SQL (Structured Query Language) is a powerful tool for managing and retrieving data from relational databases. Among its many operators, the LIKE operator stands out as a versatile tool for pattern matching. In this article, we’ll explore how to use the LIKE operator in SQL effectively, understanding SQL wildcards, SQL queries, SQL syntax, and SQL Functions. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced SQL user, this guide will help you harness the full potential of the LIKE operator to make your SQL queries more precise and efficient.

What Are SQL Wildcards

Before delving into the LIKE operator, it’s crucial to grasp the concept of SQL wildcards. SQL wildcards are special characters that enable us to search for patterns within text data. There are two primary SQL wildcards: ‘%’ (percent sign) and ‘‘ (underscore). The ‘%’ wildcard represents zero or more characters, while the ‘‘ wildcard represents a single character. These wildcards are essential tools for building flexible and dynamic SQL queries.

The LIKE Operator Explained

The LIKE operator is used in SQL to filter data based on specified patterns within a column. It is typically employed with the WHERE clause of SQL queries, enabling you to retrieve rows that match specific criteria. The LIKE operator is a valuable tool for performing complex pattern-matching operations on text data, making it an essential component of any SQL developer’s toolkit.

To use the LIKE operator effectively, you need to understand its syntax and usage. The basic syntax for using LIKE in SQL is as follows:

SELECT column1, column2, ...
FROM table_name
WHERE column_name LIKE pattern;

In this syntax:

  • column1, column2, ... represents the columns you want to retrieve.
  • table_name is the name of the table you are querying.
  • column_name is the specific column within the table that you want to apply the LIKE operator to.
  • pattern is the pattern you want to match using SQL wildcards.

Using SQL wildcards in your pattern allows you to create flexible and dynamic queries that can match various text patterns within your data.

Working with Patterns

To harness the full power of the LIKE operator, you need to construct patterns that accurately represent the data you want to retrieve. Here are some examples of how you can use SQL wildcards in your patterns:

  • % represents zero or more characters, making it useful for matching patterns at the beginning or end of a string. For instance, LIKE '%apple%' would match any string containing the word “apple.”
  • _ represents a single character, allowing you to match patterns with specific character positions. For example, LIKE 'J_ne' would match “Jane,” “June,” and any other four-letter name with “J” as the first letter and “e” as the last letter.

SQL Function Reference

In addition to simple pattern matching, the LIKE operator can be enhanced with SQL Functions. SQL Functions are predefined operations that can be applied to columns, values, or results within SQL queries. By combining SQL Functions with the LIKE operator, you can perform more complex text manipulation and pattern matching tasks. Common SQL Functions used with LIKE include UPPER(), LOWER(), and CONCAT(), among others. These functions allow you to transform data and patterns to achieve precise matches in your SQL queries.

Use Case

Let’s explore an example for the SQL LIKE operator. Suppose you have a database of customer information and want to retrieve all customers whose email addresses end with a specific domain, say “example.com.” You can achieve this with a query like:

FROM customers
WHERE email LIKE '%example.com';

This query uses the ‘%’ wildcard to match any email address ending with “example.com,” making it a valuable tool for email filtering in your database.


In this comprehensive guide, we’ve covered the essentials of using the LIKE operator in SQL, including SQL wildcards, SQL queries, SQL syntax, and SQL Functions. By mastering these concepts, you can perform precise pattern matching operations on your data, enhancing your ability to retrieve the information you need from your databases. Whether you’re searching for specific email addresses, names, or any other textual data, the LIKE operator is your go-to tool for efficient and flexible pattern matching in SQL. With practice and creativity, you can leverage this operator to streamline your data retrieval processes and make your SQL queries more powerful than ever.


How does the “LIKE” operator work in SQL?

The “LIKE” operator in SQL is used to search for a specified pattern within a column’s data. It allows for pattern matching by using wildcard characters to represent unknown or variable parts of the pattern, making it useful for flexible text-based searches in databases.

What are the wildcard characters used with the “LIKE” operator?

The two primary wildcard characters used with the “LIKE” operator are ‘%’ (percent sign), which represents zero or more characters, and ‘_’ (underscore), which represents a single character.

Can you provide examples of using “LIKE” in SQL queries?

To find all names starting with “John”:

SELECT * FROM employees WHERE name LIKE 'John%';

To find all email addresses with a specific domain:

SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE email LIKE '%@example.com';

Are there any alternatives to the “LIKE” operator for pattern matching in SQL?

There are alternatives to the “LIKE” operator for pattern matching in SQL. Some databases offer regular expressions for more advanced pattern matching. For instance, in PostgreSQL, you can use the “~” operator with regular expressions for complex pattern matching tasks.

What is the difference between “LIKE” and “IN” operators in SQL?

The main difference between the “LIKE” and “IN” operators in SQL lies in their functionality. “LIKE” is used for pattern matching within a single column, typically for text-based searches. In contrast, “IN” is used to filter rows based on a specified list of values, allowing you to check if a column’s value matches any value in the given list.

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