Deleting table records with SQL

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Often you will hear about deleting table records with SQL, but how is this achieved, if you have not done it before?

In previous videos on SQL we discussed how to update records in SQL , how to insert data into a table in SQL.

You could be faced with the scenario where there is data that you no longer need, as a result, it needs to be deleted.

So lets work through three different scenarios as follows:

(A) Delete a record based on a unique identifier, in this instance CUSTOMER_NO.

(B)Delete multiple customer records at once using CUSTOMER_NO as the column that will identify the records.

(C) Delete a record where it equals a particular column value.

Our initial dataset will look like this:

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Delete a record based on a unique identifier


select * from dbo.CUSTOMER

When the above code is run it gives the following output.

As can be seen it now has ten records and the row for CUSTOMER_NO = 987981 has been removed.

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Delete multiple customer records at once

In the above scenario we have deleted just one record, but most likely you will want to remove more than one.

This code below will complete this at once. Remember the column we are using is a primary key column, hence all the values are unique.

It may be the case that you are doing to have to do this on a column that does not have unique values, the code will still work.

I would caution though that using the primary key column value always allows you to only remove the ones that are not needed.

It could be the case that there are genuine values that need to remain, even if they are duplicated.

DELETE FROM dbo.CUSTOMER WHERE CUSTOMER_NO in(3,25897458,25898633)

select * from dbo.CUSTOMER
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As can be seen running the above code now leaves us with seven rows, down from ten and the three rows we had in the SQL have been removed.

Deleting a record where it equals a particular column value

So our final scenario is where we need to find a particular value in a column , and it is exists , then delete the whole record for that row.

Here we are not relying on the primary key, but basically a string search in the customer_type column.

When this SQL is run, it supposed remove two rows and leave us with five records.

The problem that you will encounter

There will be a problem with this as the primary key , even though is not been referenced will throw an error.

The error in this instance relates to the the CUSTOMER_NO on the table customer

  • It has a foreign key equivalent column in the sales table.

In essence you cant leave out the primary key value when completing this SQL statement.

As a result both tables need to be updated, where the primary key value exists.


select * from dbo.CUSTOMER
** the above code will fail with the below error:
The DELETE statement conflicted with the REFERENCE constraint "FK__SALES__CUSTOMER___267ABA7A". The conflict occurred in database "SALES", table "dbo.SALES", column 'CUSTOMER_NO'.
The statement has been terminated.

Our table in sales looks like this:

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Updating our logic as follows:

where SALES.CUSTOMER_NO = 123458 ---> This line needs to be run first as the next line checks if this exists as a foreign key.
and customer_type = 'POSTAL'

select * from dbo.CUSTOMER
select * from dbo.SALES

Results in:

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To summarise there are a number of things to consider:

  • It is important to always check if there is a primary and foreign key relationship.
  • Specifically not checking these relations will result in the SQL outputting an error.
  • Under these circumstances a review of all tables before proceeding is advised.
  • Ensure you have your tables backed up before doing any deletions!

how to create and drop a table in SQL

If you are working on data analytics , and have access to databases that you can load data into and manipulate, then read on.

There maybe a reason for you have your own partitioned table with data in it, but you need to know how to create a database.

The creation of a table can be achieved as follows;

  • Decide on the table name.
  • Within the table you will have columns, they need to be named.
  • Next for each column name a datatype needs to be decided upon.

It is important to note that the data type you decide is very important before you create the table.

This is because once you start loading data into the table if you decide to change the data type for a column, it could change the data contained within that column.

As a result a review of the data to be loaded should be completed, looking at the type of data, its length and any attributes of the data that need careful consideration.

Lets create our table and talk through the different aspects of the SQL used.

So in the below we have the create table statement

The SQL is broken down as follows:

  1. The first line creates the table within the schema. It has its own unique area in there.
  2. Lines 2,3,4 create the columns with their datatypes.

When this is run , the schema is updated, one thing to note it is empty, and requires an insert statement to populate the columns.

And if we do a select all from the table, it returns empty:

How to drop a table that you have created?

Sometimes you may have a need to drop tables from your schema.

Before proceeding there are a couple of things to consider:

  • Have you backed up the data contained within it?
  • You understand the deletion is permanent ( unless you can rebuild from backup)
  • Any batch runs that run off the table will fail once it is deleted.
  • Any tables that have queries that join to the table been removed will fail.
  • This might be part of a wider database cleanup and may improve performance.

Below is the one line of code ( yes you are reading that correct), that will delete the table.

In most roles the ability to drop tables will be restricted by the database administrator.

After the deletion it will look like this. As you can see the table no longer exists.

In conclusion the deletion of a database table is very easy to do , but comes with caveats as outlined above, so proceed with caution.