SQL (Structured Query Language) is a special-purpose programming language designed for managing data held in a relational database management system (RDBMS), or for stream processing in a relational data stream management system (RDSMS).

Originally based upon relational algebra and tuple relational calculus, SQL consists of a data definition language, data manipulation language, and Data Control Language. The scope of SQL includes data insert, query, update and delete, schema creation and modification, and data access control. Although SQL is often described as, and to a great extent is, a declarative language (4GL), it also includes procedural elements.

SQL was one of the first commercial languages for Edgar F. Codd’s relational model, as described in his influential 1970 paper, “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.” Despite not entirely adhering to the relational model as described by Codd, it became the most widely used database language.

SQL became a standard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1986, and of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1987.[13] Since then, the standard has been revised to include a larger set of features. Despite the existence of such standards, most SQL code is not completely portable among different database systems without adjustments.


SQL was initially developed at IBM by Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce in the early 1970s.[14] This version, initially called SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language), was designed to manipulate and retrieve data stored in IBM’s original quasi-relational database management system, System R, which a group at IBM San Jose Research Laboratory had developed during the 1970s.[14] The acronym SEQUEL was later changed to SQL because “SEQUEL” was a trademark of the UK-based Hawker Siddeley aircraft company.

In the late 1970s, Relational Software, Inc. (now Oracle Corporation) saw the potential of the concepts described by Codd, Chamberlin, and Boyce, and developed their own SQL-based RDBMS with aspirations of selling it to the U.S. Navy, Central Intelligence Agency, and other U.S. government agencies. In June 1979, Relational Software, Inc. introduced the first commercially available implementation of SQL, Oracle V2 (Version2) for VAX computers.

After testing SQL at customer test sites to determine the usefulness and practicality of the system, IBM began developing commercial products based on their System R prototype including System/38, SQL/DS, and DB2, which were commercially available in 1979, 1981, and 1983, respectively.


SQL deviates in several ways from its theoretical foundation, the relational model and its tuple calculus. In that model, a table is a set of tuples, while in SQL, tables and query results are lists of rows: the same row may occur multiple times, and the order of rows can be employed in queries (e.g. in the LIMIT clause).

Critics argue that SQL should be replaced with a language that strictly returns to the original foundation: for example, see The Third Manifesto.