How to Merge Two Tables in SQL

Two tables can be merged in SQL either by rows or columns through a variety of commands, including inner join, left join, union, except and more. Here’s how with examples. 

Written by KSV Muralidhar
Published on Jul. 10, 2024
How to Merge Two Tables in SQL
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It’s very rare to have an SQL query involving a single table. We may need to merge multiple tables by rows (records) or columns (fields) to get the desired result. 

12 Ways to Merge Two Tables in SQL

  1. Inner Join
  2. Left Join
  3. Right Join
  4. Full Join
  5. Cross Join
  6. Semi Join
  7. Anti Join
  8. Self Join
  9. Union
  10. Union All
  11. Intersect
  12. Except

In this article, we’ll discuss the operators and commands in SQL that allow you to merge tables by rows or columns.

 

12 SQL Merge Two Tables Methods 

You can merge two tables in SQL either by columns or by rows to better understand data. Each utilizes different methods. Let’s look at both:

SQL Merge Two Tables By Columns

Multiple tables can be merged by columns in SQL using joins. Joins merge two tables based on the specified columns. Generally, the primary key of one table and a foreign key of the other. Below is the generic syntax for SQL joins.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM table_1
   JOIN table_2
    USING (id);

In the above syntax, table_1 and table_2 are the two tables with the key column (matching column in both the tables), id. We use the keyword USING only when the key column has the same name in both the tables. Otherwise, we need to explicitly mention the key columns of both the tables as shown below.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM table_1 t1
   JOIN table_2 t2
    ON t1.t1_id = t2.t2_id;

In the above syntax, t1 is an alias of table_1 and t2 is of table_2. When the names of the key columns aren’t the same in both the tables, we need to match them using the ON keyword, as shown above. We’ll now discuss a few important joins in SQL.

Inner Join

INNER JOIN merges two tables by columns and returns only the matching records based on the specified columns in both the tables. In the below query result, we can see that only the records with common id in both left_table and right_table are returned.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table
   INNER JOIN right_table
    USING (id);

Or

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table l
   INNER JOIN right_table r
    ON l.id = r.id;
Inner join table results
Inner join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Left Join

LEFT JOIN merges two tables by columns and returns all the records in the left table but only the matching records based on the specified columns from the right table. In the below query result, we can see the records with common id in both the tables along with all the records of the left_table. Records in the right_table with no matching id in the left_table have NULL.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table
   LEFT JOIN right_table
    USING (id);

Or

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table l
   LEFT JOIN right_table r
    ON l.id = r.id;
Left Join method table results.
Left join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Right Join

RIGHT JOIN merges two tables by columns and returns all the records in the right table but only the matching records based on the specified columns from the left table. In the below query result, we can see the records with common id in both the tables along with all the records of the right_table. Records in the left_table with no matching idin the right_table have NULL.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table
   RIGHT JOIN right_table
    USING (id);

Or

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table l
   RIGHT JOIN right_table r
    ON l.id = r.id;
Right join table results.
Right join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Full Join

FULL JOIN can be considered as a combination of left and right joins. FULL JOIN merges two tables by columns and returns all the records in both the left and right tables. In the below query result, we can see that all the records of both the tables are returned. Records with no matching id in the other table have NULL.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table
   FULL JOIN right_table
    USING (id);

Or

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table l
   FULL JOIN right_table r
    ON l.id = r.id;
Full join table results
Full join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Cross Join

CROSS JOIN returns the cartesian product of two tables. The cartesian product of two sets: A = {1, 2}, B = {3, 4} is A x B = {(1, 3), (1, 4), (2, 3), (2, 4)}. We don’t need to specify a key column in cross joins.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table
   CROSS JOIN right_table
cross join results
Cross join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Semi Join

SEMI JOIN is technically not an SQL join but works like a JOIN. SEMI JOIN returns the matching records in the left table based on a key column in the right table. It doesn’t include the columns of the right table in the query result. In the below example, we want to return the records from the left_table with matching id in the right_table. In other words, we want the records in the left_table, whose id is present in the right_table.

