Is SQL a Programming Language? (2022)

SQL is a powerful tool for communicating with database management systems. When you write SQL queries, you give instructions to the computer, and it performs these instructions—it sounds like programming. However, you cannot build an application with SQL as you can with Python or Java. So, is SQL a programming language?

What Is SQL?

Let’s start with the basic definition. SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a language used for communication with relational databases. Despite the importance of this role, this is quite a narrow task compared to what Python, Java, C++, etc. are used for. Naturally, there is a long-lasting debate around the question—is SQL a programming language? You cannot create an application or build a webpage with SQL, but it definitely looks like programming when you use SQL to talk to your databases.

To address this controversial issue, I suggest starting with recognizing the differences between several key concepts. We’ll have no problem answering if SQL is a programming language after we define the term “programming language” and have a clear understanding of the differences between general-purpose programming languages and domain-specific programming languages.

Programming Language vs. General-Purpose Programming Language

According to Webopedia, “a programming language is a vocabulary and set of grammatical rules for instructing a computer or computing device to perform specific tasks.” SQL is definitely a programming language given this definition.

It has certain vocabulary and strict syntax that should be followed. For example, all SQL statements start with specific keywords (e.g., SELECT, INSERT, CREATE, UPDATE, DELETE) and end with a semicolon. The order of clauses is also important. For example, GROUP BY should follow the WHERE clause and precede the ORDER BY clause:

SELECT column_one, column_twoFROM tableWHERE column_one > 2000GROUP BY column_one, column_twoORDER BY column_one;

Furthermore, messages that are written using this vocabulary and syntax instruct your computer to perform specific tasks, like accessing certain data in the database; creating, updating, or deleting tables in the database; etc.

(Video) Is SQL a Proper Programming Language?

Then why do we have all this controversy around recognizing SQL as a programming language? The problem is that people often mean “general-purpose programming language” when saying “programming language.” And there is a big difference between these terms.

Wikipedia says that “a general-purpose programming language is a programming language designed to be used for writing software in the widest variety of application domains.” Basically, you can create all kinds of applications using a general-purpose programming language, including desktop, mobile, or web applications. The most widely used programming languages from this category include Java, JavaScript, Python, C++, and Ruby.

In contrast to these languages, SQL has a very niche role of communicating with relational databases. Thus, you cannot build an application using only SQL. This leads us to the conclusion that SQL is not a general-purpose programming language.

SQL as a Domain-Specific Language

Now we know that SQL satisfies the definition of a programming language but not a general-purpose programming language. So, where does SQL belong?

Apart from general-purpose programming languages, there are also domain-specific languages (DSLs). Wikipedia defines a domain-specific language as “a computer language specialized to a particular application domain.” HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is one of the most popular domain-specific languages used for structuring webpages.

Similarly, SQL, with its specific application domain, can be defined as a domain-specific language. Structured Query Language is a highly targeted language for “talking” to databases. While being an effective and powerful tool for data management and access, SQL has limited usage compared to general-purpose programming languages. However, this drawback comes with certain benefits.

(Video) What is SQL? [in 4 minutes for beginners]

Because of its narrow application domain, SQL is usually easier to learn than a general-purpose programming language. You don’t need a computer science background to start with the SQL Basics course. Moreover, even when starting with zero programming knowledge, you can become an SQL expert in a few months after taking the SQL from A to Z track.

SQL and Turing Completeness

If you are not yet convinced that SQL is a programming language, here is another point to consider.

To evaluate how “powerful” a certain programming language is, computer scientists often use the concept of Turing completeness. According to the Wikipedia definition, a programming language “is said to be Turing complete or computationally universal if it can be used to simulate any Turing machine.” In simple terms, a Turing machine is a hypothetical machine, named by computer scientist Alan Turing, that can take any program of any complexity and run it.

So, we could say that SQL is Turing complete if any program that can be written to run for a Turing machine can also be written in SQL. And in fact, SQL, with the addition of recursive queries, satisfies this condition.

If interested, you can learn more about SQL recursive queries in this comprehensive guide. You can also learn how to create recursive queries or common table expressions (CTEs) in our Recursive Queries course.

