Row and Column

In SQL, there are a lot of important concepts to understand; however, few concepts are more important than row and column, the fundamental building blocks. Row and column enables organization in our modern SQL systems; without it, we wouldn’t have the efficiency, accuracy, or predictability that we have today in our SQL database systems. This article helps to illuminate what row and column are in SQL and how they interact with each other.

What is Row and Column in SQL?

To understand row and column, let’s take a look at an example of a SQL table containing short-term rental hosts. The table contains data about the host names and where their rentals are.

Short-term Rental Row and Column Data

SQL Column

In the example above, the columns represent the different pieces of information for each host. The host_name is the name of the host, the neighborhood_group is the borough in New York each of the hosts lives in, and the neighbourhood field represents the specific area.


Each row represents the individual host and the associated information for that host. As in, data on the same row means it is associated together. In this example, Robert Jones is host 1002 and lives in Nolita, Manhattan.

To put it together: the columns tell us what the data represents and the row represents data that goes together. Each cell has a specific row and column associated with it. Paying attention to both at the same time tells us a lot about the individual cell we are looking at. For example, row 0 column 1 tells us the host_id of the host in row 0 and row 0 column 2 tells us the host_name. 

How does SQL manage Rows and Columns?

In SQL, there are many commands to do a full create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) workflow on both rows and columns. 

Row in SQL Management

In SQL management, rows can be manipulated using common commands. Below are some of the most common commands for manipulating rows in SQL.

Row Select

You can use a select * from table statement to select rows in a database. Select is a powerful statement for quickly reading data in a SQL database.

Row Insert

You can insert data into a table, which is row-based, such as statements like:

INSERT INTO Employees (EmployeeID, FirstName, LastName, Position, Department)

VALUES (1, 'John', 'Doe', 'Software Engineer', 'Engineering');

The above statement adds a row to the table for John Doe.

Row Update

The UPDATE statement is used to modify existing records in a table. Let's say John Doe received a promotion and moved to the 'Management' department. Here's how you would update his record:

UPDATE Employees

SET Position = 'Senior Software Engineer', Department = 'Management'

WHERE EmployeeID = 1;

This will update the employee with id 1 (John) to a senior software engineer in the management department.

Row Delete

The DELETE statement is used to remove existing rows from a table. Suppose John Doe leaves the company, and we want to remove his record from the Employees table. Here's how you would do it:


WHERE EmployeeID = 1;

This would delete John from the table. Best of luck at your next role, John!

Column in SQL Management

In SQL management, columns can be manipulated using ALTER TABLE commands like the below.

SQL Add Column

Suppose we wanted to add an email for our employees. We could add that column with:


ADD Email VARCHAR(255);


Suppose we realized that our newly added email column is great, but John Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious could start to get us close to our email character limits. We can alter the column to:



To add more characters in an email from 255 to 320.


Suppose we realize we don’t need the email column at all, as emails at our company are already known. We could drop this column from our table like so:



As you can see, you can manage a full create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) lifecycle for both columns and rows in SQL.

Row and Column SQL Performance Considerations

Row Considerations

The number of rows returned in a SQL operation can significantly affect performance. Additionally, the size of the rows can affect performance as well. Transactions within a SQL database can also create issues when a lot of rows are retrieved or updated.

Methods like pagination (i.e. limits in SQL) or indexing can significantly improve row read operations.

Column Considerations

For columns, the primary considerations are around the read performance. It is good to consider best practices for big data integrations such as data partitioning, data normalization and denormalization, and choosing column types that can be easily queried against such as integers, which can be better than strings. Overall, each database system will offer its own specific ways to improve performance and is very case-by-case.

Advanced Column and Row Management

In SQL, we just scratched the surface of column and row management. Below are some advanced concepts for manipulating rows and columns in SQL.

Column Indexes

Use indexes to speed up the retrieval of rows based on the values of one or more columns. For instance, creating an index on a frequently searched column can significantly reduce SQL query execution time. Here’s an example command:

CREATE INDEX idx_lastname ON Employees(LastName);

Row and Column Views

Views are virtual tables that represent the results of a SELECT query. They can simplify complex queries, making it easier to manage and retrieve subsets of data without altering the underlying table structure. Here’s an example command for pre-aggregating engineering employees:

CREATE VIEW EngineeringEmployees AS

SELECT EmployeeID, FirstName, LastName

FROM Employees

WHERE Department = 'Engineering';

Row and Column Stored Procedures

Use stored procedures to encapsulate complex operations into callable routines. This can include inserting, updating, or deleting rows based on business logic, ensuring data consistency and reducing code duplication. So, instead of needing to write a complex query like the below, you can simply call the function each time to add an employee:


@EmployeeID int, @FirstName varchar(255), @LastName varchar(255), @Position varchar(255), @Department varchar(255)


INSERT INTO Employees (EmployeeID, FirstName, LastName, Position, Department)

VALUES (@EmployeeID, @FirstName, @LastName, @Position, @Department);

Row and Column Triggers

Triggers automatically perform specified operations in response to certain events on a table, such as insertions, updates, or deletions. This can help maintain data integrity and enforce business rules automatically. Below is an example trigger:

CREATE TRIGGER UpdateEmployeeHistory




   INSERT INTO EmployeeHistory(EmployeeID, ChangeDate)

   VALUES(NEW.EmployeeID, NOW());


Row Complex Joins

Mastering various types of JOIN operations (INNER, LEFT, RIGHT, FULL OUTER) can help in efficiently querying data from multiple tables based on complex relationships and bring rows across tables together.

Row Window Functions

Window functions perform calculations across sets of rows related to the current row, enabling advanced analytics directly within SQL queries. For example, you can calculate running totals, moving averages, or rank data without having to group rows explicitly. Below is an example:

SELECT EmployeeID, Department,

       AVG(Salary) OVER(PARTITION BY Department) AS AvgDepartmentSalary

FROM Employees;

Row Data Partitioning

Partitioning a table divides it into smaller, more manageable pieces, while maintaining a single logical view of the data. This can significantly improve query performance and data management for large datasets.

Column Constraints

Implement column constraints (PRIMARY KEY, FOREIGN KEY, UNIQUE, CHECK) to enforce data integrity and relationships between tables. This ensures the reliability of your data.

Row and Column in Spreadsheets vs SQL

In many ways a column and row in spreadsheets is the exact same as it is in SQL. In fact, if that’s how you think about it, then that’s a wonderful way to grasp SQL row and column! That being said, the primary difference between row and column for spreadsheets vs SQL is that SQL requires everything to be properly typed. For example, in a spreadsheet, if I put a number in an email field, that can still be valid. In SQL, that will throw an error. SQL requires organization of data upfront, whereas a spreadsheet can easily change with the needs of the data, which, of course, can lead to data inconsistency. Further, this organization upfront enables us to write consistent queries, indexes, stored procedures, and more, all knowing that our data will be compatible with the workflows that we write for it. For a production application, SQL is typically a better option.

Row and Column Conclusion

Rows and columns are some of the most important building blocks in a SQL database. Without rows and columns, modern databases would be unstructured forms of data that would be hard to guarantee the accuracy of. With the introduction of this incredibly important pairing, we have a modern data stack that is clean, predictable, and easy to manipulate and manage. Hopefully this piece shed some light on the common use cases for row and column and how you can utilize these concepts in your SQL workflow.

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