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Mastering SQL concatenation: combining text and non-text columns

SQL Concatenation – Combining Text and Non-Text Columns

Have you ever needed to create a new string column by joining two or more columns together in SQL? Or perhaps you need to create a composite string column that includes unique identifiers to uniquely identify rows in a database?

SQL concatenation allows you to combine character string values from different columns into one string value, making it an essential feature in SQL. In this article, well explore the use of SQL concatenation, including its definition, use cases, and syntax.

Definition and Use Cases

In SQL, concatenation is the process of combining two or more character string values into one string value. This operation is primarily used to combine the contents of different columns into one string column, creating composite strings for unique identifiers, or for creating new columns with specific formatting requirements.

One use case for concatenation is for creating a full name column by combining a first name and last name column. Another example is when concatenating address details such as street, city, and zip codes into a single column to save space.

You can also use this operator to combine different columns to generate unique identifiers to minimize duplication.

Syntax and Techniques

SQL has several ways to concatenate strings. Many database systems have a CONCAT function that can be used to combine two or more strings.

Another operator commonly used in concatenation is the || operator.

Concatenating Text Columns

When you want to concatenate columns that contain text data type such as string values or char values, use the || operator. This operator is typically used to concatenate two or more text columns, resulting in a string value.

Heres an example:

SELECT last_name || ‘,’ || first_name FROM employees;

This code concatenates the last name and first name columns of the employees table separated by a comma. The resulting column produces values such as “Doe, John.”

You can also use the CONCAT function in place of the || operator.

SELECT CONCAT(last_name, ‘,’ , first_name) FROM employees;

This code returns the same results as the first example, creating a concatenated string that is separated by a comma. Be mindful of NULL values when concatenating columns using these methods.

If any column involved in the concatenation has NULL values, the result of the concatenation would also be NULL. To avoid this, you can use the CONCAT_WS function.

Concatenating Non-Text Columns

When concatenating non-text columns such as numbers and dates, the values will need to be converted to string data types first. This process is called typecasting.

Use the CAST function to convert numerical and date types to strings. Here is an example:

SELECT CONCAT(CAST(purchase_date AS VARCHAR(10)), ‘-‘, CAST(order_id AS VARCHAR(20))) AS order_id FROM orders;

In this code, we concatenated the purchase_date column and the order_id column into a unique identifier column separated by a dash.

The CAST function converts the data type of the purchase_date from date to VARCHAR, while the CAST function converts the data type of the order_id from decimal to VARCHAR. It is important to avoid concatenating a large number of string columns as it can negatively impact database performance.

Breaking down composite strings into individual columns will increase performance, particularly when querying large datasets. In conclusion, SQL concatenation is an important relational database feature that can be used to combine character string values from different columns into one string value.

By using the correct syntax and technique, you can combine both text and non-text columns with ease, creating composite strings for unique identifiers, or for creating new columns with specific formatting requirements. 3) Beware of NULLs! – Handling NULL Values

While concatenating columns, a common issue is NULL values.

If a column contains NULL values, the resulting concatenated column can also become NULL. This can cause unexpected issues, particularly when performing calculations.

However, there are ways to handle NULL values while concatenating columns. One way to handle NULL values is to use the COALESCE() function.

The COALESCE() function accepts multiple arguments and returns the first non-NULL argument. This feature is useful for concatenating multiple columns containing NULL values.

For example:

SELECT COALESCE(first_name, ”) || ‘ ‘ || COALESCE(last_name, ”) AS full_name FROM employees;

In this code, the COALESCE() function checks if the first_name column contains NULL values. If it does, it replaces the NULL value with an empty string.

It then checks the last_name column and replaces any NULL values with an empty string. Finally, it concatenates both columns to generate a full name string.

Another way to handle NULL values is by ignoring them altogether. However, this is not recommended for all applications.

If a column contains NULL values, it may be important to keep track of them and treat them as unique variables in your calculations. MySQL has a unique exception where the NULL values are ignored automatically when using the CONCAT() function.

While this is convenient, the issue of NULL values can still arise and should be addressed to ensure accurate calculations. 4) Using the + Operator – Concatenating Strings in MS SQL Server

MS SQL Server has a specialized operator for concatenating strings that use the + operator.

This operator can be used in a similar manner as the || operator in other database systems. To concatenate two or more strings in MS SQL Server, use the + operator.

For example:

SELECT first_name + ‘ ‘ + last_name AS full_name FROM employees;

This code concatenates the first_name and last_name columns of the employees table separated by a space. The resulting column produces values such as “John Doe.”

Its important to note that when using the + operator, all columns involved in the concatenation must be of the VARCHAR type.

If a column is of a different data type, you need to use the CAST() function to convert the data type. For example:

SELECT CAST(age AS VARCHAR(3)) + ‘ years old’ AS age_group FROM employees;

This code concatenates the age column of the employees table with the string ” years old.” Since the age column is of a different data type than the text values, the value of age needs to be converted to a string using the CAST() function.

In conclusion, concatenating strings is a helpful feature in SQL that allows you to combine multiple columns into one. To get the most accurate results, its important to handle NULL values properly.

Use the COALESCE() function to handle NULL values, and the + operator along with the CAST() function in MS SQL Server for non-VARCHAR columns. By following these practices, you can concatenate columns with ease, and perform calculations without errors.

