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Learning SQL

Alan Beaulieu
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
306 pages
£ 24.95
Published: 26th August 2005
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall
   in the March 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

I have to confess to being sufficiently old that I have never been on a database course. They weren't invented when I was a student, at least not the whole Ted Codd stuff and third normal forms and relational algebras etc. etc. I suspect there are quite a few readers of this journal who also fall into this category. My point is, of course, that I have never officially learned SQL. (And I pronounce it S. Q. L. -- probably because I have never been on a database course). Oh, I can rub along in it and mostly get what I want out of MySQL, or at least, get back the stuff I put in. But I can't say that I am entirely conversant with the minutiae of the language, nor indeed some of the big stuff (what is the opposite of minutiae?), particularly since I mostly use systems that don't implement all the language or do it in a non-standard way. What I am getting at, the veritable bottom line, the embarrassing confession, is that I just don't understand joins. I do simple but ones but I really don't get the model at all. So I jumped on this book, turned straightaway to the chapter on joins and read it carefully through. it's got lots of examples and takes it easy, but, no, I still don't understand the more outré joins. My bad I think -- I've never been one for joining things, I was never a scout, though my great-uncle George was a joiner.

I didn't let my immunity to joining stop me though and I have to say that I learned loads of really good stuff about SQL that I never knew was there. I'm going through all my database code replacing the clunky things I used to do with shiny new methods. I've learned about unions and case statements. Sub-queries I'm still having trouble with: there is a certain joininess about them that gets in the way, but I am starting to see some light.

So a good book for all you oldies who didn't know about first and second normal form, let alone third. I'm not sure how useful this would be to someone who actually had been taught about SQL and databases though -- it might be a good refresher. I did mention above that there were lots of examples, and there are, but I have to confess to finding them a little tedious: all of them are based around a banking example and I just got bored with the whole scenario. But that's my only quibble -- I am still dipping in and still learning. Though not about joins.

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