Now you know that SQL is Turing complete and thus, computationally universal. But this is not yet the end of the story…

(Video) Is SQL a Programming Language? | SQL Knowledge for Beginners | G C Reddy |

SQL and Procedural Languages

SQL can be extended with procedural languages that allow users to define their own functions and procedures. Therefore, procedural languages are programming languages in either sense of the term.

All database management systems (DBMSs) accept one or more dialects of procedural languages. Let’s have a look at some examples.

PL/SQL, or Procedural Language for SQL, is an extension for SQL in the Oracle database management system. Similar to general-purpose programming languages, PL/SQL includes elements like conditions and loops. With PL/SQL, you can also declare constants, variables, variable types, procedures, and functions.

PL/pgSQL, or Procedural Language/PostgreSQL, is a procedural language supported by the PostgreSQL object-relational database management system. It is very similar to Oracle’s PL/SQL and allows loops and conditions as well as user-defined functions. You can learn how to create user-defined functions in PostgreSQL with our comprehensive course.

MySQL is a database management system that doesn’t have a separate name for SQL extensions that allow the creation of functions and procedures, but it supports this functionality. MySQL has CREATE PROCEDURE and CREATE FUNCTION statements that create stored routines. User-defined functions are also supported in MySQL—they are regarded as externally stored functions.

As you can see, SQL is a powerful tool for data management and access. It can handle huge analytical queries with all kinds of data. But, it can also be used for fun! Read about how to draw a Christmas tree in SQL.

(Video) What is SQL (Structured Query Language)? Why is it Important?

Time to Learn SQL!

Now you know that SQL is a powerful programming language that is worth your attention. While Structured Query Language has been around for decades, it’s still the go-to tool for data access and management in all kinds of modern applications. Business analysts, data analysts, data scientists, and many other roles in today’s companies need SQL to perform their jobs.

Except for its apparent usefulness as a domain-specific language, SQL can be also the first step towards programming and learning a general-purpose programming language.

Are you excited about where SQL can bring your career? Then check out the following courses:

  • SQL Basics is an easy-to-follow introduction to SQL queries. No computer science background required!
  • SQL from A to Z is a track designed for ambitious and dedicated students who are ready to go from complete newbies, through intermediate and advanced topics, to an SQL guru level.
  • Writing User-Defined Functions in PostgreSQL is for those who feel confident with SQL and are ready to master the procedural extension of SQL to write user-defined functions.

Thanks for reading, and happy learning!

Summary: There is a long-lasting debate about recognizing SQL as a programming language. With SQL, you give your computer instructions to perform huge analytical queries, which looks like programming. However, you cannot build an application using only SQL. So, is SQL a programming language? Learn why the answer is definitely yes.


Is SQL a complete programming language? ›

SQL as a Domain-Specific Language

Now we know that SQL satisfies the definition of a programming language but not a general-purpose programming language.

Is SQL very difficult? ›

How Quickly Can You Learn SQL? Generally speaking, SQL is an easy language to learn. If you understand programming and already know some other languages, you can learn SQL in a few weeks. If you're a beginner, completely new to programming, it can take longer.

Is studying SQL worth it? ›

Is Learning SQL Worth It? Yes, SQL is worth learning because it's not only simple to learn, but it also continues to be a highly in-demand skill. Besides, a career in SQL is quite lucrative, so any investment of money or time you make today to learn SQL would be well worth it.

Is SQL an adequate language? ›

It's easy to master, efficient, and widely applicable across many industries. If you're hoping to become an expert in data management or data analysis, SQL should be at the top of your skill list. Not only is it a unique programming language to learn, but there are limitless creations to be made with SQL.

How long does it take to learn SQL? ›

How Long Does it Take to Learn SQL? Because SQL is a relatively simple language, learners can expect to become familiar with the basics within two to three weeks. That said, if you're planning on using SQL skills at work, you'll probably need a higher level of fluency.

Is SQL easier than Python? ›

SQL is easier than Python, in broad terms, since it has a shorter learning curve. However, for complex data workflows, limiting yourself solely to SQL over Python can make some executions more difficult. SQL is easier if all you need are JOIN, subquery, and aggregate functions.

Can I learn SQL in a week? ›

Everyone's different, but learning basic SQL statements can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. It can take months to master them, but once you understand the concepts behind statements like INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE, you'll be very well placed to use those statements in the real world.

