Understanding Joins In SQL – Inner, Left, Right and Full Joins Explained

Alakh Sethi 25 Aug, 2023 • 7 min read

Introduction

SQL joins might appear daunting, especially for newcomers. If programming is unfamiliar, comprehending SQL joins and their types could be challenging. Yet, as a data science enthusiast or practitioner, understanding SQL joins is crucial. They empower efficient data retrieval and manipulation across tables. This article simplifies SQL joins’ learning curve, unveiling their simplicity. We’ll start by demystifying SQL joins and delve into mastering the four essential types.

What are SQL Joins?

Joins In SQL

Let’s answer the million-dollar question first before we look at the different types of joins in SQL.

Here is an example that will make the concept easy for you. Consider these two collections:

Let’s say that the blue circle represents the set of all boys (BOYS) and grey represents the set of people who love watching Messi play (MESSI). How would you proceed if we wanted the set of all boys who love watching Messi play?

There is a very procedural way of approaching this problem:

  • First, select all the distinct ids from the Messi table that represent the inner query below
  • Take each id from the Boys table and compare it with this set
  • If the id matches with any one of them, then output that row from the Boys table

This is quite similar to the ‘for loop’ concept and is called sub-select in SQL.

SELECT * FROM BOYS
WHERE id IS IN (SELECT DISTINCT id FROM MESSI);

But in SQL, there is another way of approaching this problem.

To begin to understand joins, we must first have a different perspective on what we really want. In set terminology: we want the intersection of BOYS and MESSI. In graphical terms, this is expressed like:

Join In SQL

We’re interested in the light blue part, right? This part, or the inner part (hint), are all the boys who love watching Messi. All we have to do now is express this in SQL:

SELECT * FROM BOYS
INNER JOIN MESSI
ON BOYS.id = MESSI.id;

See what the (inner) join does? It couldn’t be simpler! This is the intuitive approach on how to understand joins.

Note: Venn diagrams don’t apply directly to SQL because the items in the collections (the tables) are not identical. But because they refer to each other, we can use Venn diagrams to understand the concept better.

Also Read: Top 10 SQL Projects for Data Analysis

Different Types Of Joins in SQL

SQL Joins
Source: Know the Code

Now. we’ll extend this to the big picture and learn about the different types of SQL joins. Consider the below sample tables:

Joins

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Inner Join in SQL

This is what we covered in the above section. Inner Join returns records that have matching values in both tables:

Inner Join SQL

Let’s see what the output is using the above example:

SELECT * FROM BOYS INNER JOIN MESSI
ON BOYS.id = MESSI.id;

Output:

Inner Join

The inner join gives the intersection of two tables, i.e. rows which are common in both the tables.

Right or Outer in SQL

Right JOin SQL

Suppose we want ID and Name of all the people who love watching Messi play. Obviously, there are many ways of writing this query but we’ll understand with the help of joins.

Let’s see what the output is:

SELECT  *  FROM BOYS RIGHT JOIN MESSI 
ON BOYS.id = MESSI.id;

Output:

Right Join

Can you figure out what happened here? The right outer join gives us the rows that are common in both the tables as well as extra rows from the Messi table which are not present in the intersection. In other words, a right join returns all records from the right table and the matched records from the left table.

Left (Outer)Join in SQL

Let’s say we want the list of all the boys who love watching Messi play as well as not love watching Messi play using joins.

Left Join SQL

I want you to guess the final output before you read further.

SELECT FROM BOYS LEFT JOIN MESSI
ON BOYS.id = MESSI.id;

OUTPUT:

Left Join

The left outer join gives us the rows that are common in both the tables as well as extra rows from the Boys table which are not present in the intersection. In other words, a left join returns all records from the left table and the matched records from the right table.

Full (Outer) Join in SQL

Finally, let’s say we want the list of all the people, including boys who love watching Messi play.

Full Join SQL
SELECT FROM BOYS FULL OUTER JOIN MESSI
ON BOYS.id = MESSI.id;

Output:

Full Join

Perfect! A full outer join gives us the rows that are common in both the tables as well as extra rows from both tables which are not present in the intersection. We get all records when there is a match on either the left or the right table.

