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An Overview of Structured Query Language: What is SQL?

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 12/5/2008

If you’ve been wanting to learn more about database programming and aren’t sure where to start, consider beginning your studies with SQL.

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    What is SQL?

    The programming language known as SQL (Structured Query Language) was first developed by IBM in the early 1970s. Since that time, the language has gone through a number of modifications and revisions, but it still remains true to its original purpose of managing and retrieving data stored in database systems.

    Nowadays, the most common way to pronounce the abbreviation is just stating the letters S-Q-L. However, it’s still not unusual to hear the term pronounced as the word “sequel", a throwback to the original IBM implementation of the language where it was referred to as SEQUEL.

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    SQL isn’t just for professional programmers anymore. Unlike many other programming languages, SQL has gone mainstream and is used by a sizable percentage of the population who know little to nothing about other languages. In fact, there are a number of people using SQL every day who may not even realize it. This is due to the fact that many commonly-used software packages, such as Microsoft Office, have incorporated SQL syntax into their structure.

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    Advantages of Learning SQL

    As SQL is not a proprietary language, most all database management systems support SQL. This means that if you learn the language for one application that you’ll be able to use your knowledge in many others as well. On top of that, as far as programming languages go, SQL is fairly simple to learn. SQL syntax is made up of common English words with intuitive, clear meanings.

    Don’t let the seemingly simple structure of SQL fool you, though. When it comes to database management, SQL is a very powerful language that can allow you to get the maximum results with a minimum of effort. If you'd like to take a look at some basic examples of SQL statements, check out this introductory tutorial.

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    Some Common DBMSs that Support SQL

    MS SQL The term database management system refers to the actual software used to access and manipulate a database. For the sake of simplicity, a database management system is usually referred to by the abbreviation DBMS.

    There are many people who interchange the terms database and DBMS without much thought. However, to be clear, a database is a file, or set of files, that contains information, while a DBMS is a software application used to create and access these files.

    As stated before, almost all major DBMSs support SQL. Some of the most common Windows DBMSs that support SQL are Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, and MySQL. If you’re looking to learn more about SQL and need to download a DBMS to practice with, both MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server have free versions available.