SELECT 
 * 
  FROM left_table
  WHERE 
   id IN 
   (
    SELECT id FROM right_table
   )
Semi join table results.
Semi join table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar
​​​​​

Anti Join

ANTI JOIN is also technically not an SQL join but works like a join. ANTI JOIN returns the non-matching records in the left table based on a key column in the right table. It also doesn’t include the columns of the right table in the query result. In the below example, we want to return the records from the left_table whose id doesn’t match with the idof theright_table. In other words, we want the records in the left_table whose id is not present in the right_table.

SELECT 
 * 
  FROM left_table
  WHERE 
   id
    NOT IN 
     (
      SELECT id FROM right_table
     )
Anti join results.
Anti join results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Self Join

SELF JOIN enables us to join a table with itself. In the below query, we need to find the records with the same left value. For this, we have joined the table with itself and filtered the records with the same left value but different id.

SELECT 
 *
  FROM left_table l1, left_table l2
  WHERE 
   l1.left = l2.left
   AND 
   l1.id <> l2.id
  ORDER BY l1.left
Self join results.
Self join results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

SQL Merge Two Tables by Rows

Union

UNION merges two tables by rows, provided the data types of the columns of one table matches with that of the other. We can’t merge a table having column data types as integer and text with a table having column data types as text and integer. However, we can merge two tables even if the column names of one table don’t match with that of the other. UNION returns only the unique records of both the tables.

(
 SELECT 
  * 
   FROM left_table
)
UNION
(
 SELECT 
  * 
   FROM right_table
)
Union method table results.
Union method table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Union All

Similar to UNION, UNION ALL also merges tables by rows. Unlike UNION, UNION ALL retains the duplicate records of both the tables. In the below query result, we have merged the id of left_table and right_table. We can see a few duplicates in the result.

(
 SELECT 
  id 
   FROM left_table
)
UNION ALL
(
 SELECT 
  id 
   FROM right_table
)
Union all table results
Union all table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Intersect

INTERSECT returns the common records of both the tables. In the below query result, we can see the common ids of left_table and right_table.

(
 SELECT 
  id 
   FROM left_table
)
INTERSECT
(
 SELECT 
  id 
   FROM right_table
)
Intersect table results.
Intersect table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

Except

EXCEPT returns the records from the first table (left table) which are not present in the second table (right table). In the below query result, we can see the ids of left_table, which aren’t present in the right_table.

Except table results.
Except table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar
A tutorial on how to merge two SQL tables. | Video: SQL Server 101

More on SQLSQL Pivot: A Tutorial

 

SQL Merge Two Tables Example Queries

We’ll use the dvd_rental database downloaded from here and restore it. Below is the documentation to restore a database in PostgreSQL.

1. Top 5 Frequent Renters

In this example, we need to find the top five customers who rented the most. For this, we’ll:

  1. Join the customer and rental tables using customer_id.
  2. Count the customers (as rental_count) by grouping customer_id.
  3. Sort the result according to rental_count in descending order.
  4. Limit the results to first five records.
SELECT 
  c.customer_id,
  c.first_name,
  c.last_name, 
  COUNT(c.customer_id) AS rental_count
  FROM customer c
    INNER JOIN rental r
      USING (customer_id)
  GROUP BY customer_id
  ORDER BY 
   COUNT(c.customer_id) DESC
  LIMIT 5;
Top five frequent renters table.
Top five frequent renters table. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

2. Top and Bottom 5 Customers by Revenue Generated

In this example, we’ll use common table expressions (CTE). With CTEs, we can create temporary tables that exist for a particular query. Below is the official documentation on CTEs.

In this example, we need to find the top and bottom five customers who generated the most revenue. For this, we’ll:

First, create a CTE named revenue_per_customer by:

  • Joining the customer and rental tables using customer_id.
  • Joining the resultant table with payment table using rental_id.
  • Computing the total amount paid by customers for each rental transaction (as total_amount) grouping by customer_id.
  • Finally, selecting the customer_id, first_name, last_name and total_amount.

Next, select the top five customers by revenue from the above CTE by:

  • Sorting total_amountin the revenue_per_customer (CTE result) in descending order.
  • Limiting the result to first five records.
  • Adding a comment specifying the records as ‘Top 5’.

Then, select the bottom five customers by revenue from the above CTE by:

  • Sorting total_amountin the revenue_per_customer (CTE result) in ascending order.
  • Limiting the result to first five records.
  • Adding a comment specifying the records as ‘Bottom 5’.

