Chapter 53 – Style


You are reading a digital copy of SQL-99 Complete, Really, a book that documents the SQL-99 standard.

The book and the standard does not reflect the features of CrateDB, we are just publishing it as a service for the community and for reference purposes.

On the one hand, CrateDB does not implement the SQL-99 standard thoroughly, on the other hand, it extends the standard for implementing cluster features and others.

For more information specific to CrateDB, check out the CrateDB Reference documentation.

Here is one SQL operation, written in two contrasting styles. Notice the different names, spacing, indentation and choice of optional keywords:




SELECT   package_id, special_handling_code, buy_date
FROM     Packages
WHERE    package_id > 1.0
ORDER BY package_id;

Casual style is better for notes, examples, blackboard discussions and prototypes. We use it in this book whenever we enclose an SQL statement in an illustrative sentence, as when we say that SELECT * FROM T WHERE C1>5 ORDER BY 1 ASC is an example of casual style. We don’t wear suits on beaches and we believe that casual style is appropriate for our purposes. On the other hand, a serious program demands some formality. There is one good reason and one bad reason.

  • Appearance – Okay, this is the bad reason. Formal style persuades others, perhaps even yourself, that you used some sort of organization and design.

  • Coherence – You can read statements more easily if you know in advance the shape, order and vocabulary. More time is spent “reading” code than “writing” it, so you will save time by investing time at the start.

Besides, maybe you do wear suits on beaches.

A True Story

There once was a clever DBMS named O_____ (tm). The people who program O_____ were mulling in their tall building in Redwood Shores CA one day. “Sometimes we have to run the same SQL statements twice”, they mulled. “So why should we parse the same statement again when we already know what the Access Plan is from the first time we ran it?” And they came up with a clever plan. They put the first SQL statement in a cache! Then, when the second SQL statement came along, they had a clever way of telling that it was really something they’d done before (maybe with a parameter or two different but that doesn’t affect the story). And they just re-used the same Access Plan and saved oodles of time. They even used this clever plan for Views. Which was great. Except that their way of comparing the new SQL statement with the cached SQL statement was, well, simple. What they did was: they compared every byte in the cached statement with every byte in the new statement. That’s it. No lower-to-upper conversions, no lead-space trimming, nothing but a REP CMPSB (that’s strcmp to you C fans).

What happened next? Well, in all the good-doobie programming shops, where everybody wrote every detail according to the same style rules … why, the programs ran faster. But in all the other programming shops, where freedom and creativity ruled, nothing happened.

The moral of the story is: choose a common style, then stick to your style.

Table of Contents


To get the rules of good SQL style for you, we culled them from actual rules of large programmer shops, or by just looking at what rules are implicit in code written by experts (for example, the sample code in vendors’ manuals). Where we had to note inconsistencies – and there are several – we’ve made no attempt to clean them up. Where we are aware of minority views, we’ve reported them. And where we saw opportunities to improve things by adding some new reasonable rule, we didn’t – on the grounds that anything which is really reasonable would already be common practice.

Having said that we are following common practice, we must also say that no single person or organization actually obeys all these prescriptions. About half of the world’s database programmers obey about half of the style rules, sometimes.

We’ve organized the style rules into two general classes: layout rules and naming rules. Within the classes, the rules are in no particular order. The numbers are arbitrary.

Layout Rules

1– Capitals

Write SQL <keyword>s in upper case. Write <Table name>s with an initial capital, small letters after that; when a <Table name> has two parts, use an initial capital for each part. Write <Column name>s in lower case. For example:

    width SMALLINT);
UPDATE Temporary_Personnel SET
    discharge_date = CURRENT_DATE;

Names of other, non-Column, Objects should also have an initial capital. For example:

    ON Widgets
    TO Sandra, Maria;

Exception: If a name is an acronym – e.g.: NATO or SQL or NIST – use all capital letters.

Alternative: Some write everything in lower case – it’s easier to remember. And we’ve seen examples written entirely in upper case – but not recent examples. You should remember that <regular identifiers> are stored in upper case, but it’s been a long time since any DBMS insisted that Object names must be entered in upper case in the first place.

2– Spaces

Put a single space after every SQL – that is, after every <keyword> and after <identifier>s and after operators such as * or + or =. For example:

SELECT width * 5 ...

Exception: There need be no spaces after scalar or set function names, or within parentheses. For example:

SELECT MAX(width) ...

