SQL joins without Venn diagrams

JOINs are the first big learning curve after getting your head around SQL basics. More often than not you won’t find everything you need in one table so will need to learn which join to use when.

While there are plenty of guides to JOINs that use Venn diagrams to get the point across, I prefer something more visual.



Use an INNER join, or just a JOIN, when you want to find the match between two tables.

You need to have a column on both tables that you join ON, and that’s where the match happens.

Any results where there is not a match are discarded.

joins sql server query join
Inner Join


Use a LEFT JOIN when you want to find a match between two tables, but also show a NULL where there is no match from the right table. A RIGHT JOIN does the same but in reverse.

Like the INNER JOIN, you need a column to join ON. Unlike the INNER JOIN, a NULL is used to show there is no match between the two tables.

left join sql server query
Left Join


A CROSS JOIN joins everything with everything. There is no need to provide a column to join on, and it can result in a very big data set, (and a really big image so you’ll have to use your imagination when reviewing the image below).

Proceed with caution.

cross join sql server query
Cross Join


While a JOIN combines columns horizontally a UNION combines rows vertically. This is technically a set operator rather than a JOIN but as we are talking about combining datasets this is a good opportunity to introduce it.

Using a UNION combines the result of two queries into one column and removes duplicates.

If your query has multiple columns, they need to be in the same order to complete the UNION.

union sql server query


The UNION ALL combines the results of two queries the same as a UNION but keeps the duplicates in the result.

union all sql server query
Union All

The best way to get your head around JOINs is to start using them. If you aren’t working with a SQL database already, check out SQLZoo or Hacker Rank to experiment with JOINs.

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