Some notes on SQL: 4 – Advanced select

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on SQL, the first covered creating a database, the second selecting information from a database, the third commands to modify the structure and contents of an existing database. This post covers more advanced commands for selecting information from a database and ways of manipulating the results returned. No claim of authority is made for these posts, they are mainly intended as my notes on the topic.

SQL supports CASE statements, similar to those which are found in a range of programming languages, they are used to write multiple comparison sequences more compactly:

UPDATE my_table
SET    new_column = CASE
WHEN column1 = somevalue1 THEN newvalue1
WHEN column2 = somevalue2 THEN newvalue2
ELSE newvalue3

The CASE statement can also be used in a SELECT:

SELECT title,
budget = CASE price
WHEN price > 20.00 THEN ‘Expensive’
WHEN price BETWEEN 10.00 AND 19.99 THEN ‘Moderate’
WHEN price < 10.00 THEN ‘Inexpensive’
ELSE ‘Unknown’
FROM   titles

(This second example is from here)

The way in which results are returned from a SELECT statement can be controlled by the ORDER BY keyword with the ASC (or ASCENDING) and DESC (or DESCENDING) modifiers. Results can be ordered by multiple keys. The sort order is numbers before letters, and uppercase letters before lowercase letters.

SELECT title,purchased
FROM   movie_table
ORDER  BY title ASC, purchased DESC;

ASCENDING order is assumed in the absence of the explicit keyword.

There are various functions that can be applied to sets of rows returned in a query to produce a single value these include MIN, MAX, AVG, COUNT and SUM. The  functions are used like this:

FROM   cookie_sales
WHERE  first_name = ‘Nicole’;

This returns a sum of all of the “sales” values returned by the WHERE clause. Related is DISTINCT which is a keyword rather than a function so the syntax is slightly different:

FROM   cookie_sales
ORDER  BY sale_date;

This returns a set of unique dates in the sale_date column.

The GROUP BY keyword is used to facilitate the use of functions such as SUM etc which take multiple arguments to produce a single output, or to reduce a list to distinct elements (in these circumstances it is identical to the DISTINCT keyword but execution may be faster). The format for GROUP BY is shown, by example below:

SELECT first_name, SUM(sales)
FROM   cookie_sales
GROUP  BY first_name;

This will return a sum of the “sales” by each person identified by “first_name”. A final keyword used to control the output of a SELECT statement is the LIMIT keyword which can take one or two parameters the behaviour for the two forms is quite different. One parameter form:

SELECT * FROM your_table LIMIT  5;

This returns the first five results from a SELECT. Two parameter form:

SELECT * FROM your_table LIMIT  5, 5;

This returns results 6,7,8,9 and 10 from the SELECT. The first parameter is the index of the first result to return (starting at 0 for the first position) and the second parameter is the number of results to return.