SQL Interview Questions – Part 1

Common SQL interview questions.

What is normalization? Explain different levels of normalization?

Normalization is the process of efficiently organizing data by eliminating redundant data and maintaining dependencies.

Summary: First Normal Form
* A relation is in 1NF if it contains no repeating groups
* To convert an unnormalised relation to 1NF either:
* Flatten the table and change the primary key, or
* Decompose the relation into smaller relations, one for the repeating groups and one for the non-repeating groups.
* Remember to put the primary key from the original relation into both new relations.
* This option is liable to give the best results.

Summary: Second Normal Form
* A relation is in 2NF if it contains no repeating groups and no partial key functional dependencies
* Rule: A relation in 1NF with a single key field must be in 2NF
* To convert a relation with partial functional dependencies to 2NF. create a set of new relations:
* One relation for the attributes that are fully dependent upon the key.
* One relation for each part of the key that has partially dependent attributes

Summary: Third Normal Form
* A relation is in 3NF if it contains no repeating groups, no partial functional dependencies, and no transitive functional dependencies
* To convert a relation with transitive functional dependencies to 3NF, remove the attributes involved in the transitive dependency and put them in a new relation
* Rule: A relation in 2NF with only one non-key attribute must be in 3NF
* In a normalised relation a non-key field must provide a fact about the key, the whole key and nothing but the key.
* Relations in 3NF are sufficient for most practical database design problems. However, 3NF does not guarantee that all anomalies have been removed.  See example

What is denormalization and when would you go for it?

As the name indicates, denormalization is the reverse process of normalization. It’s the controlled introduction of redundancy in to the database design. It helps improve the query performance as the number of joins could be reduced.

How do you implement one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many relationships while designing tables?

One-to-One relationship can be implemented as a single table and rarely as two tables with primary and foreign key relationships. One-to-Many relationships are implemented by splitting the data into two tables with primary key and foreign key relationships. Many-to-Many relationships are implemented using a junction table with the keys from both the tables forming the composite primary key of the junction table. It will be a good idea to read up a database designing fundamentals text book.

What’s the difference between a primary key and a unique key?

Both primary key and unique enforce uniqueness of the column on which they are defined. But by default primary key creates a clustered index on the column, where are unique creates a nonclustered index by default. Another major difference is that, primary key doesn’t allow NULLs, but unique key allows one NULL only.

What are user defined datatypes and when you should go for them?

User defined datatypes let you extend the base SQL Server datatypes by providing a descriptive name, and format to the database. Take for example, in your database, there is a column called Flight_Num which appears in many tables. In all these tables it should be varchar(8). In this case you could create a user defined datatype called Flight_num_type of varchar(8) and use it across all your tables. See sp_addtype, sp_droptype in books online.

What is bit datatype and what’s the information that can be stored inside a bit column?

Bit datatype is used to store boolean information like 1 or 0 (true or false). Untill SQL Server 6.5 bit datatype could hold either a 1 or 0 and there was no support for NULL. But from SQL Server 7.0 onwards, bit datatype can represent a third state, which is NULL.

Define candidate key, alternate key, composite key.

A candidate key is one that can identify each row of a table uniquely. Generally a candidate key becomes the primary key of the table. If the table has more than one candidate key, one of them will become the primary key, and the rest are called alternate keys. A key formed by combining at least two or more columns is called composite key.

What are defaults? Is there a column to which a default can’t be bound?

A default is a value that will be used by a column, if no value is supplied to that column while inserting data. IDENTITY columns and timestamp columns can’t have defaults bound to them. See CREATE DEFAULT in books online.

What is a transaction and what are ACID properties?

A transaction is a logical unit of work in which, all the steps must be performed or none. ACID stands for Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability. These are the properties of a transaction. For more information and explanation of these properties, see SQL Server books online or any RDBMS fundamentals text book. Explain different isolation levels An isolation level determines the degree of isolation of data between concurrent transactions. The default SQL Server isolation level is Read Committed. Here are the other isolation levels (in the ascending order of isolation): Read Uncommitted, Read Committed, Repeatable Read, Serializable. See SQL Server books online for an explanation of the isolation levels. Be sure to read about SET TRANSACTION ISOLATION LEVEL, which lets you customize the isolation level at the connection level. Read Committed – A transaction operating at the Read Committed level cannot see changes made by other transactions until those transactions are committed. At this level of isolation, dirty reads are not possible but nonrepeatable reads and phantoms are possible. Read Uncommitted – A transaction operating at the Read Uncommitted level can see uncommitted changes made by other transactions. At this level of isolation, dirty reads, nonrepeatable reads, and phantoms are all possible. Repeatable Read – A transaction operating at the Repeatable Read level is guaranteed not to see any changes made by other transactions in values it has already read. At this level of isolation, dirty reads and nonrepeatable reads are not possible but phantoms are possible. Serializable – A transaction operating at the Serializable level guarantees that all concurrent transactions interact only in ways that produce the same effect as if each transaction were entirely executed one after the other. At this isolation level, dirty reads, nonrepeatable reads, and phantoms are not possible.

What is an index? What are the types of indexes? How many clustered indexes can be created on a table? I create a separate index on each column of a table. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

Indexes in SQL Server are similar to the indexes in books. They help SQL Server retrieve the data quicker. Indexes are of two types. Clustered indexes and non-clustered indexes. When you create a clustered index on a table, all the rows in the table are stored in the order of the clustered index key. So, there can be only one clustered index per table. Non-clustered indexes have their own storage separate from the table data storage. Non-clustered indexes are stored as B-tree structures (so do clustered indexes), with the leaf level nodes having the index key and it’s row locater. The row located could be the RID or the Clustered index key, depending up on the absence or presence of clustered index on the table. If you create an index on each column of a table, it improves the query performance, as the query optimizer can choose from all the existing indexes to come up with an efficient execution plan. At the same t ime, data modification operations (such as INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE) will become slow, as every time data changes in the table, all the indexes need to be updated. Another disadvantage is that, indexes need disk space, the more indexes you have, more disk space is used.

CREATE INDEX myIndex ON myTable(myColumn)What type of Index will get created after executing the above statement?

Non-clustered index. Important thing to note: By default a clustered index gets created on the primary key, unless specified otherwise.



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