Exception: There should be no space before comma (,) or semicolon (;). There should, however, be a space after the comma. For example:

SELECT width, length ...
... DECIMAL (7, 2) ...

Exception: There should be no space at the end of a line.

Exception: In a qualified name, there should be no space before or after the period (.).

Alternative: Some would omit spaces around comparison operators or arithmetic operators. For example:

... (a=b) OR (b=c) ...

3– Line Breaks

[ Skip this rule if you use SQL/CLI or direct SQL]

There are alternate rules for “when to switch to a new line”, usually called “breaking”. The common rule is to break on every clause-start <keyword>. In a SELECT statement, the clause-start <keyword>s are: SELECT itself, FROM, ON, WHERE, GROUP, HAVING, ORDER; the Boolean operators AND / OR are usually considered to be equivalent to clause-start <keyword>s. Additionally, some prescribe a break after every full expression. For example:

SELECT    width,
          FROM  Widgets,
          WHERE width > 5
          AND   length >= 5
          ORDER BY width;

Others will place multiple items on a line if there aren’t too many to fit. For example:

SELECT   width, length + 5
FROM     Widgets, Foobars
WHERE    width > 5
AND      length >= 5
ORDER BY width;

Notice the indentation at the start of each line – or lack thereof! It is rare to find, say, a SELECT statement starting on Column #1 but all subsequent clauses starting on Column #3. In any case, to accomplish the lined-up effect, one uses spaces rather than tab characters. The indentation seen in the above SELECT statements is to Column position 10 to accommodate ORDER BY; with non-SELECT statements indent is random.

Exception: One group prefers to right-justify the main <keyword>s. For example:

SELECT width, length + 5
    FROM Widgets, Foobars
          WHERE width > 5
          AND length >= 5
          ORDER BY width;

There is a universal rule in all languages: if it’s nested, indent. So further indentation will be necessary for subqueries. For example:

SELECT width, length, width + 10
       FROM  Widgets
       WHERE width <> 7
       AND   length =
          (SELECT expression
                  FROM t);

Notice the position of the ( preceding the word SELECT.

Alternative: Put the ( at the end of the previous line. However, placing a closing ) on the same line as the end of the statement is normal – even though this differs from the way many C programmers use {} braces and differs from the way many Pascal programmers write begin … end blocks.

Alternative: Put the initial <keyword> of a major clause on a line of its own, as is done with WHERE and AND in this example:

SELECT  length
  FROM  widgets
     (rowid = 5)
     (specialty = 'FUN');

Note also the different indentation of the conditional clauses.

Alternative: Put ORed conditions on the same line, but break for AND. For example:

SELECT   length
  FROM   widgets
         (rowid = 5 OR rowid = 6 OR rowid = 7)
     AND width > 1;

Alternative: Add line breaks for each level of a nested function. For example:

   FROM 1 TO 5)
   FROM Books;

Make a new line for UNION. Treat AND NOT as a single operator.

3a– Continuation Lines

When room is unavailable on a line, break if possible at a comma or equal sign or other operator <keyword>. If there are too many <Column name>s to fit in one line, break thus:

SELECT Column_1, Column_2, Column_3, Column_4, Column_5,
       Column_6, Column_7, Column_8, Column_9, Column_10 ...

Alternative: There is a minority view that commas should be shifted. For example:

SELECT Column_1, Column_2, Column_3, Column_4, Column_5
       ,Column_6, Column_7, Column_8, Column_9, Column_10 ...

3b– Indenting CREATEs

In a CREATE TABLE statement, every new Column goes on a new line. When it helps, you may indent so that each part of the <Column definitiion> is at the same position on the line – but nobody does that all the time. Here’s an example:

CREATE TABLE Transactions
   (transactionid INTEGER       NOT NULL,
   amount         DECIMAL(7, 2),
   partid         INTEGER,
   comments       VARCHAR(3000));

Usually CREATE TABLE statements will also have Constraint clauses. We have split them out here, adding the Constraints in later ALTER TABLE statements. Constraints are in fact separate from Tables, but if you find that splitting up the Table definition into separate statements is unacceptable, you’re not alone. The other part of this illustration shows our preference for giving names to everything, including Constraints – see Rule 16. Here’s an example:

ALTER Table Transactions
ADD CONSTRAINT transaction_primary_key
PRIMARY KEY (transactionid);

ALTER Table Transactions
ADD CONSTRAINT transaction_references_inventory
FOREIGN KEY partid REFERENCES Inventory(partid)

3c– Indenting INSERTs

Here is an INSERT statement formed according to the same rules as discussed. Notice that the SELECT in the example is not indented like a subquery would be.

