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The single biggest challenge to learning SQL programming is unlearning procedural programming.—Joe Celko
SQL is the lingua franca of the database world. Most modern DBMSs use some type of SQL dialect as their primary query language, including SQL Server. You can use SQL to create or destroy objects on the database server such as tables and to do things with those objects, such as put data into them or query them for that data. No single vendor owns SQL, and each is free to tailor the language to better satisfy its own customer base. Despite this latitude, there is a multilateral agreement against which each implementation is measured. It's commonly referred to as the ANSI /ISO SQL standard and is governed by the National Committee on Information Technology Standards (NCITS H2). This standard is actually several standards—each named after the year in which it was adopted. Each standard builds on the ones before it, introducing new features, refining language syntax, and so on. The 1992 version of the standard—commonly referred to as SQL-92—is probably the most popular of these and is definitely the most widely adopted by DBMS vendors. As with other languages, vendor implementations of SQL are rated according to their level of compliance with the ANSI/ISO standard. Most vendors are compliant with at least the entry-level SQL-92 specification, though some go further.
Transact-SQL is Microsoft SQL Server's implementation of the language. It is largely SQL-92 compliant, so if you're familiar with another vendor's flavor of SQL, you'll probably feel right at home with Transact-SQL. Since helping you to become fluent in Transact-SQL is the primary focus of this book and an important step in becoming a skilled SQL Server practitioner, it's instructive to begin with a brief tour of language fundamentals.
Much of the difficulty typically associated with learning SQL is due to the way it's presented in books and courseware. Frequently, the would-be SQL practitioner is forced to run a gauntlet of syntax sinkholes and query quicksand while lugging a ten-volume set on database design and performance and tuning on her back. It's easy to get disoriented in such a situation, to become inundated with nonessential information—to get bogged down in the details. Add to this the obligatory dose of relational database theory, and the SQL neophyte is ready to leave summer camp early.
As with the rest of this book, this chapter attempts to keep things simple. It takes you through the process of creating tables, adding data to them, and querying those tables, one step at a time. This chapter focuses exclusively on the practical details of getting real work done with SQL—it illuminates the bare necessities of Transact-SQL as quickly and as concisely as possible.
In this chapter, I assume you have little or no prior knowledge of Transact-SQL.If you already have a basic working knowledge of the language, you can safelyskip to the next chapter.
Like most computer languages, Transact-SQL is best learned by experience. The view from the trenches is usually better than the one from the tower.
Choosing a SQL Editor
The first step on the road to Transact-SQL fluency is to pick a SQL entry and editing tool. You'll use this facility to enter SQL commands, execute them, and view their results. The tool you pick will be your constant companion throughout the rest of this book, so choose wisely.
The Query Analyzer tool that's included with SQL Server is a respectable SQL entry facility. It's certainly capable of allowing you to work through the examples in this book. Those familiar with previous versions of SQL Server will remember this tool as ISQL / W. The new version resembles its predecessor in many ways but sports a slightly more modern interface. The name change reflects the fact that the new version is more than a mere SQL entry facility. In addition to basic query entry and execution facilities, it provides a wealth of analysis and tuning info (see Chapter 16, "Transact-SQL Performance Tuning," for more information).
The first order of business when you start Query Analyzer is to connect to the server, so make sure your server is running. Enter your username and password when prompted (if your server is newly installed, username sa defaults to an empty password) and select your server name. If Query Analyzer and SQL Server are running on the same machine, you can use "." (a period—with no quotes) or (local) (don't forget the parentheses) for the server name. The user interface of the tool is self-explanatory: You key T-SQL queries into the top pane of the window and view results in the bottom one.
The databases currently defined on your server are displayed in a combo-box on each window's toolbar. You can select one from the list to make it the active database for the queries you run in that window. Pressing Ctrl-E, F5, or Alt-X runs your query, while Ctrl-F5 checks it for syntax errors.
If you execute a query while a selection is active in the edit window, Query Analyzer will execute the selection rather than the entire query. This is handy for executing queries in steps and for quickly executing another command without opening a new window.
One of the features sorely missed in Query Analyzer is the Alt-F1 object help facility. In ISQL/ W, you could select an object name in the edit window and press Alt-F1 to get help on it. For tables and views, this presented an abbreviated sp_help report. It was quite handy and saved many a trip to a new query window merely to list an object's columns.
If you're a command-line devotee, you may prefer the OSQL utility to Query Analyzer. OSQL is an ODBC-based command-line utility that ships with SQL Server. Like Query Analyzer, OSQL can be used to enter Transact-SQL statements and stored procedures to execute. Once you've entered a query, hit return to drop to a new line, then type GO and hit return again to run it (GO must be leftmost on the line). To exit OSQL, type EXIT and hit return.
OSQL has a wealth of command-line and runtime options that are too lengthy to go into here. See the SQL Books Online for more info.
A third option is to use the Sequin SQL editor included on the CD with this book. Sequin sports many of Query Analyzer's facilities without abandoning the worthwhile features of its predecessors. It has the advantage of being able to query any server or DBMS for which an ODBC provider exists. This means, for example, that you can query Access, Oracle, and SQL Server using just one tool.
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