Is There a List Data Type in SQL?


Larry Thompson

In SQL, there is no specific data type called “List.” However, there are different ways to represent and manipulate lists of values in SQL databases. Let’s explore some of these methods.

Using Comma-Separated Values (CSV)

A common approach to store lists in SQL is by using comma-separated values (CSV). In this method, multiple values are stored as a single string, with each value separated by a comma. For example:

colors: 'red, green, blue'
fruits: 'apple, banana, orange'

To extract individual values from the CSV list, you can use string manipulation functions provided by the database system. These functions allow you to split the CSV string into separate elements.


  • Simplicity: CSV lists are easy to understand and implement.
  • Flexibility: You can store any type of value in a CSV list.


  • Limited Querying: Performing operations on individual elements within a CSV list can be challenging and inefficient.
  • Data Integrity: There is no built-in mechanism to enforce data integrity for the elements within a CSV list.

Using JSON

An alternative approach is to use JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) to represent lists in SQL databases. JSON provides a way to store structured data as text, making it suitable for storing complex data types like lists or arrays.

  "colors": ["red", "green", "blue"],
  "fruits": ["apple", "banana", "orange"]

With JSON, you can easily access and manipulate individual elements within the list. Most modern database systems provide native support for JSON data types and offer functions to query and manipulate JSON data.


  • Structured Data: JSON provides a structured way to store lists, making it easier to work with the data.
  • Querying: JSON provides powerful querying capabilities to extract specific elements or perform complex operations on the list.


  • Complexity: Working with JSON requires understanding of JSON syntax and querying techniques.
  • Compatibility: Not all database systems have native support for JSON data types.

Using a Separate Table

An alternative approach is to create a separate table to represent the list. Each element of the list is stored as a separate row in the table, with an additional column to establish a relationship with the parent entity. This method allows for more flexibility and better query performance.

| id | value |
| 1  | red   |
| 2  | green |
| 3  | blue  |

In this example, each color value is stored as a separate row in the “colors” table. The “id” column serves as a primary key, and another column can be used to establish a relationship with the parent entity.


  • Data Integrity: Using a separate table ensures data integrity by enforcing referential integrity constraints.
  • Query Performance: Querying individual elements in a separate table is more efficient than other methods.


  • Complexity: Managing a separate table adds complexity to the database schema and requires additional joins for querying.
  • Maintenance: Inserting or updating elements in the list requires modifying the separate table.

In conclusion, although there is no specific “List” data type in SQL, you can represent and manipulate lists using different techniques such as comma-separated values (CSV), JSON, or a separate table. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your specific requirements and choose the most suitable approach for your use case.

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