INSERT INTO Recreation_players
       (playerno, name, town, phoneno)
SELECT playerno, name, town, phoneno
FROM   Players
WHERE  leagueno IS NULL;

For streams of INSERT statements, one relaxes the rules to squeeze to one line. For example:

INSERT INTO Personnel VALUES (1, 2, 3, 'Maximum');
INSERT INTO Personnel VALUES (7, 4, 166, 'Minimum');
INSERT INTO Personnel VALUES (15, -6, 0, NULL);

It might appear nice to line up the values in this example, but that’s not what people do.

3d– Indenting UPDATEs

If we apply the rules consistently, then an UPDATE statement should look like this:

UPDATE Contacts
SET    first_grade = 'A', second_grade = 'B', third_grade = 'C';

Alternative: The more common style is to break for each assignment. For example:

UPDATE Contacts
SET    first_grade = 'A',
       second_grade = 'B',
       third_grade = 'C';

4– Statement End

End statements with a semicolon without a preceding space. For example:


Exception: Where the semicolon is inappropriate, omit it (for example, in COBOL shops or where the vendor won’t accept it).

5– Comments

A simple comment begins with a double minus sign (--) and ends at the next line. Unfortunately, if an SQL statement comes from keyboard input, then the dialog manager will strip the line breaks. And, OSs disagree whether a line break is one character (LF) or two (CR+LF). Because of the danger that presents to the parser, many eschew all comments in the SQL statement and put them in the host language code. For example:

/* Here is a C comment preceding an embedded SQL statement */
        EXEC SQL
        SELECT width, length
        FROM Widgets;
/* Here is a C comment following an embedded SQL statement */

The problem disappears if your DBMS supports SQL3, which allows C-like comments – i.e.: comments that begin with /* and end with */. Although C-like comments are far from universal, they are the preferred style among Microsoft SQL Server users. Occasionally they are even used for section headings, thus:

   The Table creations
   CREATE Table ...
   CREATE Table ...
   The procedure definitions

Speaking of comments, Weinberg (The Psychology of Computer Programming) suggested that code and comments should be written in separate columns. This would make it easier to focus on the code when debugging (if a program has bugs then the comments are probably lies).

6– Qualifiers

When an SQL statement contains references to more than one Table, use <Column reference>s rather than <Column name>s. This is particularly true for joins. For example:

SELECT Widgets.length, Foobars.width
FROM   Widgets, Foobars
WHERE  Widgets.length = Foobars.width;

Not only does the qualification of a <Column reference> help the reader see which Table a Column belongs to, it guards against later breakage of the code (if, for instance, a new Column named WIDTH is someday added to FOOBARS). Sometimes the qualification may have to include Schema and <Catalog name>s too. If qualification starts to get at all lengthy, use <Correlation name>s.

7– Shorthands

7a– Shorthands for lists

Do not use SELECT * ... to mean “SELECT all Columns ...”. List the Columns you want by name. For example:

SELECT length, width
FROM   Widgets;

Exception: In the set function COUNT(*), the asterisk is necessary and in EXISTS (SELECT * ... the asterisk is preferred.

Do not use an INSERT statement without a Column list. List the Columns you want by name. For example:

    (length, width)
VALUES (1, 2);

Exception: Streams of INSERT statements contain no Column list, see rule 3c.

Do not use GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES or REVOKE ALL PRIVILEGES for a Privilege list. List the Privileges you want by name. For example:

ON TABLE Widgets
TO Sandra, Joan;

7b– Shorthands for Expressions

Usually, expression shorthands involve learning new syntax. For example, COALESCE(a,b) is short for CASE WHEN a IS NOT NULL THEN a ELSE b END. But we’d guess that some people would have to look up COALESCE to find out what it means. On the other hand, they might be able to puzzle out the longer CASE expression, because they’ve seen similar constructs in most other computer languages. The consensus seems to be to use the longer expression, rather than the shorthand – unless the shorthand itself is a common and well-understood construct.

8– Short forms

For <data type>s, use short forms: CHAR rather than CHARACTER, VARCHAR rather than CHARACTER VARYING, INT rather than INTEGER, BLOB rather than BINARY LARGE OBJECT.

