How Do You Declare an Array Data Type in SQL?


Angela Bailey

Declaring an array data type in SQL is a fundamental concept that every database developer should be familiar with. Arrays are used to store multiple values of the same data type in a single variable, making them extremely useful for managing and manipulating large amounts of related data. In this tutorial, we will explore how to declare an array data type in SQL and discuss some best practices for working with arrays.

What is an Array?

An array is a collection of elements that are stored in a contiguous block of memory. Each element in the array is accessed by its index, which represents its position in the array. The index starts at 0 for the first element and increments by 1 for each subsequent element.

Declaring an Array Data Type

In SQL, arrays can be declared using the ARRAY keyword followed by the desired data type enclosed in square brackets ([]). Let’s take a look at an example:

CREATE TABLE employees (
   emp_id INT,
   emp_name VARCHAR(50),
   emp_skills VARCHAR(100)[]

In the above example, we have declared an employees table with three columns: emp_id, emp_name, and emp_skills. The emp_skills column is defined as an array of VARCHAR(100).

Inserting Values into an Array Column

To insert values into an array column, you can use the ARRAY[] syntax. Here’s an example:

INSERT INTO employees (emp_id, emp_name, emp_skills)
VALUES (1, 'John Doe', ARRAY['Java', 'SQL', 'HTML']);

In the above example, we are inserting a row into the employees table with an emp_id of 1, an emp_name of ‘John Doe’, and an emp_skills array containing three elements: ‘Java’, ‘SQL’, and ‘HTML’.

Selecting Values from an Array Column

To select values from an array column, you can use the unnest() function. Here’s an example:

SELECT unnest(emp_skills) AS skill
FROM employees
WHERE emp_id = 1;

In the above example, we are selecting each element of the emp_skills array column for employees with an emp_id of 1. The result will return a separate row for each skill.

Best Practices for Working with Arrays in SQL

  • Avoid Using Arrays for Large Data Sets:
  • If your array is expected to contain a large number of elements or if the size of each element is large, it is recommended to use a separate table instead.

  • Avoid Storing Unrelated Data in Arrays:
  • An array should only be used to store related data. Storing unrelated data in arrays can make queries more complicated and reduce query performance.

  • Avoid Frequent Updates to Array Columns:
  • Frequent updates to array columns can lead to decreased performance. If you need to frequently update individual elements within an array, it may be better to use a separate table instead.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your arrays are used effectively and efficiently in your SQL databases.


Declaring an array data type in SQL allows you to store and manipulate multiple values of the same data type in a single variable. By following the syntax and best practices outlined in this tutorial, you can effectively work with arrays in your SQL databases.

Remember to consider the size of your data set, the nature of the data you are storing, and the frequency of updates when deciding whether to use arrays or separate tables. With proper implementation, arrays can be a powerful tool for managing and organizing data.

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