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The World in SQL

There are many relational databases out there and all of them have the SQL - the Structured Query Language - in common though different dialects exist. Knowing SQL at least on a basic to intermediate level is beneficial for the every day life of an IT guy as you never know where you'll encounter it and it empowers you to use something better than Excel when solving a more complex task around data.

The course here is a repetition of SQL. It's not meant to be the first introduction to SQL. You are also expected to be able to install a DB server and import an SQL file. If you are still a rookie, then you should follow a tutorial alongside to learn the stuff systematically.

The course is built on exercises that get gradually more difficult. You are encouraged to solve the exercises by yourself! Believe me, the best way to learn SQL is by starting with basic queries and then add up the restrictions you have.

While you build queries you might land in a dead end and you fiddle around and still can't get the right result. This is sometimes tedious but nevertheless you learn a lot along the way, at least a way not to do it! You then start a new approach to the question and try to make the query more complex again until you have the solution you want.

If all fails, you can find the solutions at the end of the page. Keep in mind, three is often more than one solution.


Fetch the world database to the database server and import the schema and data. Just follow the guide provided by the fore-mentioned page. If you do not have an SQL server yet, you might want to follow the webappstack course or fetch a pre-built VM from the internet featuring MariaDB or any other relational database that speaks SQL.

Journey Around the World

Understanding the Database

The data about our world is now store in a database. That makes it possible to use the SQL languages to query the data and therefore ask questions that we want answers for. To able to ask questions we first need to know what we can ask for.

Exercise 1 - What do we know about the world?

Try to answer the following questions:

  • What tables do we have to select data from? What might be their role?
  • Which data do we know about a single country?
  • What do we know about a single city?

Now that you have inspected the individual tables, it's time to investigate their relationships. From the real world we know that the world is composed from continents and the continents are divided in countries.
Every country has population and the people live in cities of different sizes. Also people are talking different languages, sometimes more than one within the same country.

Exercise 2 - Relationships and ERD

Try to draw an ERD that shows all entities with some of their attributes especially those that are used to build relationships between the entities.

Let's start our journey around the world by investigating some facts and getting the numbers. From counting simply counting countries to finding nifty facts. The possibilities are endless and you are invited to create further questions after you have solved all of mine.
Talking about mine, the difficulty increased from question to question while new feature of SQL are gradually introduced.

Basic Data Selection

Exercise 3 - Countries in the World

  • Create a list of all countries and their country code.
  • How many countries are known to the database.
  • Which countries start with the letter M?
  • What's the population of Switzerland?

Aren't you surprised? Are there really only 7.1 millions of people in Switzerland. Shouldn't there be more than 8 millions already? Yes, the data we are dealing with is quite old! We will see this at other places too!

Let's talk about continents and regions now. We know that there are the columns continent and region. That means, every country belongs to a region and a continent. Some countries are in the same region or on the same continent.

Exercise 4 - Relationships, anyone? - an excursion

Attribute continent as well as attribute region are modeled as columns here. Is this a good choice? Are there other, better possibilities to model these relationships? How would you model the relationships between continents, regions and countries? Draw a better ERD for these relationships.

Now back to selecting data in our country table. As regions and continents are not normalized we have to select a little different and have to use special select flavors.

Exercise 5 - From continents and regions

  • Can you fetch a list of all continents and their regions ordered first by continent and then by region?
  • Can you fetch the list of countries that belong to Europe but not to the following regions:
    • Western Europe
    • British Islands
    • Nordic Countries
  • How many of the above are known to the database?

Hints and Solutions

Understanding the Database

Hints ex 1 - What do we know about the world?

These questions can be answered using DESCRIBE statement, SHOW TABLES statement or SHOW COLUMNS statement. Then examine the output carefully and try to figure out what data is stored in these columns. Bonus question: What is the difference between the DESCRIBE and SHOW COLUMNS?

USE world;
DESCRIBE country;
DESCRIBE countrylanguage;
Hints ex 2 - Relationships and ERD

An entity relationship diagram show things with the attributes and the relationships between the things. In our case we have the countries, cities that belong to countries and languages that are spoken in these countries.
The cities are matched to their countries by the country code. The same goes for the languages. Therefore the countrycode is a foreign key of cities and languages to build a relationship to the countries.

You can draw an ERD on paper or any tool you like. The following solution is done by using Mermaid.js that is thankfully already built-in in mkdocs-material.

        string Code PK "The country code"
        string Name
        enum Continent "'Asia','Europe','North America','Africa','Oceania','Antarctica','South America'"
        string Region
        decimal SurfaceArea
    COUNTRY ||--o{ CITY : has
    CITY {
        int ID PK "The primary Key"
        string Name
        string CountryCode FK "The country code"
        string District
        int Population "default: 0"
        string CountryCode FK "The country code"
        enum IsOfficial "T, F default: F"
        decimal Percentage

Basic Data Selection

Hints ex 3 - Countries in the world
  • To answer the first exercise select only the columns name and country code
  • For the second question you have to use the COUNT function.
  • To answer the last question you have to narrow down the results using a WHERE clause with a LIKE operator
SELECT Name, Code FROM country;
SELECT count(Code) FROM country;
SELECT Name FROM country WHERE Name like 'M%';
SELECT Population FROM country WHERE Name = 'Switzerland';
Hints ex 4 - Relationships, anyone?

Both attributes are not normalized, which means their string values occur multiple times in the column. When adding new country there's a chance for typos, i.e. 'Europe' instead of 'Europe' and this country would then not be on the content. Therefore we would normally normalize both to their own tables and add primary and foreign key to reference the data. Can you come up with a solution for a fully normalized country, region, continent relationship?

        int ID PK "The identifier of the continent"
        string Name
    CONTINENT ||--|{ REGION : divded_in
    REGION {
        int ID PK "The identifier of the region"
        string Name
        int Continent FK "The identifier of the continent"
        string Code PK "The country code"
        string Name
        int Region FK "The identifier to the Region"
    REGION ||--|{ COUNTRY : has
Hints ex 5 - From continents and regions

If you use a standard SELECT statement, you will have way too many row in your output, namely one for each country. So there must be a way to sort out doubles to only have a distinct set of results. For the second and third question, there are many solutions. Try to find at least two. One of them should use the given regions and state that the countries should not be in these regions.


    SELECT DISTINCT Continent, Region FROM country ORDER BY Continent, Region;
    SELECT Name, Region FROM country WHERE Continent='Europe' AND Region NOT IN ('Western Europe', 'British Islands', 'Nordic Countries');
    a) SELECT count(Name) FROM country WHERE Continent='Europe' AND Region NOT IN ('Western Europe', 'British Islands', 'Nordic Countries');
    b) SELECT count(Name) FROM country WHERE Continent='Europe' AND (Region = 'Baltic Countries' OR Region = 'Southern Europe' OR Region = 'Eastern Europe');

The WHERE clause "Continent='Europe'" is not necessary as the selected regions are in Europe anyway.
The above two queries only lead to the same result if there are no countries not belonging to these regions in both queries.

Hints ex X

Last update: October 9, 2023