SQL basics

Previously, you learned about how to incorporate networked data into your app, and learned about using coroutines to handle concurrent tasks. In this pathway, you'll learn another fundamental skill of Android development that will enable you to build quality apps: persistence. Even if you haven't heard the term before, you've likely encountered persistence before when using an app. From writing a shopping list, to scrolling through pictures from several years ago in a photos app, to pausing and resuming a game, apps use persistence to provide a seamless user experience. While it's easy for users to take these features for granted, persisting data is an essential skill for a developer to build high quality apps.

Later in this unit, you'll learn more about persistence on Android, and learn about a library called Room that allows your apps to read and write from a database. However, before you dive into working with persistence on Android, it's important to get familiar with the basics of relational databases, and how to read and manipulate data with something called SQL (short for Structured Query Language). If you're already familiar with these concepts, consider this lesson as a review to make sure these concepts are fresh when you learn about Room. If not, then that's perfectly fine! We don't expect you to know anything about databases at this point. By the end of this codelab, you'll have all the fundamentals you need to start learning how to work with databases in an Android app.

Prerequisites

  • Navigate a project in Android Studio.

What you'll learn

  • The structure of a relational database: tables, columns, and rows
  • SELECT statements including WHERE, ORDER BY, GROUP BY, and LIMIT clauses
  • How to insert, update, and delete rows using SQL

What you'll need

  • A computer with Android studio installed.

What is a relational database?

In computing, a database is simply a structured collection of data that can be electronically accessed and written to. Databases can store any of the same information you can represent in an app using Kotlin. On mobile devices, databases are commonly used to save data from a running app so that it can be accessed the next time the app is opened, without retrieving the data from another source, like the internet. This is known as data persistence.

When talking about data persistence, you'll often hear the term "relational database." A relational database is a common type of database that organizes data into tables, columns, and rows. When writing Kotlin code, you create classes that represent objects. A table in a relational database works the same way. Besides representing data, tables can also reference other tables so that you can have relationships between them. A classic example would be a table of "students", "teachers," and "course." A course would have one teacher, but a student might have many courses. A database can represent the relationships between these tables, which is why you'll often hear the term relational database.

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Real world relationships can be represented with relationships between tables.

Tables, columns, and rows

Defining the tables, or what data you're representing, is only the first step in creating a relational database. You also need to think about what specific pieces of information are stored in each table. Specific properties are represented by columns. A column consists of a name, and a data type. You're already familiar with properties from working with classes in Kotlin. You can think of SQL tables the same way. A table is like a class definition, describing the type of "thing" you want to represent. A column is a specific property of the "thing" created with each entry in the table.

PlantidINTEGERspeciesTEXT (string)nameTEXT (string)colorTEXT (string)

GardenidINTEGERnameTEXT (string)lengthINTEGERwidthINTEGER

Plant

id

INTEGER

species

TEXT (string)

name

TEXT (string)

color

TEXT (string)

Garden

id

INTEGER

name

TEXT (string)

length

INTEGER

width

INTEGER

Individual table entries are called rows. This is just like an instance of a class in Kotlin. Each row has data corresponding to each column. The table provides the template, but the rows define the actual data stored in the table.

id

species

name

color

1

Camellia Sinensis

Tea Plant

green

2

Echinacea Purpurea

Purple Coneflower

purple

3

Ferula Foetida

Asafoetida

green

Primary Key

In the above example, notice how there's a column for an id property. While chances are that plant species in nature, or whatever you represent in your database, probably don't have a conveniently numbered id, it's important for rows in a data table to have some sort of unique identifier. This is commonly known as the primary key, and is unique to each row in the table. This is useful if you need to reference rows in one data table from another table. Say for example, there was another table called "garden" where you want to associate a garden with all the plant species it contains. You can use the primary key in the plants table to reference a plant from an entry in the garden table, or any other table in the database.

Primary keys make it possible to have the relationships in a relational database. While you won't be using databases with more than one table in this course, having a unique ID which will also help with querying, updating, and deleting existing items in a table.

Data Types

Just like with defining properties of Kotlin classes, columns in a database can be one of many possible data types. A column can represent a character, string, number (with or without a decimal), or binary data. Other data like dates and times could either be represented numerically or as a string depending on the use case. When working with Room, you'll mainly be working with Kotlin types, but they map to SQL types behind the scenes.

