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A Brief History of SQL - Oracle

Interested in learning more about the SQL language? Read on to learn some of the useful features of this language. This article is excerpted from Mastering Oracle SQL by Sanjay Mishra and Alan Beaulieu (O'Reilly, 2004; ISBN 1590593006).

  1. Introduction to SQL
  2. A Brief History of SQL
  3. The SELECT Statement
  4. Ordering your results
  5. The DELETE Statement
  6. The MERGE Statement
By: O'Reilly Media
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March 16, 2005

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In the early 1970s, an IBM research fellow named Dr. E. F. Codd endeavored to apply the rigors of mathematics to the then-untamed world of data storage and retrieval. Codd’s work led to the definition of the relational data model and a language called DSL/Alpha for manipulating data in a relational database. IBM liked what they saw, so they commissioned a project called System/R to build a prototype based on Codd’s work. Among other things, the System/R team developed a simplified version of DSL called SQUARE, which was later renamed SEQUEL, and finally renamed SQL.

The work done on System/R eventually led to the release of various IBM products based on the relational model. Other companies, such as Oracle, rallied around the relational flag as well. By the mid 1980s, SQL had gathered sufficient momentum in the marketplace to warrant oversight by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI released its first SQL standard in 1986, followed by updates in 1989, 1992, 1999, and 2003. There will undoubtedly be further refinements in the future.

Thirty years after the System/R team began prototyping a relational database, SQL is still going strong. While there have been numerous attempts to dethrone relational databases in the marketplace, well-designed relational databases coupled with well-written SQL statements continue to succeed in handling large, complex data sets where other methods fail.

Oracle’s SQL Implementation

Given that Oracle was an early adopter of the relational model and SQL, one might think that they would have put a great deal of effort into conforming with the various ANSI standards. For many years, however, the folks at Oracle seemed content that their implementation of SQL was functionally equivalent to the ANSI standards without being overly concerned with true compliance. Beginning with the release of Oracle8i, however, Oracle has stepped up its efforts to conform to ANSI standards and has tackled such features as the CASE statement and the left/right/full outer join syntax.

Ironically, the business community seems to be moving in the opposite direction. A few years ago, people were much more concerned with portability and would limit their developers to ANSI-compliant SQL so that they could implement their systems on various database engines. Today, companies tend to pick a database engine to use across the enterprise and allow their developers to use the full range of available options without concern for ANSI-compliance. One reason for this change in attitude is the advent of n-tier architectures, where all database access can be contained within a single tier instead of being scattered throughout an application. Another possible reason might be the emergence of clear leaders in the DBMS market over the last decade, such that managers perceive less risk in which database engine they choose.

Theoretical Versus Practical Terminology

If you were to peruse the various writings on the relational model, you would come across terminology that you will not find used in this book (such as relations and tuples). Instead, we use practical terms such as tables and rows, and we refer to the various parts of a SQL statement by name rather than by function (i.e., “SELECT clause” instead of projection). With all due respect to Dr. Codd, you will never hear the word tuple used in a business setting, and, since this book is targeted toward people who use Oracle products to solve business problems, you won’t find it here either.

A Simple Database

Because this is a practical book, it contains numerous examples. Rather than fabricating different sets of tables and columns for every chapter or section in the book, we have decided to draw from a single, simple schema for most examples. The subject area that we chose to model is a parts distributor, such as an auto-parts wholesaler or medical device distributor, in which the business fills customer orders for one or more parts that are supplied by external suppliers. Figure 1-1 shows the entity-relationship model for this business.

If you are unfamiliar with entity-relationship models, here is a brief description of how they work. Each box in the model represents an entity, which correlates to a database table.* The lines between the entities represent the relationships between tables, which correlate to foreign keys. For example, the cust_order table holds a foreign key to the employee table, which signifies the salesperson responsible for a particular order. Physically, this means that the cust_order table contains a column holding employee ID numbers, and that, for any given order, the employee ID number indicates the employee who sold that order. If you find this confusing, simply use the diagram as an illustration of the tables and columns found within our database. As you work your way through the SQL examples in this book, return occasionally to the diagram, and you should find that the relationships start making sense.

Figure 1-1.  The parts distributor model  

DML Statements

In this section, we will introduce the five statements that comprise the DML portion of SQL.The information presented in this section should be enough to allow you to start writing DML statements. As is discussed at the end of the section, however, DML can look deceptively simple, so keep in mind while reading the section that there are many more facets to DML than are discussed here.

This article is excerpted from Mastering Oracle SQL by Sanjay Mishra and Alan Beaulieu (O'Reilly, 2004; ISBN  1590593006). Check it out at your favorite bookstore today. Buy this book now.

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