5) The CONCAT Function – Differences from || and + Operators

In addition to the || operator and the + operator, many database systems have a CONCAT() function that can be used to concatenate strings. While CONCAT() functions similarly to the || and + operators, there are a few notable differences.

One difference is how it handles NULL values. The CONCAT() function does not ignore null values by default like the || operator does in MySQL.

Instead, a NULL value in any column will result in the entire concatenated value being NULL. To deal with nulls while using the CONCAT() function, you can use the COALESCE() function as previously mentioned.

Another key difference is the data type conversion. The + operator can only be used to concatenate VARCHAR columns, whereas the CONCAT() function can concatenate columns of any data type.

However, if the concatenation involves non-VARCHAR columns, the resulting value will need to undergo data type conversion, either explicitly using CAST() function or implicitly through the CONCAT() function.


Here’s an example of using the CONCAT() function to concatenate first and last name columns into a full name column:

SELECT CONCAT(first_name, ‘ ‘, last_name) AS full_name FROM employees;

This code will concatenate the first_name and last_name columns with a space separator. The resulting column produces values such as “John Doe.”

Another example is creating a unique identifier column by concatenating the id and name columns:

SELECT CONCAT(id, ‘-‘, name) AS unique_id FROM orders;

This code concatenates the id and name columns of the orders table, separated by a dash.

The resulting column produces unique identifier values such as “1001-Book.”

6) The CONCAT_WS Function – Concatenating Strings with a Separator

While there are ways to handle NULL values while concatenating strings, the CONCAT_WS() function allows you to concatenate string columns with a separator while ignoring any columns with NULL values. The CONCAT_WS() function works similarly to the CONCAT() function but with an added separator parameter.

This parameter specifies the separator to be used between the non-NULL string values.

For example:

SELECT CONCAT_WS(‘ ‘, first_name, last_name) AS full_name FROM employees;

This code concatenates the values of the first_name and last_name columns and separates the values with a space.

If any column contains NULL values, the separator will not be added between the resulting string values. Using CONCAT_WS() eliminates the need to use COALESCE function when dealing with NULL values.

To use this function with more than two arguments, add a separator as the first argument, followed by the columns you want to concatenate.

Here’s an example using multiple arguments:

SELECT CONCAT_WS(‘-‘, id, first_name, last_name) AS unique_id FROM employees;

This code concatenates the id, first_name and last_name columns of the employees table and adds a dash separator between them.

If any column has NULL values, the separator won’t appear in the resulting string value. The resulting unique identifier values will be in this format: “1001-John-Doe”.

In conclusion, concatenating strings provides an efficient way of combining string columns into one column. Being mindful of NULL values is important in ensuring the accuracy of calculations.

The CONCAT() function, || operator, and + operator function similarly with differences in handling NULL values and data type conversion. The CONCAT_WS() function is useful when working with separators and choosing to ignore NULL values.

With these functions at your disposal, you can easily concatenate two or more string columns in SQL.

7) Practicing SQL – Importance of Practice

SQL is a powerful tool that allows you to manipulate and retrieve data from a database. However, it can be overwhelming when you’re just starting, which is why it’s important to practice regularly and build your confidence and skills.

Hands-on exercises are an effective and efficient way of practicing SQL. Practice will not only expand your SQL knowledge but also help you build confidence in your SQL skills.

The more SQL queries you write, the greater your problem-solving skills and ability to navigate databases become.


One way to practice SQL is through a SQL Practice Set. These sets typically include a variety of SQL problems that simulate real-world situations.

By working through these problems, you’ll not only gain experience in data manipulation but also develop your problem-solving skills. Another way to become an SQL expert is by working on real-world projects.

Projects allow you to develop your SQL skills and also demonstrate your competence to potential employers. For example, creating a database for a local small business or building a website that requires database functionality can give you hands-on experience.

Finishing projects gives you something to showcase in your portfolio, which can attract more job opportunities. To write good SQL queries, you must first understand the underlying data structure you are working with.

You should have a clear understanding of the different types of data, the tables, and how they are related to each other. Next is to take your time to write clear and coherent queries.

There are different ways to approach a problem, and a well-written query can make all the difference.

When writing your queries, consider breaking the problems down into smaller steps.

Working with smaller steps simplifies the problem into solvable parts that can be combined to tackle more significant challenges. In scenarios where the result set you obtained from a query isn’t what you expected or needed, take a step back, re-evaluate and modify your query to fit your needs.

In conclusion, practicing SQL is essential for developing your skills in data manipulation, building your confidence, and improving your problem-solving skills. SQL Practice Sets, real-world projects, and writing coherent queries can help you become an accomplished SQL expert.

With regular practice, you can master SQL and learn to leverage its potential for efficient data manipulation and retrieval. In conclusion, practicing SQL is crucial for building skills and confidence in data manipulation and retrieval.

Hands-on exercises using SQL Practice Sets and real-world projects can help individuals develop their problem-solving skills and become proficient in SQL. When approaching queries, it is essential to understand the underlying data structure and take the time to write clear and coherent queries that work effectively.

With regular practice, individuals can master SQL and leverage its potential for efficient data management. The key takeaway is that dedicating time and effort to practice SQL will yield meaningful results and significantly enhance one’s skills in manipulating and retrieving essential data.

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