Speaking of shortness – though this has nothing to do with Rule 8 – a too-long name is: Parts_Which_Have_No_Serial_Numbers.

9– Redundancy

9a– Noise <keyword>s

Where a <keyword> is optional and eliminating it would cause no change in meaning, eliminate it. One example:

ON    Widgets ...

instead of:

ON TABLE Widgets ...

Another example:

SELECT   width
FROM     Widgets
ORDER BY width;

instead of:

SELECT   width
FROM     Widgets

Another example:


instead of:


Another example:

SELECT width
FROM   Widgets;

instead of:

FROM       Widgets;

Remember Shannon and information theory: when a word adds nothing to the meaning, it is not information. It is noise.

Exception: It’s never bad to add unnecessary parentheses if there is any chance that a reader might not guess what the precedence of operators might be. For example:

SELECT (width * 5) + 4
FROM   Widgets;

Exception: Although UNION DISTINCT is not in common use, it is clear that SQL3’s designers believe that explicitly saying DISTINCT is good.

9b– Superfluous Clauses

Most SQL programmers are willing to say the same thing twice “to make the meaning clearer”. We give two examples of this bad but normal practice. The first shows a superfluous NOT NULL clause:

   (width      INT         NOT NULL,
    CONSTRAINT widget_pkey PRIMARY KEY(width));

In SQL-92 and SQL3, a primary key is automatically NOT NULL.

The second example shows a superfluous predicate:

SELECT width
FROM   Widgets
AND    spoffo LIKE 'A%';

The BETWEEN clause is unnecessary. It’s probably there for “optimization” reasons which are outside the scope of this chapter.

9c– Explicitizing

You don’t need to start any program with the SQL statement:


because the DBMS would CONNECT TO DEFAULT anyway. So should you bother? According to one DBMS expert: yes. In general, if some critical process is implicit (performed automatically as default behaviour), you might do good by making it explicit (specified in the instruction). You’re making your intentions clear not only to the reader, but also to the DBMS, so this act is more than a mere comment. In this view, the first SQL executed statement should be CONNECT.

10– Literals

Enter <exact numeric literal>s using maximum scale but without lead zeros and without leading + signs. For example:

UPDATE Widgets
SET    maximality = 10.00;

Exception: When using <literal>s in arithmetic expressions, use the scale that you want to the result to have. (Note: If you want to be emphatic about what specific numeric <data type> you are using, consider using CAST.)

Even if a search of a character string Column is probably case-insensitive, use both upper and lower case as you would if you were inserting. For example:

SELECT   surname
FROM     Widgets
WHERE    surname = 'Smith';

Do not put trailing spaces in <character string literal>s unless they are necessary for comparisons with PAD SPACE Collations.

For binary items, use X'....' rather than B'....' notation. For example:

INSERT INTO Widgets (bobbet)
VALUES (X'427A');

11– Specify Character Sets

We can’t call this “common practice” because we haven’t seen much of _introducer use, but it would be consistent with the preceding to say that if a character string has, or will have, non-Latin letters, and the default Character set is not obvious, specify the Character set.

12. Statement Splitting

Most SQL programmers are willing to write very long SQL statements. There is some practical justification for this tendency: (a) if any form of “auto-commit” is in effect, then splitting up SQL statements could leave the database in an inconsistent state and (b) most DBMSs optimize at the statement level, so putting everything in one statement might provide useful information to the optimizer.

Alternative: A minority view (which we espouse) holds that separate thoughts belong in separate sentences, as in any ordinary language. For example, we’ve suggested before that it’s a good idea to add Constraints later (with ALTER TABLE), rather than mix all Constraints with <Column definition>s in the original CREATE TABLE statement.

13– Impossibilities

Consider this example of a CASE expression:

CASE Column_of_doom
WHEN > 5 THEN '>5'
WHEN <= 5 THEN '<=5'

It’s hard to be sure, but it looks like the writers didn’t ask “what if COLUMN_OF_DOOM is NULL?”. There should be an explicit ELSE clause, here to allow for that. Defensive programmers code for the “default” or “otherwise” case, even if the case can’t possibly happen.

14– Precise Comparisons

Comparisons with > and < operators are sometimes vaguer than they need be. For example:

name > 'X'         /* what if somebody is named 'X'? */
position < 1       /* you mean position <= 0? */

By rephrasing the comparison with a >= or <= operator, you can sometimes catch such problems.

