of birth and employee ID.
The benefits of using a relational database include: improved data consistency, increased scalability and the ability to perform complex queries. However, in order to effectively manage a relational database, you need a DBMS (database management system) that will allow you to tackle these tasks properly.
The Role of SQL in Database Management
SQL is the language used to communicate with a DBMS, and is the standard language used for managing relational databases. It allows developers to create, read, update, delete and do several more things to data from a database using a set of commands.
One of the biggest reasons SQL is so popular for database management is that it’s relatively simple. SQL commands are easy to learn and use, even for developers who have little experience with databases. SQL commands are also highly readable, making it easy for developers to understand what is happening in a database even if they didn’t write the code themselves.
SQL lets developers perform a wide range of tasks without having to delve into other languages. For example, developers can use SQL to create and modify tables, insert and update data, and retrieve data based on complex criteria.
This flexibility makes SQL great for developers who need to perform a wide range of tasks without using multiple languages. Additionally, because SQL is a standard language, developers can easily switch between different database management systems without needing to learn a new language.
Another reason why SQL is so popular for database management is its scalability. SQL can be used to manage databases of all sizes, from small databases with only a few tables to large databases with millions of records — the language doesn’t change.
This scalability is particularly important for enterprise-level applications, where databases must be able to handle large amounts of data and traffic. SQL allows developers to easily manipulate data at many different sizes as their needs change, without needing to rewrite their entire application.
SQL is designed to be handled in complex transactions, ensuring that data remains consistent even in the face of unexpected errors or interruptions. This reliability is particularly important for applications that require high levels of data integrity and consistency.
Last but not least, SQL has the support of a large and active community of developers and users. These people share a wealth of resources and support that benefits not just developers who are just getting started with SQL but even more experienced developers looking to learn new techniques and best practices.
This community support includes online forums, user groups and conferences, as well as online tutorials and training programs. All this makes it easy for developers to quickly get up to speed with SQL and to stay up to date with the latest trends.
The Cons of SQL for Database Management
SQL is not without its drawbacks, of course. Below are some of the potential cons of using SQL for database management.
- Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master: While SQL is known for its simplicity and readability, truly mastering it can take time and effort. Writing complex queries and understanding how to optimize them can be challenging, even for experienced developers. As a result, some developers may find SQL to be more difficult to master than other programming languages.
- Sometimes-Limited Compatibility: While SQL is a standard language, different database management systems may have different implementations and features in their own SQL. This means that SQL code that works on one system may not work on another. This can be a problem for developers who need to switch between different database management systems, as they may need to rewrite their SQL code to work with the new system.
- Maintenance and Administration: Managing a SQL database can be time-consuming and require significant expertise. Developers need to monitor database performance, ensure data consistency and manage backups and recovery procedures. Additionally, managing database security and access control requires ongoing attention to ensure that sensitive data is protected.
- Unstructured data: When dealing with unstructured data, like form responses, conversations on social media, images, video and audio files and industry-specific file type, it gets complicated. You need to turn to NoSQL solutions (“not only SQL”) databases, which store information in a completely different, non-tabular way. NoSQL data takes up a lot more space, and thus makes it harder when you want to scale up a tech project.
- Relatively inflexible: Other software frameworks can store, retrieve and analyze data in a wider variety of formats, including being better equipped to deal with unstructured data. (Apache’s Hadoop was specifically created to process unstructured data, for example.)
- Licensing: SQL is a licensed product, so you must pay a licensing fee to Microsoft to keep using it. There are other, lower-cost or free, open-source large-database management options out there, including Hadoop, MongoDB and Apache Spark.
Do I Need SQL for My Database Project?
SQL is a powerful and flexible language that’s become the standard for managing relational databases. Its ease of use, flexibility, reliability, community support and readiness for many sizes of databases make it an ideal choice for seasoned developers who need to manage databases of different sizes and complexity levels. For both small applications and enterprise-level systems, SQL provides the tools and features most people need to effectively manage their data. And, as the demand for data-driven applications continues to grow, SQL will likely remain one of the top choices for database management.
But though the cons may not be deal-breakers for most developers, they are important to consider when deciding whether SQL is right for your particular project. Whether you’re unsure about what language to go with for your database, or know for a certainty that SQL is the path for you, you can reach out to Plan A for a consultation.