How to use SELECT in SQL


Databases store data for later retrieval. Ever wondered how that is achieved? It's the SELECT SQL command that does the job. 

That's what it's all about, retrieving data from the database tables. It's part of the data manipulation language that is responsible for query the data from the database. <



SQL SELECT statement syntax

It is the most frequently used SQL command and has the following general syntax

SELECT [DISTICT|ALL ] { * | [fieldExpression [AS newName]} FROM tableName [alias] [WHERE condition][GROUP BY fieldName(s)]  [HAVING condition] ORDER BY fieldName(s)
  • SELECT is the SQL keyword that lets the database know that you want to retrieve data.
  • [DISCTINCT | ALL] are optional keywords that can be used to fine tune the results returned from the SQL SELECT statement. If nothing is specified then ALL is assumed as the default.
  • {*| [fieldExpression [AS newName]} at least one part must be specified, "*" selected all the fields from the specified table name, fieldExpression performs some computations on the specified fields such as adding numbers or putting together two string fields into one.


  • FROM tableName is mandatory and must contain at least one table, multiple tables must be separated using commas or joined using the JOIN keyword.
  • WHERE condition is optional, it can be used to specify criteria in the result set returned from the query.
  • GROUP BY is used to put together records that have the same field values.
  • HAVING condition is used to specify criteria when working using the GROUP BY keyword.
  • ORDER BY is used to specify the sort order of the result set.


The Star symbol is used to select all the columns in table. An example of a simple SELECT statement looks like the one shown below.

SELECT * FROM `members`;

The above statement selects all the fields from the members table. The semi-colon is a statement terminate. It's not mandatory but is considered a good practice to end your statements like that.

Practical examples

We will use the myflixdb which has some dummy data.

Getting members listing

Let's suppose that we want to get a list of all the registered library members from our database, we would use the script shown below to do that.

SELECT * FROM `members`;

Executing the above script in MySQL workbench produces the following results.



Our above query has returned all the rows and columns from the members table.

Let's say we are only interested in getting only the full_names, gender, physical_address and email fields only. The following script would help us to achieve this.

SELECT `full_names`,`gender`,`physical_address`, `email` FROM `members`;

Executing the above script in MySQL workbench produces the following results.


Getting movies listing

Remember in our above discussion that we mention expressions been used in SELECT statements. Let's say we want to get a list of movie from our database. We want to have the movie title and the name of the movie director in one field. The name of the movie director should be in brackets. We also want to get the year that the movie was released. The following script helps us do that.

SELECT Concat(`title`, ' (', `director`, ')') , `year_released` FROM `movies`;


  • The Concat () MySQL function is used join the columns values together.
  • The line "Concat (`title`, ' (', `director`, ')')  gets the title, adds an opening bracket followed by the name of the director then adds the closing bracket.

String portions are separated using commas in the Concat () function.

Executing the above script in MySQL workbench produces the following result set.



Alias field names

The above example returned the Concatenation code as the field name for our results. Suppose we want  to use a more descriptive field name in our result set. We would use the column alias name to achieve that. The following is the basic syntax for the column alias name

SELECT `column_name|value|expression` [AS] `alias_name`;


  • "SELECT ` column_name|value|expression `" is the regular SELECT statement which can be a column name, value or expression.
  • "[AS]" is the optional keyword before the alias name that denotes the expression, value or field name will be returned as.
  • "`alias_name`" is the alias name that we want to return in our result set as the field name.

The above query with a more meaningful column name

SELECT Concat(`title`, ' (', `director`, ')') AS 'Concat', `year_released` FROM `movies`;

We get the following result


Getting members listing showing the year of birth

Suppose we want to get a list of all the members showing the membership number, full names and year of birth, we can use the LEFT string function to extract the year of birth from the date of birth field. The script shown below helps us to do that.

SELECT `membership_number`,`full_names`,LEFT(`date_of_birth`,4) AS `year_of_birth` FROM members;


  • "LEFT(`date_of_birth`,4)" the LEFT string function accepts the date of birth as the parameter and only returns 4 characters from the left.
  • "AS `year_of_birth`" is the column alias name that will be returned in our results. Note the AS keyword is optional, you can leave it out and the query will still work.

Executing the above query in MySQL workbench against the myflixdb gives us the results shown below.


SQL using MySQL Workbench

We are now going to use MySQL workbench to generate the script that will display all the field names from our categories table.

1.       Right Click on the Categories Table. Click on "Select Rows - Limit 1000"

2.       MySQL workbench will automatically create a SQL query and paste in the editor.

3.       Query Results will be show


Notice that we didn't write the SELECT statement ourselves. MySQL workbench generated it for us.


Why use the SELECT SQL command when we have MySQL Workbench?

Now, you might be thinking why learn the SQL SELECT command to query data from the database when you can simply use a tool such as MySQL workbench's to get the same results without knowledge of the SQL language. Of course that is possible, but learning how to use the SELECT command gives you more flexibility and control over your SQL SELECT statements.

MySQL workbench falls in the category of "Query by Example" QBE tools. It's intended to help generate SQL statements faster to increase the user productivity.

Learning the SQL SELECT command can enable you to create complex queries that cannot be easily generated using Query by Example utilities such as MySQL workbench.

To improve productivity you can generate the code using MySQL workbench then customize it to meet your requirements. This can only happen if you understand how the SQL statements work!




  • The SQL SELECT keyword is used to query data from the database and it's the most commonly used command.
  • The simplest form has the syntax "SELECT * FROM tableName;"
  • Expressions can also be used in the select statement . Example "SELECT quantity + price FROM Sales"
  • The SQL SELECT command can also have other optional parameters such as WHERE, GROUP BY, HAVING, ORDER BY. They will be discussed later.
  • MySQL workbench can help develop SQL statements, execute them and produce the output result in the same window.



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