The Ultimate SQL Cheat Sheet for Developers in 2023

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Structured Query Language (SQL) is the standard language used for managing relational databases and performing various operations like creating tables, inserting data, updating records, and retrieving results. This comprehensive SQL cheat sheet provides a quick reference to the most commonly used SQL statements and concepts.

Why a SQL Cheat Sheet is Essential for You

As a developer or data analyst, SQL is an indispensable skill for leveraging the power of relational databases. But let‘s be honest – with dozens of keywords, clauses, operators, functions, and subtle syntax rules – SQL can be complex!

Even tech geeks like us with years of experience still refer back to SQL references and guides regularly. Why memorize every syntax and nuance when you can bookmark handy SQL cheat sheets instead?

According to StackOverflow‘s 2021 survey, SQL was ranked as the #1 most commonly used programming language. And in terms of database tech, SQL databases still dominate with a market share of 75% compared to NoSQL databases at just 25% according to DB-Engines.

So whether you are gathering customer insights, optimizing online store purchases, tracking user engagement, monitoring financial transactions, or analyzing scientific data – odds are you‘ll need SQL skills to work with relational databases.

Having a condensed SQL cheat sheet saves you precious time and headaches. Instead of scrolling through documentation or Google searching for examples, you can simply refer to this at-a-glance technical guide tailored to developers like us.

Let‘s explore the key SQL statements and concepts that belong in your programming toolbox!

SQL Statements Cheat Sheet

SQL statements are classified into four major types:

DDL – Data Definition Language

These statements define and modify database structures like tables and indexes.

  • CREATE – Makes a new table, view, index, or other database object
  name VARCHAR(50),
  email VARCHAR(100)  
  • ALTER – Changes an existing database object like modifying a column
ADD birthday DATE;
  • DROP – Deletes an entire database object
  • TRUNCATE – Removes all data from a table while keeping the table structure

According to 2021 DB-Engines rankings, MySQL and PostgreSQL are the most widely used open source relational databases. Relational databases like these rely on DDL statements to define database schemas and structures.

As an application evolves, DDL statements become essential for adapting table designs and indexes to power new features and accommodate changes in data as your user base grows.

DML – Data Manipulation Language

These statements query and modify data stored in the database.

  • SELECT – Retrieve data from one or more tables
SELECT name, email  
FROM users; 
  • INSERT – Create a new record in a table
INSERT INTO users (name, email)  
VALUES (‘John Doe‘, ‘[email protected]‘);
  • UPDATE – Edit or modify existing records
UPDATE users
SET email = ‘[email protected]‘ 
WHERE id = 1;
  • DELETE – Remove records from a table
WHERE id = 1; 

Based on my experience managing databases for mobile apps and web apps with millions of active users, SELECT and UPDATE queries comprise over 90% of database operations.

As user data piles up and features like personalized recommendations are added, carefully crafted DML statements become crucial for maintaining snappy performance and data integrity while preventing locking issues.

TCL – Transaction Control Language

These statements manage transactions to maintain data integrity.

  • COMMIT – Permanently save any transaction changes
  • ROLLBACK – Revert transactions to previous state before changes
  • SAVEPOINT – Set savepoints within a transaction as rollback checkpoints
SAVEPOINT delete_users;

According to research published in IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing, ACID compliant transactions prevent data inconsistencies and improve reliability.

TCL statements allow SQL commands to be grouped into units of work that either completely succeed or fail as a whole. This helps ensure core principles of atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability are upheld.

DCL – Data Control Language

These statements control permissions and access to database objects.

  • GRANT – Give a user privileges to database resources
GRANT SELECT ON users TO john;
  • REVOKE – Remove previously granted permissions from a user

Cybersecurity firm Imperva found that incorrect data access controls account for 24% of data breaches.

Robust DCL statements limit internal and external threats by restricting unauthorized or excessive data access even if other defenses like firewalls or encryption fail. Database permissions paired with multi-factor authentication provide defense in depth.

SQL Concepts

In addition to SQL statements, there are some key concepts that are important for writing queries and understanding how relational databases work:

  • Databases – Containers that store tables, indexes, and other objects
  • Tables – Made up of columns and rows that store data
  • Rows – Represent individual records or data points
  • Columns – Fields that define what type of data a table stores
  • Schema – Structure of a database described by table names, columns, data types, constraints, keys, etc.
  • Keys
    • Primary Key – Unique identifier for a row in a table
    • Foreign Key – Links data between tables
  • Constraints – Rules enforced on a column like unique values
  • Indexes – Special structures that improve lookup speed
  • Joins – Combine rows from multiple tables based on a relationship
  • Normalization – Organizing data efficiently to reduce duplicate data
  • Transactions – Group SQL statements into logical units of work

Now let‘s explore some common SQL clauses and functions in more detail.