Why is SQL so hard to understand? ›

Moreover, SQL is a language that you can perfect with memory and some practice, unlike C, C++, Java, and so on. They have their classes, functions, loops, and other numerous complexities, whose variables can and do lead to confusion and a tough learning curve.

Is SQL enough to get a job? ›

If you're looking for your first job in data, it turns out knowing SQL is even more critical. For data analyst roles, SQL is again the most in-demand skill, listed in a whopping 61% of job posts. For data analyst roles on Indeed, SQL appears as follows: 1.7 times more than Python.

Is SQL still relevant 2022? ›

With the unpredictable times that the world has faced during COVID-19, one predictable thing is that learning SQL is a big yes for 2022. SQL has been there for more than three to four decades. It is still in demand and will not go away soon as it is a powerful tool for various sectors of industry.

Should I learn Python or SQL first? ›

Typically, SQL is a good programming language to learn first. As a tool, SQL is essential for retrieving content from relational databases. Compared to Python, SQL may be easier for some people to learn.

Is SQL better than Excel? ›

SQL has better data integrity than Excel. Each cell in SQL is limited to only one piece of information—such as day of the week or month. Extrapolating data this way might be a hassle, but it significantly reduces the chance of miscalculations and data errors.

Why is SQL so useful? ›

A regional database organizes data into tables, like an excel spreadsheet. SQL works by understanding and analyzing data of virtually any size, from small datasets to large stacks. It's a very powerful tool that enables you to perform many functions at high efficiency and speed.

Is SQL a good language to start with? ›

And one more thing: SQL is a great first step towards other more complex languages (Python, R, JavaScript, etc). When you understand how a computer thinks, it's much easier to learn the structure of a new programming language.

Do software engineers use SQL? ›

If you're considering a career as a software engineer, chances are you'll be using SQL for many projects. SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a standard database programming language which can be used to retrieve, manipulate, maintain, store, and create relational databases.

Does SQL require math? ›

You do need some basic math to use SQL. You'll need to know about “less than”, “greater than”, and “equal to” signs – although you can get a quick refresher online if you need to. You'll be using SQL to add, subtract, divide, and multiply.

How can I be perfect in SQL? ›

7 Tips for How to Finally Get Good at (and Master) SQL
  1. Document Your SQL Learning Experience. Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. ...
  2. Produce Reports using SQL for your business. ...
  3. Share Your SQL Knowledge with Others. ...
  4. Volunteer or Freelance on an SQL or Database Project. ...
  5. Learn SQL Early in Your Career.
1 Aug 2020

Can you learn SQL in a month? ›

It should take an average learner about two to three weeks to master the basic concepts of SQL and start working with SQL databases. But in order to start using them effectively in real-world scenarios, you'll need to become quite fluent; and that takes time.

Can I learn SQL in a day? ›

First, you'll learn how to extract data from one table. Later, you'll discover how to work with more than one table and group query results. All of this you can immediately apply in your everyday work (if you work with data, that is). The SQL Basics course should take you a maximum of 10 hours to complete.

Is SQL enough for data science? ›

1. A Data Scientist needs SQL to handle structured data. As the structured data is stored in relational databases. Therefore, to query these databases, a data scientist must have a good knowledge of SQL commands.

Will SQL ever be replaced? ›

SQL will not be replaced for a long time, as it has a number of key benefits: It is very popular among data professionals. Leading tech companies rely on relational databases and SQL. Professionals working with data are used to SQL; it's quite challenging to re-train the workforce to use another tool.

What should I know before learning SQL? ›

What to Know Before You Begin
  • SQL and relational databases. Many organizations use a relational database to store and process large amounts of data. ...
  • Different SQL dialects. ...
  • Become familiar with basic SQL syntax. ...
  • Take an online SQL course. ...
  • Start practicing with real data. ...
  • Prepare for a job that requires SQL.

What is required to learn SQL? ›

There are no prerequisites to learn SQL and it is easier to learn. It's a query language with English like language. So, anyone who can use English at a basic level can learn and write SQL queries easily. The good thing is that most Database engines are compatible with the SQL code.

What is the best place to learn SQL? ›

Choosing a Good SQL Learning Platform
  1. From the start, you know that you are in the right place to learn SQL: the website is focused exclusively on the SQL language. ...
  2. DataCamp. This learning platform includes more than SQL, covering data science in general. ...
  3. Dataquest. ...
  4. Pluralsight. ...
  5. SQLZOO.
18 Jan 2022

Should you learn SQL or Excel first? ›

If you're not sure, I recommend trying SQL first so you see how easy working with a true relational database is. Start with the SQL Basics course. Excel is useful for many other things, but data synthesis can be done in a much better way on a relational DBMS.