Finally, merge the results using UNION.

WITH revenue_per_customer AS 
 (SELECT 
   c.customer_id, 
   c.first_name,
   c.last_name,
   SUM(p.amount) AS "total_amount"
   FROM customer c
    INNER JOIN rental r
     USING (customer_id)
    INNER JOIN payment p
     USING (rental_id)
   GROUP BY c.customer_id)
(SELECT 
  *,
  'Top 5' AS comment
  FROM revenue_per_customer
  ORDER BY total_amount DESC
  LIMIT 5)
UNION
(SELECT 
  *,
  'Bottom 5' AS comment
  FROM revenue_per_customer
  ORDER BY total_amount ASC
  LIMIT 5)
ORDER BY comment DESC, total_amount DESC;
Top and bottom five renters by revenue generated table.
Top and bottom five renters based on revenue generated. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

We can also get the above query result using window functions. Below is the official documentation on window functions.

To find the top and bottom five customers who generated the most revenue using window functions, we’ll

First, create a CTE named total_amt_rank by:

  • Joining the customer and rental tables using customer_id.
  • Joining the resultant table with payment table using rental_id.
  • Computing the total amount paid by customers for each rental transaction (as total_amount) grouping by customer_id.
  • Finally, selecting the customer_id, first_name, last_name, total_amount and rank of total_amount (as total_amount_rank) by sorting it in descending order. This gives rank one to the highest amount and so on.

Select the top five customers by revenue by selecting the customers whose total_amount_rank is between 1-and-5 from the above CTE.

Then, select the bottom five customers by revenue from the above CTE by:

  • Sorting total_amount_rank in the total_amt_rank (CTE result) in descending order.
  • Limiting the result to the first five records.

Merge the above two results using UNION.

WITH total_amt_rank AS
 (
  SELECT
      c.customer_id, 
      c.first_name,
      c.last_name,
      SUM(p.amount) AS "total_amount",
      RANK() OVER (ORDER BY SUM(p.amount) DESC) AS total_amount_rank
       FROM customer c
        INNER JOIN rental r
          USING (customer_id)
        INNER JOIN payment p
          USING (rental_id)
       GROUP BY c.customer_id
  )
(
 SELECT *
  FROM total_amt_rank
    WHERE 
     total_amount_rank BETWEEN 1 AND 5
)
 
UNION
 
(
 SELECT *
   FROM total_amt_rank
    ORDER BY total_amount_rank DESC
  LIMIT 5
)
 
ORDER BY total_amount_rank;
Top and bottom five customers based on revenue generated
Top and bottom five customers based on revenue generated. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

3. Top 5 Countries With the Highest Rentals

In this example, we need to find the top five countries with the highest rentals. For this, we’ll:

  1. Join the country and city tables using country_id.
  2. Join the resultant table with address table using city_id.
  3. Join the resultant table with the customer table using address_id.
  4. Join the resultant table with the rental table using customer_id.
  5. Count the country_id (as rental_count) by grouping country_id. We may also use rental_idto get rental_count.
  6. Sort the result by rental_count in descending order.
  7. Limit the results to five records.
SELECT 
 co.country_id, 
 co.country,
 COUNT(co.country_id) AS rental_count
  FROM country co
   INNER JOIN city ci
    USING (country_id)
   INNER JOIN address a
    USING (city_id)
   INNER JOIN customer cu
    USING (address_id)
   INNER JOIN rental r
    USING (customer_id)
  GROUP BY co.country_id
  ORDER BY 
   COUNT(co.country_id) DESC
  LIMIT 5;
Top five countries with highest rentals
Top five countries with the highest rentals. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

There are a few addresses and cities with no customers. Using INNER JOIN omits such records. In the below query, we’ll look at how the result will include addresses without customers on using left join.

4. Cities and Addresses With No Customers

There are a few cities and addresses without any customers. these may be store addresses. Using INNER JOIN would have omitted them from the results, as there are no matching entries in the other table. For example, a city named London in Canada has no matching city_id in the address table. Using INNER JOIN would have omitted London in Canada from the result. Similarly, four addresses in Canada and Australia have no matching address_id in the customer table.

