Data Manipulation Language (DML): Definition & Example

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

Data Manipulation Language is actually a way to talk to databases that was first used by computers before being adapted by humans via SQL. Sound backwards? Read this lesson to find out more.

What is Data Manipulation Language?

Tables and formulas are useful when interacting with data held in a database via SQL up to a point, but there comes a time when you really want to perform some pretty complex interactions with data. In that case, you'll likely need Data Manipulation Language. Data Manipulation Language is a way of telling a database exactly what you want it to do by speaking in a way that it is built from the ground up to understand. When it comes to working within existing data, whether it is to add, move, or delete data, Data Manipulation Language offers an effective way of doing it.

Contrasted with Programming Language

When you first look at Data Manipulation Language, it does look rather stilted. Describing to someone how to use a built-in function in Access, for example, is relatively straight-forward compared to using DML to SELECT * FROM, for example. However, DML is not a programming language. It cannot be compiled, or turned into 0s and 1s that a computer understands and runs as an implicit program. Instead, think of it as a very advanced formula like one would find in a spreadsheet. When using a spreadsheet, you likely use some rather convoluted formulas - DML is simply formula speak but for using a database.

Uses of DML

At its core, DML allows a user to interact with massive amounts of data. The amount of information held on a typical database could crash any spreadsheet, yet DML allows you to almost effortlessly get anything you need from that information.

Moreover, DML can fit into existing code structures. Let's say that you were building an app that required the program to access a database. By using DML and SQL, your app could link directly to the relevant information in a quick and efficient way. Because DML is written in such a formulaic way, it allows even other programs to get the information needed in a practical manner. In fact, it wasn't until SQL became popular that DML was used by humans in its native form. For years, the language was used by other programs almost exclusively.

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