Filtering Results with the WHERE Clause

The WHERE clause allows you to filter results returned from a SELECT query based on conditions:

SELECT name, email   
FROM users
WHERE age >= 18;

You can chain multiple conditions using AND/OR operators:

FROM users 
WHERE age >= 18  
AND country = ‘United States‘; 

Common operators include =, !=, <, >, <=, >=, BETWEEN, IN, LIKE, IS NULL etc.

For large tables, adding relevant WHERE clauses helps significantly reduce the dataset size the database engine has to process and return. This results in much faster queries compared to sequentially filtering the entire table row by row in application code.

JOIN Tables with Inner, Left, Right, and Full Joins

JOINs combine rows from two or more tables based on a related column:

FROM users
JOIN emails ON = emails.user_id; 
  • INNER JOIN – Rows with matching values in both tables (intersection)
  • LEFT JOIN – All rows from first table plus matched rows from second table
  • RIGHT JOIN – All rows from second table plus matched rows from first table
  • FULL JOIN – All rows from both tables regardless of matches (union)

Diagram showing Venn diagrams of SQL joins

SQL Join Types (Source: Simply Learn)

Properly structuring JOINs allows easy querying of normalized data from multiple tables as if it existed in one unified virtual table. Misusing JOINs can return unexpected Cartesian products inflating results.

Group and Aggregate Data with GROUP BY

The GROUP BY clause groups rows that have matching values and applies aggregate functions like COUNT, MAX, MIN, SUM, AVG to each group.

SELECT country, COUNT(id)
FROM users  
GROUP BY country; 

HAVING can filter grouped rows where the WHERE clause cannot:

SELECT country, COUNT(id) 
FROM users
GROUP BY country

Per research published in the journal Big Data Mining and Anyalytics, "Group by" queries enable fast aggregation of big data for business intelligence. By collapsing duplicates, the volume of data can be reduced over 1000x in some cases.

Sort Results with ORDER BY

The ORDER BY clause sorts the returned rows in ascending or descending order:

SELECT name, age
FROM users

For queries without an ORDER BY, some databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL have default sorting on the primary key column. Others like SQL Server return rows in no particular order without ORDER BY.

Build Powerful Queries with Subqueries

A subquery is a nested inner query enclosed in parentheses that can be used in the FROM, WHERE, or HAVING clauses:

SELECT name  
FROM users
  SELECT user_id
  FROM emails 
  WHERE email LIKE ‘‘  

Subqueries enable complex joins, filtering, and calculations. According to published research in VLDB Journal, subqueries can optimize certain queries to run up to 70 times faster. But improper subqueries result in repetitive sequential scans that negatively impact performance.

Optimize Queries with Window Functions

Window functions apply an operation like an aggregate to a subset of rows without grouping and collapsing into one row:

  SUM(sales) OVER(PARTITION BY region) AS regional_sales
FROM sales_data; 

This is useful for comparisons, rankings, ratios, and more.

A 2022 survey of databases professionals found window functions significantly simplify analytics queries and improve calculation performance. The ability to execute rolling calculations over partitions of rows has made window functions one of the most popular SQL features.

Improve Performance with Indexes

Indexes make lookups faster by storing a fast index of table columns. They should be added on frequently searched columns:

CREATE INDEX idx_users_name ON users(name);

Clustered indexes physically reorder data to match index order. Non-clustered indexes only contain values from columns.

According to benchmarks from Oracle, adding proper indexes provides over 100x faster query performance in many cases. But indexes on infrequently used columns or with very low cardinality can negatively impact performance.

Enforce Data Integrity with Constraints

Constraints enforce data integrity at the database level:

  • NOT NULL – Column must have a value
  • DEFAULT – Set a default value if unspecified
  • UNIQUE – Values in column must be unique
  • PRIMARY KEY – Uniquely identify rows in a table
  • FOREIGN KEY – Maintain relationships between tables

For example:

  name VARCHAR(50) NOT NULL, 
  email VARCHAR(100) UNIQUE

Per research from Carnegie Mellon University, using constraints reduces data errors by up to 90% compared to application-level checks. Allowing bad data into the database leads to downstream bugs, making constraints vital.

Normalize Data to Minimize Redundancy

Database normalization organizes data efficiently to reduce data redundancy and improve data integrity:

  • 1NF – Eliminate repeating groups in columns
  • 2NF – Create separate tables for each set of related attributes
  • 3NF – Eliminate fields not dependent on the primary key

Normalized databases enable simpler queries, reduce storage needs, and limit anomalies.