When to Use What?

Situation: You’re managing a database for an online store, and you want to analyze sales data along with customer information. The goal is to identify which products are popular among different customer segments.

Explanation (INNER JOIN) 

Use an INNER JOIN when you want to match records that exist in both tables. In this scenario, you’ll retrieve sales data along with customer information for customers who have made purchases.

Example:

SELECT customers.name, products.product_name, sales.quantity

FROM customers

INNER JOIN sales ON customers.id = sales.customer_id

INNER JOIN products ON sales.product_id = products.id;

Explanation (LEFT JOIN) 

Use a LEFT JOIN when you want to retrieve all records from the left table and matching records from the right. This is useful to see which products have been purchased and by whom, including customers who haven’t made any purchases.

Example:

SELECT customers.name, products.product_name, sales.quantity

FROM customers

LEFT JOIN sales ON customers.id = sales.customer_id

LEFT JOIN products ON sales.product_id = products.id;

Explanation (RIGHT JOIN) 

Use a RIGHT JOIN when you want to retrieve all records from the right table and matching records from the left. This can be helpful to identify products that have been purchased and by whom, including products that haven’t been purchased by any customer.

Example:

SELECT customers.name, products.product_name, sales.quantity

FROM customers

RIGHT JOIN sales ON customers.id = sales.customer_id

RIGHT JOIN products ON sales.product_id = products.id;

Explanation (FULL JOIN)

Use a FULL JOIN when you want to retrieve all records from both tables, including products that have been purchased and by whom, and also customers who haven’t made any purchases.

Example:

SELECT customers.name, products.product_name, sales.quantity

FROM customers

FULL JOIN sales ON customers.id = sales.customer_id

FULL JOIN products ON sales.product_id = products.id;

Select the appropriate join type based on your analysis goals and the relationship between tables to obtain the desired insights from your data.

Conclusion

In conclusion, mastering SQL joins opens the door to powerful data manipulation and analysis capabilities. Whether you’re a budding data enthusiast or a seasoned analyst, understanding the nuances of INNER, LEFT, RIGHT, and FULL joins empowers you to extract valuable insights from complex relational databases. By seamlessly combining data from multiple tables, you gain the ability to unravel intricate relationships, spot trends, and make informed decisions. Embrace the flexibility of SQL joins to efficiently explore your data’s potential, turning raw information into actionable knowledge. With this fundamental skill in your toolkit, you’re well-equipped to navigate the intricate landscape of database management and elevate your data-driven journey.

Do you want to learn how SQL can be used in data science? We highly recommend checking out this amazing course – Structured Query Language (SQL) for Data Science.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the types of joins in SQL?

A. The types of joins in SQL include INNER JOIN, LEFT JOIN, RIGHT JOIN, and FULL JOIN, allowing data retrieval from multiple related tables based on specified conditions.

Q2. What is join in SQL?

A. In SQL, a join combines data from two or more tables based on a shared column, creating a unified result set. It enhances data analysis by linking related information.

Q3. What is join syntax?

A. Join syntax in SQL involves using keywords like INNER JOIN, LEFT JOIN, RIGHT JOIN, or FULL JOIN, followed by the table names and ON clause specifying the matching conditions.

Q3. Can we join 2 same tables in SQL?

A. Yes, we can join two instances of the same table in SQL. It’s termed a self-join, useful when analyzing relationships within a single table, often utilizing aliases to differentiate between the instances.

Alakh Sethi 25 Aug 2023

Aspiring Data Scientist with a passion to play and wrangle with data and get insights from it to help the community know the upcoming trends and products for their better future.With an ambition to develop product used by millions which makes their life easier and better.

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Responses From Readers

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Krishna
Krishna 26 Feb, 2020

What is the difference between right join and select from the second table?

bimla
bimla 29 Feb, 2020

in output it should show Gender field as well. Please explain if not then why?

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