15– Distributing NOTs

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” – Polonius

Instead of saying “be not a borrower or a lender” Polonius said “neither a borrower nor a lender be” – using a separate negation word for each negated thing. This was an application of one of DeMorgan’s Rules:

NOT (A OR B) can be changed to NOT(A) AND NOT(B)
NOT (A AND B) can be changed to NOT(A) OR NOT(B)

Since the changed form is closer to the way that people actually talk, it is easier to read.

Naming Rules

Everyone says that onomatopoeia is the oldest profession. Or, at least, they would say that, if they knew that onomatopoeia originally meant “the making of names”, and that Adam’s first job was to name all the beasts in the Garden of Eden.

16. Give Everything a Name

The DBMS often lets you skip giving an Object a name: it just assigns a default name. But this default name is arbitrary. And besides, no two DBMSs use the same rules for default names. So, give explicit names to expressions in select lists. For example:

SELECT (length + width) AS length_and_width
FROM    Widgets;

Consider giving explicit names to Constraints in CREATE TABLE, ALTER TABLE, CREATE DOMAIN and ALTER DOMAIN statements. If you don’t, how will you drop the Constraints later? And how will you interpret the diagnostics, which include <Contstraint name>s? Here’s an example:

     (length     INT,
      CONSTRAINT Widgets_Length_Checker CHECK (length > 0));

Exception: Usually one does not give names to simple Column Constraints like NOT NULL or PRIMARY KEY.

Actually, naming is just one prominent example of a case where the DBMS will assign some “implementation-dependent” value if you don’t specify one yourself. In all such cases, it’s probably safer to specify.

17– When a Name Has Two Parts, Separate the Parts with the Underscore Character (_)

For example: ytd_sales initial_extent

Alternative: For <Table name>s especially, you can keep the parts unseparated but capitalize the second word. For example: OrderItems DepartmentNumbers.

18– Avoid Names That Might Be Reserved Words in Some SQL Dialect

The way to do this is to use names that refer to objects in the real world that you’re modelling with your database. You can be fairly sure that names like CandyStores, book_title or swather are not names that the DBMS needs for its own purposes. If you must be absolutely sure, you can take further measures – but there are problems with all of them.

  • You can use the list of <keyword>s, in our chapter on general SQL concept. This list includes reserved words used in major SQL dialects, as well as reserved words used in all standard SQL variations at the time of printing. It’s better to look it up here rather than depend on a vendor’s manual. But it’s impossible to keep such a list up to date.

  • You can check by passing to your DBMS an SQL statement containing the <identifier> and looking for an error message. For example, try to execute something like “CREATE TABLE <word> (<word> INT);” If the SQL statement works, <word> is not a reserved word. However, this won’t tell you if some other DBMS reserves that word, or if the next version of your DBMS will reserve it.

  • You can put underscores (_) in names. This is unpopular. The SQL Standards committee doesn’t intend to add <keyword>s containing underscores in any future SQL version. However, there are some exceptions: words that begin with CURRENT_ or SESSION_ or SYSTEM_, or words that end with _LENGTH. Underscores have special meanings when used with introducers, with LIKE predicates and with SIMILAR predicates. The SQL Standards committee will also avoid <keyword>s containing digits in all future versions. So try Mussels4. But first read Rule 25.

  • You can enclose all names with quotes (""). But <delimited identifier>s cause their own problems: see Rule 19.

19– Avoid <delimited identifier>s

The troubles with them are, first, that double quote marks are false signals to many people who are used to thinking that quote marks appear around strings instead of names. Second, there’s case sensitivity – “X” is not the same as “x”. Third, quote marks are ugly.

Exception: <Table name>s might require <delimited identifier>s, because some DBMSs use files for Tables. File names include special characters – . or / or \ or : – that are illegal in regular <identifier>s.

Exception: Microsoft Access programmers often use <delimited identifier>s for <Table name>s (Access is a non-standard SQL which uses []s instead of ""s to mark the delimitation).

Exception: Applications which generate SQL statements, such as user interfaces, might automatically enclose all <delimited identifier>s inside ""s.

With all these exceptions, you might decide to take the minority line and use <delimited identifier>s regularly. If you do, at least avoid names that have lead or trailing spaces. Some DBMSs’ processes include an automatic TRIM.