SELECT 
 co.country, 
 ci.city, 
 a.address, 
 cu.customer_id 
  FROM country co
   LEFT JOIN city ci
    USING (country_id)
   LEFT JOIN address a
    USING (city_id)
   LEFT JOIN customer cu
    USING (address_id)
  WHERE cu.address_id IS NULL;
Cities and countries with no customers table results.
Cities and countries with no customers table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

5. Countries With No Customers

In this example, we’ll find the countries with no customers.

First, we’ll create a subquery to find the countries with at least one customer by:

  • Joining the country table with city table using country_id.
  • Joining the remainder table with address table using city_id.
  • Joining the remainder table with customer table using address_id.

Select country from countrytable where country_idis not present in the country_idof the above subquery.

SELECT 
 country 
    FROM country
     WHERE country_id 
       NOT IN 
        (
         SELECT 
          co.country_id
           FROM country co
            INNER JOIN city ci
              USING (country_id)
            INNER JOIN address a
              USING (city_id)
            INNER JOIN customer
              USING (address_id)
        );
Country with no customers table
Country with no customers table. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

6. Are There Any Stores in Australia?

In the above example, we saw that Australia has no customers. In this example, we’ll see are there any stores in Australia by:

  1. Joining the country table with city table using country_id.
  2. Joining the resultant table with address table using city_id.
  3. Joining the resultant table with store table using address_id.
  4. Selecting records where store_id IS NOT NULL in Australia.

LEFT JOIN ensures that countries with no cities and cities with no stores are also included in the query result.

SELECT 
 st.store_id, 
 co.country, 
 ad.address
  FROM country co
   LEFT JOIN city ci
    USING (country_id)
   LEFT JOIN address ad
    USING (city_id)
   LEFT JOIN store st
    USING (address_id)
  WHERE 
   (st.store_id IS NOT NULL) 
    AND 
     (co.country = 'Australia');
Stores in Australia table result.
Stores in Australia table result. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

There is one store in Australia. In fact, there are just two stores in the whole database. We’ll view them using the below query.

SELECT * FROM store;
Stores in Australia table results.
Stores in Australia table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

7. Languages With No Films

In this example, we’ll see if there are any languages with no films by:

  1. Joining the language table with film table using language_id. The left join ensures languages without any films are also includes.
  2. Filtering records where film_idIS NULL.
SELECT 
 *
  FROM language l
   LEFT JOIN film f
    USING (language_id)
  WHERE f.film_id IS NULL;
Languages with no film table result.
Languages with no film table result. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

We see a few languages with no films in the database. We’ll make sure that it’s not an error by selecting the films with language_id in (2,3,4,5,6) from the film table. The query result should return no records.

SELECT 
 * 
  FROM film
   WHERE language_id IN (2,3,4,5,6);
Confirmation that there are no films in those languages table
Confirmation that there are no films in those languages table. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

8. Popularity of Films by Category in India

In this example, we’ll find the number of rentals per film category in India by joining the required tables as discussed in the earlier examples and by:

  1. Grouping by country and categoryand filtering records from India and counting the film category name (as film_category_count).
  2. Ordering the result by country in ascending order and film_category_countin descending order.
SELECT 
 co.country, 
 cat.name AS film_category,
 COUNT(cat.name) AS film_category_count
  FROM country co
   INNER JOIN city ci
    USING (country_id)
   INNER JOIN address ad
    USING (city_id)
   INNER JOIN customer cu
    USING (address_id)
   INNER JOIN rental re
    USING (customer_id)
   INNER JOIN inventory inv
    USING (inventory_id)
   INNER JOIN film fi
    USING (film_id)
   INNER JOIN film_category fc
    USING (film_id)
   INNER JOIN category cat
    USING (category_id)
   /* 
    Using
    WHERE co.country = 'India'
    here, instead of 
    HAVING co.country = 'India'
    reduces the query execution time.
   */
  GROUP BY (co.country, cat.name)
  HAVING co.country = 'India'
  ORDER BY 
   co.country ASC, 
   COUNT(cat.name) DESC;
Popular films in India table results
Popular films in India table results. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

9. Films With Only a Single Actor

In this example, we‘ll find the films with a single actor by:

  1. Joining the film table with film_actor table using film_id.
  2. Grouping by film_idand counting the number of actors (as actor_count).
  3. Filtering records where actor_countis 1.
SELECT 
 f.film_id, 
 f.title, 
 COUNT(fa.actor_id) AS actor_count
  FROM film f
   INNER JOIN film_actor fa
    USING (film_id)
  GROUP BY f.film_id
  HAVING COUNT(fa.actor_id) = 1;
Films with a single actor result.
Films with a single actor table result. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

10. Number of Films of an Actor By Category

In this example, we’ll find the number of films of an actor by film category by:

  1. Creating a CTE named actor_cat_cntthat returns the number of films for each actor_id and category_id.
  2. Joining the above CTE with category table using category_id.
  3. Joining the resultant table with actor table using actor_id.
  4. Sort actor name (concatenation of first_name and last_name) in ascending order and film_countin descending order.
WITH 
 actor_cat_cnt AS
 (
  SELECT 
   fa.actor_id, 
   fc.category_id, 
   COUNT(f.film_id) AS film_count 
    FROM film_actor fa
     INNER JOIN film f
      USING (film_id)
     INNER JOIN film_category fc
      USING (film_id)
    GROUP BY 
     fa.actor_id, 
     fc.category_id
 )
SELECT 
 CONCAT(ac.first_name, ' ', ac.last_name) AS actor,
 ca.name AS category,
 film_count
  FROM actor_cat_cnt
   INNER JOIN category ca
    USING (category_id)
   INNER JOIN actor ac
    USING (actor_id)
  ORDER BY 
   CONCAT(ac.first_name, ' ', ac.last_name) ASC,
   film_count DESC;
Number of films by an actor by category table result.
Number of films by an actor by category table result. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

More on SQLUsing Arrays in PostgreSQL: A Guide

11. Popular Categories of an Actor

In the above example, we found the number of films of an actor by film category. In this example, we’ll find the popular categories of an actor (i.e. the categories in which an actor has the most films) by

  1. Creating a CTE named actor_cat_cntthat returns the number of films for each actor_idand category_idand rank the categories of each actor by the count of films in descending order (as cat_rank).
  2. Joining the above CTE with category table using category_id.
  3. Joining the resultant table with actor table using actor_id.
  4. Filtering the records with cat_rank = 1.
  5. Sort actor name (concatenation of first_name and last_name) in ascending order and film_countin descending order.
WITH 
 actor_cat_cnt AS
 (
  SELECT 
   fa.actor_id, 
   fc.category_id, 
   COUNT(f.film_id) AS film_count,
   RANK() OVER 
    (PARTITION BY fa.actor_id 
      ORDER BY COUNT(f.film_id) DESC) AS cat_rank 
    FROM film_actor fa
     INNER JOIN film f
      USING (film_id)
     INNER JOIN film_category fc
      USING (film_id)
    GROUP BY 
     fa.actor_id, 
     fc.category_id
 )
SELECT 
 CONCAT(ac.first_name, ' ', ac.last_name) AS actor,
 ca.name AS category,
 film_count
  FROM actor_cat_cnt
   INNER JOIN category ca
    USING (category_id)
   INNER JOIN actor ac
    USING (actor_id)
  WHERE cat_rank = 1  
  ORDER BY 
   CONCAT(ac.first_name, ' ', ac.last_name) ASC,
   film_count DESC;
Popular categories for an actor table result.
Popular categories for an actor table result. | Image: KSV Muralidhar

This brings this article to an end. We’ve discussed ways of merging tables by rows or columns using SQL along with a few examples using the dvd_rental database. These are the fundamental concepts that are used in almost every query we write in SQL. We may not frequently use a few of them in practice, but knowing them is necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Multiple tables can be merged by columns in SQL using joins, which merges them based on the specified columns. It requires the primary key of one table and a foreign key of the other to execute. 

There are eight common commands that allow you to merge two tables by columns, including:

  1. INNER JOIN
  2. LEFT JOIN
  3. RIGHT JOIN
  4. FULL JOIN
  5. CROSS JOIN
  6. SEMI JOIN
  7. ANTI JOIN
  8. SELF JOIN

You can merge two tables in SQL by row using the following commands:

  1. UNION
  2. UNION ALL
  3. INTERSECT
  4. EXCEPT
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