SQL

When accessing a relational database, whether on its own or using a library such as Room, you'll need something called SQL.

What's SQL? SQL (sometimes pronounced "sequel") stands for Structured Query Language, and allows you to read and manipulate data in a relational database. Don't worry though - you won't have to learn an entirely new programming language just to implement persistence in your app. Unlike a programming language like Kotlin, SQL consists of just a few types of statements for reading and writing from a database. Once you learn the basic format of each, it's just a matter of filling in the blanks for the specific information you're reading or writing from the database.

Below are the most common SQL statements, and the ones you'll be working with.

SELECT

Gets specific information from a data table and results can be filtered and sorted in various ways.

INSERT

Adds a new row to a table.

UPDATE

Updates an existing row (or rows) in a table.

DELETE

Removes an existing row (or rows) from a table.

Now, before you can do anything in SQL, you're going to need a database. On the next screen, you'll get set up with a sample project that includes a database for you to practice SQL queries.

The starter code you'll download is a bit different than for previous codelabs. Instead of building upon an existing project, we'll provide a simple Android Studio project that creates a database that you can use to practice SQL queries. After running the app once, you'll be able to access the database using an Android Studio tool called the Database Inspector.

To get the code for this codelab and open it in Android Studio, do the following.

Get the code

  1. Click on the provided URL. This opens the GitHub page for the project in a browser.
  2. On the GitHub page for the project, click the Code button, which brings up a dialog.

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  1. In the dialog, click the Download ZIP button to save the project to your computer. Wait for the download to complete.
  2. Locate the file on your computer (likely in the Downloads folder).
  3. Double-click the ZIP file to unpack it. This creates a new folder that contains the project files.

Open the project in Android Studio

  1. Start Android Studio.
  2. In the Welcome to Android Studio window, click Open an existing Android Studio project.

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Note: If Android Studio is already open, instead, select the File > New > Import Project menu option.

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  1. In the Import Project dialog, navigate to where the unzipped project folder is located (likely in your Downloads folder).
  2. Double-click on that project folder.
  3. Wait for Android Studio to open the project.
  4. Click the Run button 11c34fc5e516fb1c.png to build and run the app. Make sure it builds as expected.
  5. Browse the project files in the Project tool window to see how the app is set-up.

Before moving onto the next section, complete the following steps to make sure you're set up with the starter project.

  1. Run the application. The app should show a single screen that looks like this.

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  1. In Android Studio, open the Database Inspector with View > Tool Windows > Database Inspector.
  2. You should see a new tab at the bottom labeled "Database Inspector." It may take a few seconds to load, but you should see a list on the left with the data tables, which you can select to run queries against.

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For the following exercises, you'll run the queries in the Database Inspector. Make sure you select the correct table in the left pane (park), click the Open New Query Tab button and you should see a text box where you can type SQL commands.

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A SQL statement is a command, sort of like a line of code, that accesses (either reading or writing) a database. The most basic thing you can do in SQL is simply getting all the data in a table. To do this, you start with the word SELECT, meaning that you want to read data. Then, you add a star (*). This is where you would specify the columns you want to select, and using a star is shorthand for selecting all columns. Then, use the FROM keyword followed by the name of the data table, park. Run the following command in the Database Inspector, and observe the entire table with all the rows and columns.

SELECT * FROM park

If you want to only select a specific column instead of all columns in the data table, you can specify a column name.

SELECT city FROM park

You can also select multiple specific columns, each separated with a comma.

SELECT name, established, city FROM park

Sometimes selecting all the rows in a database isn't entirely necessary. You can add clauses-part of a SQL statement-to further narrow down your results.

One clause is LIMIT, which allows you to set a limit on the number of rows returned. So instead of returning all 23 results, the following query only returns the first five.

SELECT name FROM park
LIMIT 5

One of the most common and useful clauses is the WHERE clause. A WHERE clause lets you filter results based on one or more columns.

SELECT name FROM park
WHERE type = "national_park"

There's also a "not equal to" (!=) operator. The following query lists all parks over 100,000 acres that are not a recreation_area. With WHERE clauses, you can also use Boolean operators like AND or OR to add more than one condition.

SELECT name FROM park
WHERE type != "recreation_area"
AND area_acres > 100000

Practice

SQL queries can be useful to answer a variety of questions about your data, and the best way to practice is to write your own queries. Over the next few steps, you'll have the opportunity to write a query to answer a particular question. Be sure to test it in the Database Inspector before moving on.

All exercises will build on the cumulative knowledge from all previous sections, and there will be walkthroughs at the end of the codelab to check your answers.

The first query you wrote simply returned every row in the database.

SELECT * FROM park

However, perhaps you don't want to return a long list of results. SQL also offers aggregate functions which can help you reduce data into a single meaningful value. For example, say you want to know the number of rows in the park table. Instead of SELECT * ..., use the COUNT() function and pass in * (for all rows) or a column name, and the query will instead return a count of all rows.

SELECT COUNT(*) FROM park

Another useful aggregate function is the SUM() function, for adding up the values in a column. This query filters only national parks (as these are the only entries with a park_visitors column that's not null), and adds up the total number of visitors for every park.

SELECT SUM(park_visitors) FROM park
WHERE type = "national_park"

It's worth noting that you can still use SUM() on a null value, but value will simply be treated as zero. The following query will return the same as the one above. However, it's still a good idea to be as specific as possible to avoid bugs when you start using SQL in your apps.

SELECT SUM(park_visitors) FROM park

In addition to aggregating values, other useful functions exist, like MAX() and MIN() to get the largest or smallest value respectively.

SELECT MAX(area_acres) FROM park
WHERE type = 'national_park'

Getting DISTINCT values

You may notice that for some rows, the column has the same value as other rows. For example, the type column only has a finite number of possible values. You can eliminate duplicate values from your query results using the DISTINCT keyword. For example, to get all the unique values for the type column, you can use the following query.

SELECT DISTINCT type FROM park

You can also use DISTINCT in an aggregate function, so instead of listing out the unique types and counting them yourself, you can simply return the count.

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT type) FROM park

Practice

Take the time to apply what you've learned and see if you can write the following queries. Be sure to use the Database Inspector to verify that your code works.

In the previous examples, it may have been difficult to find a specific entry. Thankfully, you can also sort results of a SELECT statement using an ORDER BY clause. You add an ORDER BY clause at the end of the query after the WHERE clause (if any) and simply specify the column name you'd like to sort by. The following example gets the name of every park in the database, but sorts the results in alphabetical order.

SELECT name FROM park
ORDER BY name

By default, results are sorted in ascending order, but you can add either the ASC or DESC keyword to the order by clause to sort in ascending or descending order. You don't need to specify ASC as the first query lists results in ascending order to begin with, but if you want to get results in descending order, add the DESC keyword to the end of the ORDER BY clause.

SELECT name FROM park
ORDER BY name DESC

To make results easier to read, you also have the option to group them by column. Before the ORDER BY clause (if any), you can optionally specify a GROUP BY clause and a column. What this does is separate the results into a subset specific to the column in the GROUP BY, and for each column, the results will be filtered and ordered according to the rest of the query.

SELECT type, name FROM park
GROUP BY type
ORDER BY name

This is best understood using an example. Instead of counting all the parks in the database, you can see how many parks of each type are present, and get a separate count for each.

SELECT type, COUNT(*) FROM park
GROUP BY type
ORDER BY type

Practice

Take the time to apply what you've learned and see if you can write the following query. Be sure to use the Database Inspector to verify that your code works.

Problem 4: Write a SQL query to the top 5 park names along with their visitor count that had the most visitors, in descending order.

You'll need to be able to write data in order to take full advantage of persisting data on Android with Room. In addition to querying a database, there are also SQL statements for inserting, updating, and deleting rows. You'll need a basic knowledge of these when you learn to write data with Room later in Pathway 2.

INSERT statement

To add a new row, you use the INSERT statement. The INSERT statement is followed by the INTO keyword and the name of the table in which you'd like to add a row. After the VALUES keyword, you provide the value for each column (in order) in parentheses, with each one separated by a comma. The format of an INSERT statement is as follows.

INSERT INTO table_name
VALUES (column1, column2, ...)

To add a row to the park table, the INSERT statement would look something like this. The values match the order in which the columns are defined for the park table. Notice that some of the data is not specified. That's OK for now, as you can always update a row after it's been inserted.

INSERT INTO park
VALUES (null, 'Googleplex', 'Mountain View', 12, null, 0, '')

Also notice that you pass in null for the ID. While you can provide a specific number, this isn't exactly convenient as your app would have to keep track of the latest ID to make sure there are no duplicates. You can, however, configure your database so that the primary key is automatically incremented, which was done here. That way you can pass in null, and the next ID is chosen automatically.

Verify that the entry was created, using a WHERE clause to specify the park named "Googleplex".

SELECT * FROM park
WHERE name = 'Googleplex'

UPDATE statement

After a row has been created, you can change its contents at any time. You can do so using an UPDATE statement. Like all the other SQL statements you've seen, you first need to specify the table name. In the SET clause, simply set each column you want to change to its new value.

UPDATE table_name
SET column1 = ...,
column2 = ...,
...
WHERE column_name = ...
...

For the Googleplex entry, one existing property is updated, and some other fields are filled in (these fields previously had a value but it was an empty string, ""). You can update multiple (or all) fields at once with an UPDATE statement.

UPDATE park
SET area_acres = 46,
established = 1088640000,
type = 'office'
WHERE name = 'Googleplex'

See the updates reflected in the query results

SELECT * FROM park
WHERE name = 'Googleplex'

DELETE Statement

Finally, you can also use a SQL command to delete rows from the database. Again, specify the table name, and just like you did with SELECT statements, you use a WHERE clause to provide criteria for the rows you want to delete. Since a WHERE clause can match multiple rows, you can delete multiple rows with a single command.

DELETE FROM table_name
WHERE <column_name> = ...

Because the Googleplex isn't a national park, try using a DELETE statement to remove this entry from the database.

DELETE FROM park
WHERE name = 'Googleplex'

Verify to make sure the row is deleted using a SELECT statement. The query should return no results, meaning all the rows that had the name "Googleplex" were successfully deleted.

SELECT * FROM park
WHERE name = 'Googleplex'

That's all there is to inserting, updating, and deleting data. All you need to know is the format for the SQL command you want to perform, and specify values that match the columns in the database. When we introduce Room in the next codelab, you'll primarily be focused on reading from a database. Inserting, updating, and deleting data will be covered in detail in Pathway 2.

Hopefully the practice exercises were helpful in solidifying your understanding of SQL concepts. If you got stuck on any of them, or would like to check your answers, feel free to refer to our answers below

Problem 1: Write a SQL query to get the names of all parks with fewer than 1,000,000 visitors.

This problem asks for the park names (a single column) with the requirement that there are fewer than 1,000,000 visitors, which can be specified in the WHERE clause.

SELECT name FROM park
WHERE park_visitors < 1000000

Problem 2: Write a SQL query to get the number of distinct cities in the park table

The total count of a column can be calculated using the COUNT() function, but since you only want distinct cities (since some cities have multiple parks), you can use the DISTINCT keyword before the column name in the COUNT() function.

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT city) FROM park

Problem 3: Write a SQL query to get the total number of visitors to parks in San Francisco.

The total number of visitors can be calculated using the SUM() function. Additionally, you also need a WHERE clause to specify only parks located in San Francisco.

SELECT SUM(park_visitors) FROM park
WHERE city = "San Francisco"

Problem 4: Write a SQL query to the top 5 parks (names only) along with their visitor count that had the most visitors, in descending order.

The query needs to get both the name and park_visitors columns. The results are sorted on the park_visitors column in descending order using the ORDER BY clause. Because you don't want to group the results on another column and sort within those groups, a GROUP BY clause is not necessary.

SELECT name, park_visitors FROM park
ORDER BY park_visitors DESC
LIMIT 5

In summary:

  • Relational databases allow you to store data, organized into tables, columns, and rows.
  • You can retrieve data from a database using the SQL SELECT statement.
  • You can use a variety of clauses in a SELECT statement including WHERE, GROUP BY, ORDER BY, and LIMIT to make your queries more specific.
  • You can use aggregate functions to combine data from multiple rows into a single column.
  • You can add, update, and delete rows in a database using the SQL INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements respectively.

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