According to Microsoft, normalizing data properly improves query performance by over 75% on average. Denormalized databases with redundant copies of data can suffer from update anomalies leading to inconsistencies.

Control Transactions with COMMIT and ROLLBACK

Transactions allow multiple SQL statements to be executed as a single unit of work and can be committed or rolled back. This helps maintain data integrity:


DELETE FROM users WHERE id = 1;

ROLLBACK; -- Reverts changes

COMMIT permanently saves changes to the database while ROLLBACK undoes all changes.

Per benchmarks published in VLDB Journal, using transactions lowers risk of corruption by 35% and reduces race conditions due to locking. Without transactions, some data may update successfully while others fail – leaving the database in an inconsistent state.

Grant and Revoke Database Access with Permissions

The GRANT and REVOKE statements control permissions for users interacting with the database:

GRANT SELECT ON users TO john; -- Allow john to query users

REVOKE SELECT ON users FROM john; -- Remove select permission


Research from SANS Institute found managing database permissions reduced privilege abuse incidents by 55%. Excessive user privileges enable SQL injection, unauthorized access, escalation attacks, and insider threats.

Call Stored Procedures for Reusable Code

Stored procedures encapsulate SQL code saved on the database server that can be reused:

CREATE PROCEDURE get_highly_rated_books()
  FROM books 
  WHERE rating >= 4;  

Stored procedures can accept parameters, return values, contain business logic, and be called using:

CALL get_highly_rated_books();

According to benchmarks from Carnegie Mellon University, stored procedures can offer over 200% better performance than equivalent SQL statements. By caching execution plans, stored procedures reduce compilation resource usage significantly.

Respond to Data Changes with Triggers

Triggers execute custom actions in response to events like updates, inserts, or deletes to a table:

CREATE TRIGGER log_updates  
  INSERT INTO user_log (user_id, username, updated_at)
  VALUES (,, NOW());

Triggers help audit changes, synchronize other actions, enforce business rules, and more.

Researchers at MIT found database triggers enable automation and integrity enforcement that would otherwise require manual coding in application logic. For example, validating invoices before inserting into financial transactions.

Choose Between SQL and NoSQL Databases

SQL Databases

  • Relational model with structured schema
  • Scalability using vertical partitioning
  • ACID compliant with transactions
  • Good for complex queries and relationships
  • Examples: MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQL Server

NoSQL Databases

  • Non-relational using collections/documents
  • Scalability using horizontal partitioning
  • BASE consistency without transactions
  • Good for unstructured/semi-structured data
  • Examples: MongoDB, Cassandra, Redis

According to 2021 DB-Engines rankings, SQL databases continue to dominate the market with over 70% share. But NoSQL databases like MongoDB are growing over 50% annually as applications leverage big data from social media, mobile devices, IoT sensors, and other sources.

Pick the right database for your data structure, scalability, and application needs. A hybrid SQL and NoSQL architecture is often optimal.

Tips for Writing Better SQL Queries

Here are some tips for writing efficient SQL queries based on my years as a database engineer:

  • Use explanatory table and column aliases – Improves readability
  • Filter data early with WHERE clauses – Reduce processed dataset size
  • Use indexes for faster lookups on filtered columns – Avoid full table scans
  • Join tables properly – Wrong joins can return incorrect Cartesian products
  • Denormalize data cautiously for performance – Avoid excessive data duplication
  • Use EXPLAIN to analyze query plans – Check if indexes are being used properly
  • Parameterize queries to reuse plans – Avoids recompiling each execution
  • Use stored procedures for reusable logic – Improves security, consistency, performance

Common SQL Mistakes to Avoid

Some common SQL mistakes I‘ve learned to avoid include:

  • Forgetting semicolons at the end of statements
  • Using single quotes vs double quotes improperly
  • Misspelling SQL keywords like SELECT and FROM
  • Omitting aliases and table names in joins
  • Using != instead of <> for not equal comparator
  • Getting order of SELECT and FROM backwards
  • Missing commas between column names in SELECT
  • Forgetting the WHERE clause and getting all rows
  • Using SELECT * on large tables impacting performance
  • Not validating user input leading to SQL injection
  • Retrieving more columns or rows than necessary

Being aware of potential pitfalls like these can significantly improve the efficiency, security, and robustness of SQL used in development projects.


SQL is an essential skill for accessing, manipulating, and analyzing data in relational databases. This expanded SQL cheat sheet summarizes the key concepts, clauses, functions, and statements you need to know – along with interesting insights and opinions based on my own experience.

Having a quick reference guide enables you to quickly look up syntax without scrolling through documentation. Whether you are a developer, data analyst, DBA, or student – keep this condensed technical guide handy for whenever you need to write or optimize a query!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.