Why use the SQL database?

I’m not quite sure stackoverflow is a place for such a general question, but let’s give it a try.

Being exposed to the need of storing application data somewhere, I’ve always used MySQL or sqlite, just because it’s always done like that. As it seems like the whole world is using these databases (most of all software products, frameworks, etc), it is rather hard for a beginning developer like me to start thinking about whether this is a good solution or not.

Ok, say we have some object-oriented logic in our application, and objects are related to each other somehow. We need to map this logic to the storage logic, so relations between database objects are required too. This leads us to using relational database, and I’m ok with that – to put it simple, our database table rows sometimes will need to have references to other tables’ rows. But why use SQL language for interaction with such a database?

SQL query is a text message. I can understand this is cool for actually understanding what it does, but isn’t it silly to use text table and column names for a part of application that no one ever seen after deploynment? If you had to write a data storage from scratch, you would have never used this kind of solution. Personally, I would have used some ‘compiled db query’ bytecode, that would be assembled once inside a client application and passed to the database. And it surely would name tables and colons by id numbers, not ascii-strings. In the case of changes in table structure those byte queries could be recompiled according to new db schema, stored in XML or something like that.

What are the problems of my idea? Is there any reason for me not to write it myself and to use SQL database instead?

EDITTo make my question more clear. Most of answers claim that SQL, being a text query, helps developers better understand the query itself and debug it more easily. Personally, I haven’t seen people writing SQL queries by hand for a while. Everyone I know, including me, is using ORM. This situation, in which we build up a new level of abstraction to hide SQL, leads to thinking if we need SQL or not. I would be very grateful if you could give some examples in which SQL is used without ORM purposely, and why.

EDIT2SQL is an interface between a human and a database. The question is why do we have to use it for application/database interaction?
I still ask for examples of human beings writing/debugging SQL.

If all you need to do is store some application data somewhere, then a general purpose RDBMS or even SQLite might be overkill. Serializing your objects and writing them to a file might be simpler in some cases. An advantage to SQLite is that if you have a lot of this kind of information, it is all contained in one file. A disadvantage is that it is more difficult to read it. For example, if you serialize you data to YAML, you can read the file with any text editor or shell.

Personally, I would have used some 'compiled db query' bytecode, that would be assembled once inside a client application and passed to the database.

This is how some database APIs work. Check out static SQL and prepared statements.

Is there any reason for me not to write it myself and to use SQL database instead?

If you need a lot of features, at some point it will be easier to use an existing RDMBS then to write your own database from scratch. If you don’t need many features, a simpler solution may be wiser.

The whole point of database products is to avoid writing the database layer for every new program. Yes, a modern RDMBS might not always be a perfect fit for every project. This is because they were designed to be very general, so in practice, you will always get additional features you don’t need. That doesn’t mean it is better to have a custom solution. The glove doesn’t always need to be a perfect fit.

UPDATE:

But why use SQL language for interaction with such a database?

Good question.

The answer to that may be found in the original paper describing the relational model A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks
, by E. F. Codd, published by IBM in 1970. This paper describes the problems with the existing database technologies of the time, and explains why the relational model is superior.

The reason for using the relational model, and thus a logical query language like SQL, is data independence.

Data independence is defined in the paper as:

“… the independence of application programs and terminal activities from the growth in data types and changes in data representations.”

Before the relational model, the dominate technology for databases was referred to as the network model. In this model, the programmer had to know the on-disk structure of the data and traverse the tree or graph manually. The relational model allows one to write a query against the conceptual or logical scheme that is independent of the physical representation of the data on disk. This separation of logical scheme from the physical schema is why we use the relational model. For a more on this issue, here
are some slides from a database class. In the relational model, we use logic based query languages like SQL to retrieve data. Codd’s paper
goes into more detail about the benefits of the relational model. Give it a read.

SQL is a query language that is easy to type into a computer in contrast with the query languages typically used in a research papers. Research papers generally use relation algebra or relational calculus to write queries.

In summary, we use SQL because we happen to use the relational model for our databases.

If you understand the relational model, it is not hard to see why SQL is the way it is. So basically, you need to study the relation model and database internals more in-depth to really understand why we use SQL. It may be a bit of a mystery otherwise.

UPDATE 2:

SQL is an interface between a human and a database. The question is why do we have to use it for application/database interaction? I still ask for examples of human beings writing/debugging SQL.

Because the database is a relational database, it only understands relational query languages. Internally it uses a relational algebra like language for specifying queries which it then turns into a query plan. So, we write our query in a form we can understand (SQL), the DB takes our SQL query and turns it into its internal query language. Then it takes the query and tries to find a “query plan” for executing the query. Then it executes the query plan and returns the result.

At some point, we must encode our query in a format that the database understands. The database only knows how to convert SQL to its internal representation, that is why there is always SQL at some point in the chain. It cannot be avoided.

When you use ORM, your just adding a layer on top of the SQL. The SQL is still there, its just hidden. If you have a higher-level layer for translating your request into SQL, then you don’t need to write SQL directly which is beneficial in some cases. Some times we do not have such a layer that is capable of doing the kinds of queries we need, so we must use SQL.

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