The SQL LIKE operator is a valuable tool for pattern matching within strings when performing database queries. It allows you to search for specific patterns or substrings within text columns, providing flexibility in retrieving data that matches specified criteria. The LIKE operator is particularly useful when working with unstructured or semi-structured textual data.

Understanding the SQL LIKE Operator

The LIKE operator is primarily used in SQL’s SELECT statements to filter and retrieve rows based on patterns or substrings within string columns. It is often used with wildcard characters to represent unknown or variable portions of the pattern.



The basic syntax of the SQL LIKE operator is as follows:

SELECT column1, column2, ...
FROM table_name
WHERE column_name LIKE pattern;
  • SELECT: Specifies the columns you want to retrieve in the result set.
  • FROM: Indicates the table from which you are querying.
  • WHERE: Defines the condition for filtering rows based on the LIKE operator.
  • column_name: The column in which you want to search for a pattern.
  • pattern: The pattern to match against the values in the specified column.

Using Wildcard Characters

The power of the LIKE operator lies in its use of wildcard characters:


  • % (percent sign): Represents zero, one, or multiple characters. For example, '%apple%' would match any value containing the word “apple,” whether it appears at the beginning, middle, or end of the string.

  • _ (underscore): Represents a single character. For example, 'a_ple' would match values like “apple” and “ample” but not “aple.”

Practical Examples

Let’s explore practical examples to illustrate the usage of the SQL LIKE operator:


Basic Pattern Matching

SELECT product_name
FROM products
WHERE product_name LIKE '%apple%';

This query retrieves all products with names containing the word “apple” anywhere within the product_name column.


Matching Single Characters

SELECT username
FROM users
WHERE username LIKE 'j_n';

Here, the query fetches usernames with three characters, where the second character is “n.” For example, it would match “john” or “jane.”


Using Multiple Wildcards

SELECT email
FROM subscribers
WHERE email LIKE '%@%.com%';

This query identifies email addresses that contain both “@” and “.com” within them, helping filter out invalid or non-standard email addresses.


The SQL LIKE operator is a versatile tool for pattern matching within string columns, allowing you to retrieve specific data based on textual patterns or substrings. By using wildcard characters, you can craft precise queries to filter and analyze data effectively. Whether you’re searching for keywords, validating input, or conducting text-based analysis, the LIKE operator enhances the querying capabilities of SQL databases, making it a valuable asset for working with unstructured textual data.

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