Data Definition Language (DDL) is a group of SQL statements that you can execute to manage database objects, including tables, views, and more. Using DDL statements, you can perform powerful commands in your database such as creating, modifying, and dropping objects. DDL commands are usually executed in a SQL browser or stored procedure.
DDL is contrasted with Data Manipulation Language (DML) which is the SQL that is used to actually access and manipulate data in database objects. The majority of data analysts will rarely execute DDL commands and will do the majority of their work creating DML statements to model and analyze data.
Data folks don’t typically write DDL since dbt will do it for them.
To be honest, DDL is definitely some of the drier content that exists out there in the greater data world. However, because DDL commands are often uncompromising and should be used with caution, it’s incredibly important to understand how they work and when they should be used. We hope you can use this page to learn about the basics, strengths, and limitations of DDL statements.
Types of DDL Statements
DDL statements are used to create, drop, and manipulate objects in your database. They are often, but not always, unforgiving and irreversible. “With great power comes great responsibility,” is usually the first thing I think of before I execute a DDL command. We’ll highlight some of the primary DDL commands that are used by analytics engineers below.
The syntax for DDL commands can be pretty database-specific. We are trying to make this glossary page as generic as possible, but please use the “Further Reading” section to see the specifics on how the following DDL commands would be implemented in your database of interest!
ALTER DDL command, you can change an object in your database that already exists. By "change", we specifically mean you can:
- Add new, remove, and rename columns to views and tables
- Rename a view or table
- Modify the structure of a view or table
- And more!
The generic syntax to use the ALTER command is as follows:
ALTER <database object type> <database object name>;
To alter a table’s column, you may do something like this:
ALTER TABLE customers rename column last_name as last_initial;
In this example, you have to rename the
last_name column in jaffle_shop’s
customers table to be called
DROP command. Probably the most high-stakes DDL statement one can execute. One that should be used with the utmost of care. At its core, an executed
DROP statement will remove that object from the data warehouse. You can drop tables, views, schemas, databases, users, functions, and more.
Some data warehouses such as Snowflake allow you to add restrictions to
DROP statements to caution you about the impact of dropping a table, view, or schema before it’s actually dropped. In practice, we recommend you never drop raw source tables as they are often your baseline of truth. Your database user also usually needs the correct permissions to drop database objects.
The syntax to use the
DROP command is as follows:
DROP <database object type> <database object name>;
You can drop your
customer table like this:
DROP TABLE customers;
CREATE statement, you can create new objects in your data warehouse. The most common objects created with this statement are tables, schemas, views, and functions. Unlike
TRUNCATE commands, there’s little risk with running
CREATE statements since you can always drop what you create.
Creating tables and views with the
CREATE command requires a strong understanding of how you want the data structured, including column name and data type. Using the
CREATE command to establish tables and views can be laborious and repetitive, especially if the schema objects contain many columns, but is an effective way to create new objects in a database. After you create a table, you can use DML
INSERT statements and/or a transformation tool such as dbt to actually get data in it.
The generic syntax to use the
CREATE command is as follows:
CREATE <database object type> <database object name>;
Creating a table using the
CREATE statement may look a something like this:
CREATE TABLE prod.jaffle_shop.jaffles (
Note that you had to explicitly define column names and column data type here. You must have a strong understanding of your data’s structure when using the CREATE command for tables and views.
TRUNCATE command will remove all rows from a table while maintaining the underlying table structure. The
TRUNCATE command is only applicable for table objects in a database. Unlike
TRUNCATE statements don’t remove the actual table from the database, just the data stored in them.
The syntax to use the
TRUNCATE command is as follows:
TRUNCATE TABLE <table name>;
You can truncate your jaffle_shop’s
payments table by executing this statement:
TRUNCATE TABLE payments;
Previously, this table was 113 rows. After executing this statement, the table is still in your database, but now has zero rows.
DDL statements allow you to remove, edit, and add database objects. Some of the most common DDL statements you’ll execute include
ALTER, and more. DDL commands are typically executed in a SQL browser or stored procedure. Ultimately, DDL commands are all-powerful and potentially high-risk and should be used with the greatest of care. In the case of DDL, do not throw caution to the wind…
For database-specific DDL resources, check out the following: