SQL DESCRIBE: Unveiling the Secrets of Your Tables

Abhishek Kumar 05 Jul, 2024
3 min read


In relational databases, where data is meticulously organized in tables, understanding their structure is essential. SQL’s DESCRIBE (or DESC in some database systems) command gives you to become a data detective, peering into the internal makeup of your tables and extracting valuable information.



  • The DESCRIBE command in SQL allows users to explore the structure of database tables by retrieving details about their columns.
  • This non-destructive statement provides insights into column names, data types, nullability, and additional properties depending on the database system.
  • It helps users understand table structure, write accurate queries, and enhance documentation and collaboration.
  • The basic syntax is DESCRIBE <table_name>;, and an example usage is shown with a customers Table to illustrate typical output.


DESCRIBE is a non-destructive statement used to introspect a table’s schema. It retrieves details about the table’s columns, providing insights into:

  • Column Names: The identifiers used to reference individual data points within the table.
  • Data Types: This tells about the kind of data each column can store (e.g., integers, strings, dates).
  • Nullability: Whether a column can contain missing values (NULL) or must always have a value (NOT NULL).
  • Additional Properties (system-dependent): Some database systems might provide further details, like default values, column size limitations, or key constraints.

Benefits of Using DESCRIBE

By employing DESCRIBE, you gain numerous advantages:

  • Understanding Table Structure: Quickly grasp the layout of a table, including the types of data it holds.
  • Writing Accurate Queries: Ensure your queries reference columns with appropriate data types and avoid potential errors.
  • Documentation and Collaboration: Facilitate communication by clearly showing the table’s makeup.

Syntax and Usage

The basic syntax of DESCRIBE is straightforward:

DESCRIBE <table_name>;


DESC <table_name>;

Replace <table_name> with the actual name of the table you want to examine.


Consider a table named customers storing customer information:

CREATE TABLE customers (


  name VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,

  email VARCHAR(255) UNIQUE,

  phone_number CHAR(12)


Executing DESCRIBE customers would likely return output similar to:


DESCRIBE is a fundamental tool for any SQL user. By incorporating this command into your workflow, you can effectively navigate the structure of your database tables, write accurate queries, and foster smooth collaboration. Remember, understanding your data is key to unlocking its full potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Does DESCRIBE modify the table data?

Ans. No, DESCRIBE is a read-only command. It only retrieves information about the table’s structure without altering the actual data.

Q2. Can I use DESCRIBE on views?

Ans. Yes, DESCRIBE can also be used on views to understand the underlying columns and tables involved in the view’s definition.

Q3. Are there any alternatives to DESCRIBE?

Ans. Depending on your database system, you might have alternative ways to view table schema information. Consult your system’s documentation for specific commands or tools.

Q4. What if DESCRIBE doesn’t show all the information I need?

Ans. In some cases, DESCRIBE might not reveal all the details about the table. You can explore system-specific tools or information schema queries to delve deeper into the table’s definition.

Abhishek Kumar 05 Jul, 2024

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