What is the hardest programming language to learn? ›

  • Python. ...
  • Java. ...
  • Ruby. ...
  • C++ ...
  • Haskell. ...
  • LISP. ...
  • Prolog. ...
  • Malbolge. Malbolge is by far the hardest programming language to learn which can be concluded from the fact that it took no less than two years to finish writing the first Malbolge code.
29 Apr 2022

What is the salary of a SQL developer? ›

An entry-level SQL developer can expect a salary of about Rs. 289,520 per annum.

Is SQL still in-demand? ›

Demand for SQL Skills is High, and Growing

Despite its age, SQL is far from a legacy skill. As data engineering has advanced into the cloud, so SQL has followed, and, according to Dataquest, SQL was the most in-demand skill among all jobs in data in 2021, especially at the more junior end of the spectrum.

Where is SQL used in real life? ›

SQL is used in everyday life by some of the biggest companies like Netflix, Linkedin, Amazon, Flipkart, Instagram. Uber for data analysis and performance analysis. Even small companies and startups employ SQL for similar purposes. SQL is a great tool for interacting with databases and fetching vital data.

How do you put SQL skills on a resume? ›

Resume example 1: Entry-level SQL Developer
  1. Excellent understanding of database principles, structures, theories and practices.
  2. Strong SQL development skills.
  3. Ability to develop applications.
  4. Great communication skills.
  5. Excellent analytical and problem-solving skills.

Should I learn SQL or MySQL? ›

Microsoft SQL Server might be preferred for large enterprise use cases where it needs to support 10,000 users at a time. But MySQL is still going to be preferred for most web applications because it's lightweight, easy to use, and (importantly) entirely free to license.

How many companies use SQL? ›

1166 companies reportedly use Microsoft SQL Server in their tech stacks, including Accenture, Microsoft, and Hepsiburada.

Can you use SQL in Excel? ›

Open an SQL connection to an Excel file

Before running an SQL query, you have to open a connection with the Excel file you want to access. To establish the connection, create a new variable named %Excel_File_Path% and initialize it with the Excel file path.

What should I do after SQL? ›

Let's explore some of the top jobs for applicants with SQL skills.
  1. Business Analyst. ...
  2. Data Scientist. ...
  3. Software Engineer. ...
  4. Database Administrator. ...
  5. Quality Assurance Tester. ...
  6. Researcher / Educator. ...
  7. Journalist.
5 Nov 2021

Can I get job after learning Python and SQL? ›

You can start working on freelance projects. There are many websites available for you like Upwork, Fiverr, PeoplePerHour, and many more. This website has many clients that need good python developers for their projects. You can earn some easy money and good clients through these websites.

Which is the 1st programming language? ›

Computer Programming History: FORTRAN was the first computer programming language that was widely used. A Brief History of Computer Programming Languages: Computer code is the foundation of computers, enabling them to do the tasks humans need them to do.

Is Python a SQL? ›

The significant difference between SQL and Python is that SQL is used to access and extract data from a database. At the same time, Python is used to analyse and manipulate data by using regression tests, time-series tests, and other computations.

Where is SQL language used? ›

SQL is used to communicate with a database. According to ANSI (American National Standards Institute), it is the standard language for relational database management systems. SQL statements are used to perform tasks such as update data on a database, or retrieve data from a database.

Is SQL for free? ›

Oracle SQL Developer is a free, integrated development environment that simplifies the development and management of Oracle Database in both traditional and Cloud deployments.

Is SQL a skill? ›

With so many companies relying on big data analytics to drive their direction, SQL experience is one of the most in-demand career skills.

Do all companies use SQL? ›

SQL is a standard language used by mobile applications and organizations for data management and administration. Almost every big organization uses it to record employee data and confidential company information. Their database administrator uses SQL to update and add information to their online database.