20– Names of Tables are Plural; Names of All Other Objects Are Singular

Thus, in the INFORMATION_SCHEMA, we have a View named SCHEMATA and the Columns of this View are: CATALOG_NAME, SCHEMA_NAME and so on. Often a plural is a collective noun, for example: INVENTORY. Admittedly, this means that <Table name>s will be longer (at least in English), but it’s a subtle signal that distinguishes <Table name>s from other <identifier>s.

Alternative: The dissenting minority points out that the English phrases for many tabular items are singular: "ADDRESS BOOK" (not "ADDRESSES BOOK"), "PHONE BOOK", "INVESTMENT PORTFOLIO", "RESTAURANT LIST", etc.

21- Use Words in Your National Language

The fact that SQL <keyword>s look like English is irrelevant. For example, this sample SQL statement appeared in an article in a Polish magazine:

UPDATE studenci SET nazwisko='Kowalski';

This does mean that names will sometimes include characters outside the regular English alphabet. Obviously the effect on portability is unfortunate, but if your DBMS doesn’t support accented characters in names then it doubtless won’t properly support them in data values either, so why would you use such a DBMS anyway? Precisely because you don’t know what a nazwisko is, you can see that a Pole would have trouble understanding the word that you use instead of nazwisko.

22– Don’t Worry about How <Column name>s Appear When a Table Is Displayed on the Screen

That’s something that changes anyway (use AS clauses). Instead, worry about how names appear if you print out a program. Remember: The goal is long-term comprehension, so ephemeral considerations such as screen-display deserve low priority.

23– Names Should Be Descriptive, but Not Too Descriptive

Minimally, you should avoid algebra like UPDATE k SET k1=4 – where no one could possibly guess what k and k1 are supposed to represent. Medianly, you should avoid non-specific descriptors like PHONE_NUMBER – where no one can be sure whether the referent is a home- or office- or general-contact- telephone number. But stop there! Avoid names like SOLDIERS_IN_THE_ARMY because (presumably) all the soldiers in the database are in the army; the “in the army” bit is only helpful if you also have soldiers in the navy and you have to distinguish between them. This part of the rule – avoid making accidents part of the identification – is analogous to one of the normalization rules.

24– If Two Columns from Different Tables Are Based on the Same Domain, They Should Have the Same Name

In fact, they should have the Domain’s name. For example:

CREATE TABLE Students (surname surname, ...);
CREATE TABLE Professors (surname surname, ...);

This rule would apply even if your DBMS doesn’t support explicit creation of Domains, or if you use SQL3’s user-defined type feature – you’re still using the concept of Domains.

Exception: This rule does not apply for two Columns in the same Table.

Incidentally, when <Column name>s are the same, NATURAL JOIN is easier. That’s usually a blessing, but some caution is required – you certainly don’t want to cause a join over two Columns which have the same name by accident.

25– Digits Are a Bad Sign

Too often we use digits as arbitrary distinguishers – e.g.: Lines_1 / Lines_2 – when there is some intrinsic difference between Lines_1 and Lines_2 that could be expressed in the names, for example, Lines_Freshwater and Lines_Longitude. Particularly bad are the digits '0' and '1', which look too much like the letters 'O' and 'l'.

26– Try to Stop a Name at 18 Characters; The Maximum Length Allowed in SQL-89

Mainly, it’s hard to remember a long name. For example, do you remember if the name mentioned in rule 8 was Parts_Which_Have_No_Serial_Numbers? Or was it Parts_Which_Have_No_Serialnumber?

27– Repeat the <Table name> in the <Column name> … Not

Firstly, you’d end up violating rule 24. Secondly, if you make a View of the Table you’ll have to either violate this rule, or make View <Column name>s not equal to Table <Column name>s. For example, the INFORMATION_SCHEMA View called GRANTS has a Column called IS_GRANTABLE instead of GRANT_IS_GRANTABLE. Remember, if you really need to make it clear what Table the Column is in, you can use a <Column reference>: GRANTS.IS_GRANTABLE.

Exception: A Column which is part of the primary key of the Table could include the <Table name> in the singular. For example, the INFORMATION_SCHEMA View called SCHEMATA has a Column called SCHEMA_NAME – and any foreign keys that reference SCHEMATA would be Columns called SCHEMA_NAME too (assuming that Views could have such Constraints). There are several conflicting conventions for foreign keys. In any case, though, it is not part of your mandate to ensure that all <Column name>s in the database must be unique.

