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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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  • ...try Stephane Faroult's The Art of SQL []. I've read both that and his "Refactoring SQL Applications"; I think I got a little more out of the former.

    But anyhow, in both books he has a distinct and lively writing style and includes lots of anecdotes. His style kind of reminds me of Betrand Meyer... for those who have read Meyer's 1000 page tome "Object Oriented Software Construction".

  • Nutshell books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gambit3 ( 463693 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:17PM (#28171879) Homepage Journal

    while the "Nutshell" books make great gifts for someone somewhat experienced in a topic, it needs to be pointed out that they're not necessarily the best option for a beginner.

  • by WebmasterNeal ( 1163683 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:38PM (#28172231) Homepage
    I've always thought the books I see in people's offices are just trophies they're showing off stating "I know this language" or "I know that topic". I've actually never seen a co-worker use one of the books either. I agree with some of the other posters, that it's just easier to search Google for something.
  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @03:48PM (#28172375) Homepage Journal

    There are a gazillion programming languages, with new ones added every day. C, C++, Java, C#, Objective C, Pascal, Modula 3, Ada, Ocaml, Haskell, Lisp, Scheme, Python, Ruby, Perl, Lua, Javascript, etc. There's even a choice of shell scripts: sh, csh, bash, ksh, zsh, etc.

    But only one SQL. I'm sure there are some other database query languages, but they are so obscure that no one but the longbeards have ever heard of them. Why is that? Why are there no alternatives to SQL? Not just minor variants, but actual alternatives.

  • SQL is just a TLA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:46PM (#28173321)

    Actually according to both the ANSI and ISO stds, SQL has no translation from the acronym. Now before flames start, please read the standards. A friend of mine has been an active member of the ANSI committee since the early '90's, and I have presented proposals to the committee.

  • by Rary ( 566291 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:09PM (#28173709)

    I have a large library of technical books, but I also use Google as my primary reference source. The reasons I continue to buy books are:

    1. I read them on the bus to and from work.
    2. Occasionally I can find something quicker in a book that I'm familiar with which is focused on a single topic, whereas Google is generic and often full of useless crap.
    3. I get my books paid for by the company I work for, and they make nice trophies. ;)
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:34PM (#28174149)

    Creating a new query language is *hard*.

    No more so than creating any other new programming language; most functional programming languages (and plenty of not-particularly-functional programming languages that have functionally-inspired features) have querying constructs roughly comparable to those in SQL or other dedicated query languages (and often clearer, more straightforward, and more expressive than SQL.)

    What's hard to build is efficient storage engines and query optimizers, not query languages, but once those are built, the language you express the queries in shouldn't matter much as long as the what is expressible is the same.

    The really hard part though is finding a market for a new dedicated query language; a big selling point of a dedicated query language is because it will be generally familiar for most users regardless of what prior products from a large set the user has used, and anything that isn't SQL, whatever it might have going for it, is going to lack that advantage as a query language.

  • by TCM ( 130219 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @05:37PM (#28174185)

    There's even a choice of shell scripts: sh, csh, bash, ksh, zsh, etc.


    You use different shells for different interactive properties. Scripts should be written for #!/bin/sh. And yes, that's /bin/sh to you, no /bin/sh == /bin/bash perversion.

  • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @06:04PM (#28174575)

    If it were, there would not need to be vendor-specific examples in every SQL book.

    Why can't people just implement standard ANSI SQL and be done with it?

    I am really tired of vendors (MySQL) and their non-standard SQL. I want my JDBC applications to just work and not have special-case code for each database.

  • by computational super ( 740265 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @06:05PM (#28174577)

    Not only that, but books are good for things that you wouldn't think to Google. I noticed recently that a coworker did this (slightly simplified to illustrate the point):

    public void doSomethingOrOther( int[] a )
    int b[] = new int[ a.length ];
    for ( int i = 0; i < a.length; i++ )
    b[i] = a[i];

    I pointed him to "System.arraycopy" which is quite a bit faster and does the same thing on a single line of code. This just isn't something you'd find out about unless (a) you read a book or (b) had a coworker who read a book. (Well, I guess if you read all the online javadoc line-by-line, you'd discover this, too...)

  • No DB2? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by metamatic ( 202216 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @06:31PM (#28174939) Homepage Journal

    The book states that the dropped platforms were the least popular of those in earlier editions.

    Last I checked, IBM DB2 had the biggest market share of any SQL database. (Link to 2003 Gartner Study [], and I don't think the situation has changed much.)

    So do DB2 users just not buy books like SQL In A Nutshell? Or have O'Reilly made a serious mistake here?

    From my point of view it looks like a mistake, as I'm only interested in PostgreSQL and DB2... but then again, I work for IBM, so maybe I'm a special case?

    [Opinions mine, not IBM's.]

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10