Data Manipulation Language (DML): Definition & Example

Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

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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Additional Activities

True or False Activity on Data Manipulation Language

In this activity, you will check your knowledge regarding the definition and example of data manipulation language, as presented in the lesson.


Determine whether the following statements are true or false. To do this, print or copy this page on a blank paper and underline or circle the answer.

1. DML handles a database by interacting with tables and stored procedures or formula.

True | False

2. Data refers to all the single items that are stored in a database.

True | False

3. A computer program is the same as a computer language.

True | False

4. Data Manipulation Language offers an effective way of adding, moving, deleting, and editing data.

True | False

5. DML is mostly incorporated in SQL databases.

True | False

6. Searching through a huge set of data becomes relatively easy with the use of DML.

True | False

7. An INSERT command in DML is used to enter data into a table.

True | False

8. A user can create or destroy databases and manipulate information held in them via DML.

True | False

9. SELECT, INSERT, and DELETE are some examples of DML commands.

True | False

10. DML is a group of computer languages, including commands permitting users to manipulate data in a database.

True | False

Answer Key

  1. False, because the correct statement is, SQL handles a database by interacting with tables and stored procedures or formula.
  2. True
  3. False, because the correct statement is, A computer program is the same as a computer language.
  4. False, because the correct statement is, Data Manipulation Language offers an effective way of adding, moving and deleting data.
  5. True
  6. True
  7. True
  8. False, because the correct statement is, A user cannot create or destroy databases but can manipulate information held in them via DML.
  9. True
  10. True

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