SQL Resources/SQL/Understanding FROM

Understanding FROM

The FROM clause is one of the fundamental building blocks of a SQL SELECT statement. In this article we'll explain how it works.

-- Generic SQL SELECT statement
select
  -- (some columns)
from
  -- (some tables)
where
  -- (A 'predicate' expression to be used as a filter)
group by
  -- (some columns)

The FROM clause is formed of the reserved 'from' keyword followed by either:

  • A table name (most common)
  • A subquery

The sources defined in the FROM clause determine the set of rows that the SELECT statement can operate on, and so is the first part of the query to be executed.

In this article, we'll look at some examples of different FROM clauses.

FROM a table

The simplest FROM clause just lists a single table name - then the entire SELECT statement is operating on a single table.

with my_table as (select * from unnest([
  struct('a' as strings, 1 as numbers),
  struct('b' as strings, 2 as numbers),
  struct('c' as strings, 3 as numbers)
])) 
-- ^ The SELECT above is just defining some data to use
select
  *
from
  my_table
strings
a
b
c
numbers
1
2
3

FROM a subquery

Instead of referring to a table by name, we can also refer to it as the result of a SELECT statement (since SELECT statements return tables). For example, we can rewrite the query above as

select
  *
from
  (select * from unnest([
    struct('a' as strings, 1 as numbers),
    struct('b' as strings, 2 as numbers),
    struct('c' as strings, 3 as numbers)
  ])) 
strings
a
b
c
numbers
1
2
3

or indeed as

with my_table as (select * from unnest([
  struct('a' as strings, 1 as numbers),
  struct('b' as strings, 2 as numbers),
  struct('c' as strings, 3 as numbers)
])) 
select
  *
from
  (
    select * from (
      select * from (
        select * from my_table
      )
    )
  )
strings
a
b
c
numbers
1
2
3

These subqueries can be as complex as you'd like, though for the sake of readability you should try to avoid putting too much logic into a subquery. In a Count notebook we encourage splitting complex queries into separate cells for this reason.

Including a JOIN clause

When you want to select rows from multiple tables, you'll need to tell the database how to merge the tables together (read more here). These instructions take the form of one or more JOIN clauses after the initial FROM clause. For example:

with table_1 as (select * from unnest([
  struct('a' as strings, 1 as numbers),
  struct('b' as strings, 2 as numbers),
  struct('c' as strings, 3 as numbers)
])),
table_2 as (select * from unnest([
  struct('a' as strings_2, 4 as numbers_2),
  struct('b' as strings_2, 5 as numbers_2),
  struct('c' as strings_2, 6 as numbers_2)
]))
select
  numbers,
  numbers_2
from 
  table_1
  left join table_2 on table_1.strings = table_2.strings_2
numbers
1
2
3
numbers_2
4
5
6

In the query above, our SELECT statement says that:

  • We want the numbers and numbers_2 columns (the database is smart enough to know which tables those columns come from)
  • FROM table_1 and table_2
  • The rows of table_2 should be associated with those from table_1 by comparing the columns strings and strings_2
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