28– Depend on a Dialect … Not

This can be subtle, e.g.: UCASE is a function name that some people seem to think is standard SQL (in fact it’s ODBC). Write with lowest-common-denominator syntax when you can, but test it first with an SQL3 parser to make sure you’re not going to violate a rule when you upgrade.

29– Sometimes <Correlation name>s (Or Aliases) Are Simply Necessary Because the Actual <Table name> Is Unwieldy, Containing Qualifiers or Lengthy Path Names

In Oracle, use of <Correlation name>s actually helps the optimizer. But should you always use <Correlation name>s? No – they’re most appropriate in SELECT statements where <Column name>s must be qualified.

30– Abbreviations

Legacy SQL code has frequent abbreviations: PROV for PROVINCE, DEPT for DEPARTMENT, LEN for LENGTH, FNAME for FIRST NAME and so on. Judging from trends in other computer languages, this taste will become obsolete. At this moment it’s still a matter of taste. A few abbreviated prefixes/suffixes are used for some common Domains: _id for single-Column candidate key (e.g.: author_id, program_id), _no for ordinal number (e.g.: player_no, receipt_no), qty_ for quantity (e.g.: qty_of_goods_sold), avg_ for average (e.g.: avg_qty_of_goods_sold), min_ for minimum (e.g.: min_weight), max_ for maximum (e.g.: max_length) and sum_ for total (e.g.: sum_balance). Notice that some of the prefixes are derived from SQL <keyword>s.

  • Examples of <Domain name>s/<Column name>s. Some names that we have seen in use in databases for banking/libraries /retail shops/government include: firstname, lastname or surname, street, houseno, aptno or unitno or suiteno, city, state or province, country, phoneno or email, sex, birth_date, account_id, balance, account_open_date, account_close_date, transaction_code, author_firstname, author_lastname, title, callno, isbn, year_published, checkout_date, loan_type, amount, itemno, transaction_time, transaction_code.

Certainly we’ve seen many other names too, in many styles. We picked ones that generally fit the criteria that we’ve described heretofore.

31– Host Language Conventions

There is certainly an argument that this C code snippet looks fine:

INSERT INTO Recordings (szRecording)
VALUES (:szRecording);

The point here is that the C host variable szRecording associates with the SQL Column szRecording. Hence the same name. In general we could say that SQL Object names are often influenced by conventions used in the most common host language, such as C in this case. We don’t condemn this practice, we just ignore it, since our concern is SQL conventions rather than host language conventions.

One detail about the szRecording in the preceding example: it’s in a Polish notation, that is, the sz in the name indicates the data type (string zero). We will concern ourselves solely with the question: is it good SQL to embed <data type> information in names, for example szrecording or name_char or (more subtly) namestring? The answer, judging as usual from what seems to be common practice, is yes that’s okay, but nobody is doing so systematically. Sometimes we do see <Column name>s that end in _date or num[eric], but we don’t see consistency.

For the narrower concept – Domains – we have Rule 24.

32– User Names

If you have control over user names, prefer first names: Ralph, Mike, Lucien. Where necessary add the first letter of the last name: JeanC, RalphK, LucienB. This convention appears to derive from names on the Internet.

Often there is no choice in this regard, because the operating system feeds user names to the DBMS.

33– Comma Lists

Whenever a list is disordered, people wonder why. For example, these SQL statements look a trifle curious:

SELECT firstname, travel_allowance, surname
FROM   SalesPersons;

FROM   States
WHERE  state_abbreviation IN('WY','MI','AK','CO');

If there is some hidden order, add a note explaining what it is. Otherwise, change to a natural or alphabetical order.

Examples of Statements in Formal Style

Here are some actual SQL statement examples. We have not edited them to fit all the rules in this chapter.

