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SQL in a Nutshell 86

stoolpigeon writes "The cover of SQL in a Nutshell sports a chameleon, the little lizard well known for its ability to blend in just about anywhere. This is a great choice for the Structured Query Language. SQL has been around since the seventies, helping developers interact with the ubiquitous relational database management system. Thirty some years later, SQL grinds away in the background of just about any interactive web site and nameless other technologies. New alternatives are popping up constantly but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that SQL is going to be around for a long time. Anyone interacting with an RDBMS is in all likelihood going to need to use SQL at some point. For those who do, who also want a handy desktop reference, SQL in a Nutshell has been there for the last 9 years. The SQL language itself has not stood still over those years, and neither have the products that use SQL, and so now the book is available in a third edition." Read on for the rest of JR's review.
SQL in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition
author Kevin Kline, Daniel Kline, Brand Hunt
pages 590
publisher O'Reilly Media Inc.
rating 10/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 978-0-596-51884-4
summary Covers the entire ANSI SQL2003 standard as well as how that standard is implemented
It's pretty easy to sum up what SQL in a Nutshell contains. It covers the entire ANSI SQL2003 standard as well as how that standard is implemented in MySQL 5.1, Oracle Database 11g, PostgreSQL 8.2.1 and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. There is a new ANSI standard more recent than the 2003 standard, ANSI SQL2006. This new standard does not change anything covered in the book, but introduced XML and XQuery which are not covered here. The format for conveying all this information mirrors that of the other " a Nutshell" books. There are four sections. The first is a very short (15 pages) history of SQL and the second is a summary of foundational concepts. The vast majority of the book is the third section, "SQL Statement Commands." These commands are given in alphabetical order. There is also a table at the very beginning of the chapter listing every command and showing how it is supported by the four platforms.

Each command is presented by starting with a short summary of what it does. This is followed by a table showing which RDBMS products support the command, the proper syntax for the command, key words, command rules, possible issues that may come up and implementation details and examples for each of the four RDBMS products represented. A couple of the differences between the second and third edition are that two RDBMS products were dropped and there are more examples. The products dropped allowed for there to be more examples while also making the book smaller than earlier editions. Anyone working with Sybase Adaptive Server or DB2 UDB will want to hold onto their second edition copy of this book if they want to have that platform specific content available, because it is not in this third edition.

The book states that the dropped platforms were the least popular of those in earlier editions. For those wondering why their favorite RDBMS is not in the list, that gives the answer. To keep length down the number of specific platforms covered was kept to four. Fortunately the books is still of high value for most readers as most decent RDBMS products will support ANSI SQL standards. On those occasions they do not, the reader would have to look to another resource for help. The length issue is easy to understand when looking at the GRANT statement and seeing that it covers over twenty pages. Most of this space is used to explain the various options available on each platform.

The last section SQL Functions documents all of the standard functions with examples and then contains a list of platform specific extensions, grouped by product. There is not a table showing platform support like there was for SQL statements. This section is much smaller, so it really isn't an issue. The single appendix that follows list standard and platform specific key words.

So who would benefit from SQL in a Nutshell? The most obvious to me is the DBA or developer working across more than one of the four platforms presented, especially if they don't move from one to the other too often. Like an Oracle DBA that needs to go do something in MS SQL Server every so often, or the same type of thing between any of the others. This makes for a quick resource that will sort out forgetting how one or the other does things rather quickly. But even if one isn't moving across multiple platforms, unless the whole standard has been memorized, this is a great help.

The second group I see gaining some real good from this book are those new to working with SQL. I've worked with all four platforms and others not covered in this book and on every single one of them I've hit error messages that were anything but helpful. Being able to go directly to a correct statement of syntax and usage is a real help when the system doesn't want to tell what is really going on. It is important to remember that this is a pure reference book. It is not written with the intent of teaching how to use SQL. That said, it covers the entire standard. Much like a dictionary can be used to increase one's knowledge of a language, reading through this reference can be a good way to learn more about SQL. Many introductory texts aren't going to cover the whole standard or as many platform specific details. The student of SQL would get a real jump by working through this book. It is compact enough that while it wouldn't be a thrilling read, it is completely doable.

Who wont like it? Probably anyone who doesn't like any of the other nutshell books from O'Reilly. This book is pretty much exactly like my Unix in a Nutshell, Linux in a Nutshell and MySQL in a Nutshell books. If the format and approach bothers you, don't look for any radical departure that will make it more palatable here. If you are like me and already know you like the format, then this is pretty much a sure thing. For the vast majority of us that work in the database world, this is the reference. I say this keeping in mind the scope of the book. Is this everything one needs to know about SQL? Obviously not. There is much more to be said about SQL as evidenced by all the words that have been said and are out there in print. But when one wants to know quickly about SQL statements and functions, I can't think of a better resource.

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SQL in a Nutshell

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  • If only... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:12PM (#28171765) Journal
    Oracle Documention wasn't as dry as a desert. I like O'Reilly because he's not afraid to converse like a regular human being in his books. I feel like I'm being taught something rather then being shown how to do it. Would I go out and by this book? If I used SQL - definately.
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:57PM (#28172529)

    both XQuery and XPath 2.0 are used in the "real world". Unidata Query Language is used in many enterprises, I worked at a manufacturing plant where the MRP system used Unidata as back end.

    so quit yer bellyachin'

  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:18PM (#28172867)

    It's mainly because SQL was the first (only? someone correct me) language to implement Codd's relational model, via the tuple calculus. The relational model is of course the basis for relational databases, so the idea was SQL would be provably correct in its representation of the relational model. There is a document called The Third Manifesto that details why this is not the case, and makes some suggestions for the way forward, but I don't remember much else about it.

  • by hey hey hey ( 659173 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @06:28PM (#28174913)
    It's mainly because SQL was the first (only? someone correct me) language to implement Codd's relational model, via the tuple calculus.

    Hardly. Quel [] predates SQL, and was superior in almost every way. However, SQL had IBM behind it, and Quel just had UC Berkeley (guess who won that battle).

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @07:39PM (#28175649) Homepage Journal

    But only one SQL.

    I know for a fact that isn't true. I work with SAP, which uses a slightly odd dialect/subset of it.

  • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @01:06AM (#28177903) Homepage

    Typically the on-line reference manuals you'll find show how SQL works on one particular platform. The main value of the "SQL In a Nutshell" books has always been the way you can easily compare what's available on multiple database platforms. You will need to be aware of that sort of thing if you want to support more than one database in your code. And even if you're using some middleware to abstract that away, knowing which features work well and badly on various platforms can guide how you should implement things. A good example here is the messy state of building paginated queries with LIMIT/OFFSET/ROWNUM.

    As there is far less variation between, say, Python on various platforms than SQL, this title is somewhat special in that way; I agree that some of the other nutshell books are less relevant nowadays than they used to be. Even when they are the best choice, the printed version isn't necessarily what you want either. Most of my nutshell reading has been through their Safari service lately, rather than the printed books.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears