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SQL Server, MySQL server, and other commercial database systems offer a host of built-in functions that include mathematical, date, string, and conversion functions. These functions can be used for both processing and manipulating data within the server environments. These inherent functions provide valuable enhancements/extensions to the SQL language and are useful programmatic utilities that are available to a SQL developer.

In this guide, we discuss SQL functions, what they are, and how they work.

SQL Mathematical Functions

Most SQL dialects offer a plethora of mathematical functions as added enhancements to the SQL language. In addition to many mathematical functions, some of the more widely used include ABS, COUNT, MIN, MAX, ROUND, and SUM which are all outlined below.

ABS() function

The ABS() function returns the absolute value of a constant or expression and returns NULL if the constant or expression is NULL.

For example:

SELECT ABS(2);   /* Returns a value of "2" */

SELECT ABS(-2);  /* Returns a value of "2" */

COUNT() function

The COUNT() function returns the number of rows that matches a specified criterion in a Select statement.

The format of the COUNT() function is:

FROM   Table
WHERE  Criteria

where ColumnName is the name of a column in table Table, and Criteria is a condition based on which COUNT() returns the number of rows matched.

For example:

SELECT COUNT(EmployeeName)
FROM   Employees
WHERE  Salary > 100000;    /* Returns the count of employees
                            with salary > $100k */

MIN() and MAX() function

The MIN() function returns the minimum value of a selected column, whereas the MAX() function returns the maximum value of a selected column.

For example:

FROM   Employees;  /* Returns the highest salary of all employees
                   in table Employees */

FROM   Employees;  /* Returns the lowest salary of all employees
                   in table Employees */

ROUND() function

The ROUND() function rounds a number to a specified number of decimal places.

The format of the ROUND() function is:

ROUND( Number, DecimalPlaces);  /* Round Number to # of DecimalPlace */

For example:

SELECT ROUND (346.315, 2);      /* Returns a value of 346.32 */

SELECT ROUND (346.314, 2);      /* Returns a value of 346.31 */

SELECT ROUND (346.27863, 3);    /* Returns a value of 346.279 */

SUM() function

The SUM() function calculates the sum of a set of values.

For example:

SELECT SUM(Quantity)
FROM OrderDetails;     /* Returns the Sum of Column Quantity
                        from the OrderDetails Table */

SQL Date Functions

Most SQL dialects offer several date functions that are added enhancements to the SQL language. Although the names of date functions differ across the different database server implementations, their functionality is identical. In SQL Server, some of the more popular date functions include GETDATE, DATEPART, DATEADD, DATEDIFF, and CONVERT, which are all outlined below.

GETDATE() function

The GETDATE() function is a SQL Server function that returns the current date and time. Its MySQL equivalent is the NOW() function.

SELECT GETDATE();    /* Returns this system date.
                      As an example,'2022-03-19 11:22.04' */

In the following example, any time a record is inserted into the Orders table, the current date/time is inserted into the OrderDate column. This is because its default is defined by the GETDATE() function.

    OrderId       INT           NOT NULL,
    ProductName   VARCHAR(25)   NOT NULL,

DATEPART() function

The DATEPART() function returns a specific portion of a date/time string, based on a unit specification. The unit specification can be any portion of the date/time string including Year, Month, Day, Hour, Minute, Seconds, etc. The MySQL equivalent is the EXTRACT() function.

The format of the DATEPART() function is:

DATEPART (unit, date string)

For example, using the Orders table specified above, we can retrieve specific units (year, month, and day) of the OrderDate column for OrderId 7, as shown below:

SELECT   DATEPART(yyyy, OrderDate),
         DATEPART(mm, OrderDate),
         DATEPART(dd, OrderDate)
FROM Orders
WHERE OrderId = 7;

DATEADD() function

The DATEADD() function adds (or subtracts using negative units) a specified time interval (based on a specified unit) from a date, where the unit specification can be in Years, Months, Days, Hours, Minutes, Seconds, etc. The MySQL equivalent functions are DATE_ADD() and DATE_SUB().

The format of the DATEADD() function is:

DATEADD(unit, number, date)

For example, following is the SQL code to calculate 30 days beyond the OrderDate in the Orders table, for OrderId 7:

SELECT DATEADD(day, 30, OrderDate)
FROM Orders
WHERE OrderId = 7;

DATEDIFF() function

The DATEDIFF() function, similarly named in MySQL, returns the time between two dates. The unit specification for the difference can again be expressed in Years, Months, Days, Hours, Minutes, Seconds, etc.

The format of the DATEDIFF() function is:

DATEDIFF(unit, startdate, enddate)

Consider the Orders table example above. For OrderId 7, to calculate the number of days that have elapsed between Today (from GETDATE()), and the OrderDate column value, the SQL code would be:

FROM Orders
WHERE  OrderId=7;

CONVERT() function

The CONVERT() function can be used to display date/time data in different formats. The MySQL equivalent function is the DATE_FORMAT() function.

The format of the CONVERT() function is:

CONVERT(data_type(length), expression, style)

where style can be a myriad of numeric output formats (see SQL Server documentation for an exhaustive list).

For example:

SELECT GETDATE();    /* Returns this system date.
                        For example, 2022-03-19 11:22.04 */

/* Returns ‘03-19-22’, since style "10" equates to "mm-dd-yy" */

SQL String Functions

Most SQL dialects offer a number of string manipulation functions which are added enhancements to the SQL language. Some of the more prominent SQL Server string functions include CHARINDEX, CONCAT, FORMAT, LEFT, LEN, RIGHT, TRIM, and SUBSTRING. If the string function names (described below) in MySQL differ, their counterpart name is specified.

CHARINDEX() function

The CHARINDEX() function searches for a substring in a string and returns the starting numeric position of the specified substring. If the substring is not found within the string, this function returns a value of “0”. The MySQL equivalent function is named INSTR.

The format of the CHARINDEX() function is:

CHARINDEX(substring, string, start)

For example:

SELECT CHARINDEX('b’, 'Zebra');   /* Returns a value of ‘3’ */

SELECT CHARINDEX('y’, 'Zebra');   /* Returns a value of ‘0’ */

CONCAT() function

The CONCAT() function adds two or more strings together.

The format of the CONCAT() function is:

 CONCAT(string1, string2, ...., stringN)

For example:

 SELECT CONCAT('Today is ', 'Sunday');   /* Returns the string:
                                           'Today is Sunday' */

FORMAT() function

The FORMAT() function formats a value with the specified format. It is typically used to format date/time values and numeric values.

The format of the FORMAT() function is:

FORMAT(value, format)

For example:

SELECT FORMAT(111223333, '##-##-#####'); /* Returns the string '111-22-3333' */

LEFT() function

The LEFT() function returns a substring with a specified number of characters from a string (starting from the left; that is position 1).

The format of the LEFT() functions is:

 LEFT(string, NumberOfChars)

For example:

 SELECT LEFT('Johanson', 5); /* Returns a substring of ‘Johan’ */

LEN() function

The function LEN() returns the length of a string. The Mysql equivalent function is named CHAR_LENGTH.

The format of the LEN() function is:


For example:

SELECT LEN('My dog is named Lily');  /* Returns a value of 20 */

RIGHT() function

The RIGHT() function returns a substring with a specified number of characters from a string (starting from the right).

The format of the RIGHT() functions is:

RIGHT(string, NumberOfChars)

For example:

SELECT RIGHT('Johanson', 5);    /* Returns a substring of 'anson' */

TRIM() function

The TRIM() function removes both leading and trailing spaces from a string.

The format of the TRIM() function is:


For example:

SELECT TRIM(' This is a string `); /* Returns the string This is a string' */

SUBSTRING() function

The SUBSTRING() function returns a substring of characters from a string, given a starting position and a specified length of the required substring.

The format of the SUBSTRING() function is:

SUBSTRING(string, start, length)

For example:

SELECT SUBSTRING('Mr. Jones', 5, 5);   /* Returns a substring of ‘Jones’ */

SQL Conversion Functions

In addition to assisting date/time columns/values from being converted to different display formats (noted in the SQL Date functions section above), the CONVERT() function can also be used to convert a value of any type into a different specified datatype.

In this context, the format of the CONVERT() function is:

SELECT CONVERT(datatype, value);

For example:

SELECT CONVERT(VARCHAR(20), 12345.34); /* Returns a string of ‘12345.34’ */


The use of mathematical, date/time, string, and conversion functions offers many built-in facilities that help augment the SQL language. These powerful functions can be used for both processing and manipulating data in a database server environment.

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