How can I practice SQL? ›

  1. 4 steps to start practicing SQL at home. Download MySQL and do it yourself. ...
  2. Download the software. Your first task is to download database software. ...
  3. Create your first database and data table. Great — we now have the software we need to get started. ...
  4. Get your hands on some data. ...
  5. Get curious.
19 Nov 2020

What language works best with SQL? ›

Just like Java, C# is a popular programming language with specific use applications—namely, building websites and Windows applications. Also, like Java, there are plenty of instances in which you might want to use SQL with C#, making the pairing a strong choice for students of SQL!

How can I make money from SQL? ›

How to Make Money Through Freelance SQL Jobs
  1. Work as an Independent SQL Freelancer. The first type of SQL freelancer you can be is a free freelancer. ...
  2. Work as an SQL Consultant. Another type of independent SQL freelancer is the consultant. ...
  3. Work for an SQL Agency. ...
  4. Get SQL Jobs on Talent Sites.
9 Sept 2020

Should front end developer know SQL? ›

No. SQL is not required for frontend development. It's a database language used by backend developers to manipulate and controls the database. If you intend to solely focus on frontend development then there's no need to learn SQL.

What should a junior SQL developer know? ›

Junior Devs, Don't Avoid Learning SQL, You Will Need It
  • Creating a table.
  • Creating relations between tables with foreign keys.
  • Creating indexes.
  • Selecting columns and filtering rows.
  • Joining data from multiple tables.
  • Sorting and limiting.
  • Basics of data model design.
22 Sept 2020

What kind of programming language is SQL? ›

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a standardized programming language that is used to manage relational databases and perform various operations on the data in them.

Is SQL a high level programming language? ›

SQL is a high level language that is easy to learn and use, which makes implementation go quickly. SQL Procedural Language (SQL PL) elements allow for control-flow logic around SQL operations and queries.

Where do you put SQL on a resume? ›

SQL skills should be listed in the skills section of your resume. If the job you are seeking desires SQL skills specifically, then you may highlight it in the summary section as well as listing it in the skills section. Including the years of experience you have is also recommended.

Is SQL a programming language resume? ›

Once again, it is SQL that's proving the most called-for programming language in 2017, showing up in nearly 50,000 more Indeed job descriptions than last year.

What are SQL skills? ›

What are SQL skills? SQL skills help data experts maintain, create and retrieve information from relational databases, which separate data into columns and rows. It also allows them to access, update, manipulate, insert and modify data efficiently.

What language is SQL most like? ›

Learning Python

Python is one of the world's most popular programming languages and for good reason. It's a powerful language with clear, simple syntax. It's written very much like everyday English, even more so than SQL.

How is SQL different from other programming languages? ›

SQL is considered a fourth-generation language (4GL), whereas Java and C++ are third-generation languages (3GLs). Instead of being a programming language for building websites, apps, or software, SQL is a language that enables storing, retrieving, and manipulating data in databases.

Do I need to learn C before SQL? ›

No it is not necessary you can learn any programming languages before learning C language. You can start learning with object oriented programming languages like java/C++.

Does SQL require coding? ›

SQL is easy to learn

Because SQL query syntax relies on common English words, even if you have no programming experience you can easily understand how to use it. But it may take somewhat longer to become proficient than if you had come in with some programming experience.

Should I learn SQL or python? ›

When to use SQL vs. Python. Python and SQL can perform some overlapping functions, but developers typically use SQL when working directly with databases and use Python for more general programming applications. Choosing which language to use depends on the query you need to complete.

Is SQL a technical skill? ›

Because of its data analysis capabilities for companies in a wide range of fields, SQL is a high-demand technical skill.

How do I prove I know SQL? ›

If you really wanted to demonstrate to someone that you understand SQL then you build build or make something, and then slightly exaggerate about it on a resume. I.e. Build a web service that logs the IP of someone visiting a page to a SQL database and sends an email with the details of that IP.

How do I become proficient in SQL? ›

The best way to become proficient in structured query language (SQL) is to take a training course or coding boot camp. There are also professional certifications available that can demonstrate your proficiency in the language.

Are SQL skills in demand? ›

SQL is listed as the most in-demand skill in the skill set for Data Analyst roles as data analysis involves working with a humongous amount of data and performing manipulation on it.

How much can you make learning SQL? ›

SQL developers are paid well – In 2020, Glassdoor listed the average pay for a SQL developer as $81,000, steeper than many other salary packages being offered in the tech industry. And the more experience you have, the more you can expect to get paid.


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