ALTER Table Countries
ADD   gnp   DECIMAL(8, 2);


CONNECT TO 'c:\db';

    name       CHAR(15)  NOT NULL             ,
    leagueno   SMALLINT                       DEFAULT 99);

ALTER Table players
ADD Constraint check_playerno
CHECK (playerno BETWEEN 00 AND 99);

CREATE  VIEW ages (playerno, age) AS
SELECT  playerno, 1986 - YEAR_OF_BIRTH
FROM    Players;

WHERE partid IN (
      SELECT partid
      FROM   Inventory
      WHERE  description LIKE 'd%');

ON      Jackets
TO      Carol, Kathleen;

INSERT INTO Gradings (gradeno, inspectorid, description)
VALUES (3, ?, 'Prime');

INSERT INTO Temporary_Workers (workerid, name, town, phoneno)
SELECT   workerid, name, town, phoneno
FROM     Workers
WHERE    benefit IS NULL;

SELECT   title
FROM     Videos
WHERE    out_date > DATE '1994-07-06'
GROUP BY title;
ORDER BY title;

SELECT   accountid, balance
FROM     Accounts
WHERE    (town = 'Amesville'
OR       balance < 0);
AND NOT  (town = 'Amityville'
AND      balance < 0);

WHERE    TOWN IN ('Inglewood', 'Stratford')

SELECT  first_name, last_name
FROM    Students
WHERE   studentno IN
       (SELECT      studentno
        FROM        Delinquent_Students
        WHERE       excuse IN ('sick','unhappy','deprived')) UNION
SELECT  first_name, last_name
FROM    Teachers
WHERE   teacher_status = 'sick';

SELECT AS realtor_name, AS vendor_name
FROM   Members_Of_Real_Estate_Board Realtors, Sellers_Of_Farm_Land Vendors
WHERE = Vendors.contact_name;

UPDATE   Addresses
SET      street              = ?,
         houseno             = ?,
         town                = ?,
         state_or_province   = ?,
         zip_or_postal_code  = ?,
         country             = ?
WHERE    CURRENT OF Selection;

SELECT   title, release, censorrtg, runtime
  FROM   title
WHERE    runtime BETWEEN 120 AND 231
ORDER    BY release DESC

Host Language Programs

Some programmers keep SQL statements apart from host language statements, in separate procedures (or even separate modules). Others allow mixing, as in this (embedded Pascal SQL) example:

EXEC SQL SELECT COUNT(*) INTO :counter FROM Specifiers;
if (counter=0) Writeln('Empty Table!');
if (counter>0) begin
  EXEC SQL UPDATE Specifiers SET process_count = process_count + 1;

The following style notes apply to either SQL/CLI or to embedded SQL.

36– Employ Assertions

Here we use the word “assertion” in the non-SQL sense: a conditional statement that you’d like to have in the debug version but not in the production version.

SQL is interpretive, so all “asserting” has to take place at runtime. In programs, the best method is to add executable SQL statements with #if/#endif host language directives.


Some SQL precompilers ignore #if and #endif. For example, this assertion example checks that Column PROGRAMS. SUMMARY has matching definitions in both C and SQL. The format of the SQLExecDirect call is not a common style; you should take it merely as a suggestion.

#define SUMMARY_LENGTH [500]
SQLINTEGER character_maximum_length;
/* assertion start */
  character_maximum_length = 0;
                      FROM   INFORMATION_SCHEMA.COLUMNS\
                      WHERE  TABLE_NAME = 'PROGRAMS'\
                      AND    COLUMN_NAME = 'SUMMARY'",
if (character_maximum_length <> SUMMARY_LENGTH) exit(1);
if (SQLFetch(hstmt) != SQL_NO_DATA) exit(1);
 /* assertion end -- if you survive to here, things are all right */
 SQLExecDirect(hstmt,"SELECT summary FROM Programs",SQL_NTS);

The following style notes apply only to SQL/CLI.

37– Use Conventional Names

For example, resource handles are henv, hdbc, hstmt and hdesc. When there is more than one stmt, use ordinals: hstmt1, hstmt2 and so on.

38– Declare Variables with Constants or Macros Supplied in sqlcli.h

For example:

#include "sqlcli.h"
#define NAMELEN 50
SQLCHAR create[] = "CREATE TABLE NameID (\
                      id INT,name CHAR(50))";

39– If an SQL Statement Contains Constants Which Are Also Used in the Host Program, Check or Edit the Statement at Runtime

For example, add this to the last example:

sprintf(create,"CREATE TABLE NameID(id INT,name CHAR(%d))",NAMELEN);

40– When Testing a Function’s Return Values, Programmers Use Various Styles

For example:

if (SQL_ERROR == SQLAllocStmt (hdbc,&hstmt)) goto error;
if (sqlreturn = (SQLExecute(hstmt)) < 0) {
  printf("sqlreturn = %ld\n",sqlreturn);
  exit(1); }


Whatever you write, may later be read.

Whatever style you choose for serious programs, stick with it consistently.