We Have Excel, Who Needs SQL?

We Have Excel, Who Needs SQL?

Why bother? To answer that provocative question: we all need SQL. We need both Excel and SQL (short for Structured Query Language), sometimes called “ess-cue-el,” and some other times called “sequel,” this article will explain why.

As a scientist, I have done calculations with data in tabular format, and I am familiar with Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets. For years, I have heard about SQL but never really got into the depths of it until I started my journey into data science but a few months ago. As a data science enthusiast and a newcomer to the field, I asked this question once I learned that SQL is a computer language used with relational databases that store data in the form of related tables. Why do we need SQL when we are so familiar with Excel (or spreadsheets in general), and when Excel really ‘excels’ at tasks that we always perform with data in tables, including some complex analyses?

In a nutshell, what are SQL and Excel?

The blunt, simple answer is that SQL and spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel are different things. They all indeed work with data in tables or structured data. Still, SQL is a computer language we use to communicate with relational databases through another set of software called relational database management systems (RDBMS) such as MySQL, one of the most popular open-source RDBMSs out there. On the other hand, Excel is an application that works like a very smart calculator that can do many different calculating and analysis tasks.

Another question arises: Is SQL a programming language? To answer this question, we need to understand some definitions first. Online Cambridge Dictionary defines programming language the same as the term “computer language.” According to the source, a programming language is “a set of rules, words, etc. that are used for writing computer programs.” It even goes as far as to put SQL in an example where it says, “SQL is a computer language used to create an interface that allows restricted access to a database.” Yes, one of SQL’s capabilities is restricting access to provide data security.

SQL is, in a sense, a programming language, as the definition above says. However, it’s not a general-purpose programming language like Java, C++, Python, etc. It is a domain-specific language, and its domain is specific to managing relational databases. We don’t use SQL to write applications, but we can use SQL to communicate with relational databases to retrieve, create, manipulate, and update tables of data in databases.

Up to this point, a more appropriate question should be: “What are the differences between Excel and RDBMSs such as MySQL?” Albeit uses SQL command lines, MySQL can also visualize data in the form of tables. Doesn’t Excel also create, manipulate, and update tables of data? Yes, Excel and the other spreadsheets do that very well. However, there are things that define the differences between RDBMSs and spreadsheets.

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SQL stands for Structured Query Language. SQL is a scripting language expected to store, control, and inquiry information put away in social databases. The main manifestation of SQL showed up in 1974, when a gathering in IBM built up the principal model of a social database. The primary business social database was discharged by Relational Software later turning out to be Oracle.

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