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SQL CONTAINS Command : A Powerful SQL Search Option

SQL CONTAINS Command : A Powerful SQL Search Option


Introduction to SQL CONTAINS Command

The SQL CONTAINS command is a powerful tool used in conjunction with the WHERE clause to filter rows based on a search condition. Primarily used in full-text search in database systems like Microsoft SQL Server, the CONTAINS predicate can search for:

  1. Specific words or phrases in text columns: It helps locate rows where the column includes the specified text.
  2. Prefix terms: By using wildcard operators, it can find terms within a column that start with specified characters.
  3. Proximity terms: It can identify rows where specified terms are near each other.

Basic Syntax

The basic syntax of the CONTAINS command is as follows:

SELECT column1, column2, ...
FROM table_name
WHERE CONTAINS(column_name, 'search_expression');

column_name refers to the name of the column you want to search. The search_expression is the text you are searching for within the column.

Examples of SQL CONTAINS Command

Let’s go through some examples to understand the usage of the CONTAINS command.

Example 1: Searching for a Single Word

Suppose you have a table named Articles with a column Content that stores text. To find all rows where the Content contains the word ‘database’, you would write:<br>

FROM Articles
WHERE CONTAINS(Content, 'database');

Example 2: Searching for a Phrase

To search for a phrase, you need to enclose it in double quotes. If you want to find articles where the Content contains the phrase ‘database systems’, the query would be:

FROM Articles
WHERE CONTAINS(Content, '"database systems"')

Example 3: Searching with Prefix Terms

If you’re looking for words that start with certain letters, you can use the "*" wildcard. For instance, to find all rows with words starting with ‘data’ in the Content column, you’d write:

FROM Articles
WHERE CONTAINS(Content, '"data*"');

Example 4: Searching for Proximity of Words

To find rows where two or more words are in proximity to each other, you use the NEAR operator. For example, to find articles where ‘database’ is near ‘SQL’, the query would be:

FROM Articles
WHERE CONTAINS(Content, 'NEAR((database, SQL), 10)');

The number 10 here specifies the maximum number of non-search terms that separate the search terms.

Example 5: Combining CONTAINS with Other WHERE Conditions

You can also combine CONTAINS with other conditions using AND or OR. For instance, if you want to find articles that contain the word ‘database’ and were published after 2020, you’d write:

FROM Articles
WHERE CONTAINS(Content, 'database')
AND PublishYear > 2020;

The CONTAINS command in SQL is a versatile tool for text searching within database systems. It supports not just simple text searches but also complex queries involving phrases, prefixes, proximity, and more. When used effectively, it can significantly enhance the capabilities of full-text search in your database, making it an essential feature for managing and querying large text-based datasets.

It’s important to note that the exact syntax and capabilities of CONTAINS may vary depending on the database system (like SQL Server, Oracle, etc.), so it’s always a good idea to consult the specific documentation for your database system.



  1. Basic Usage: LIKE is used in a WHERE clause to search for a specified pattern in a column. It’s part of the standard SQL language and is available in almost all relational database systems.
  2. Wildcards:
    • %: Represents zero, one, or multiple characters.
    • _: Represents a single character.
  3. Performance: Generally slower, especially on large datasets, because it often needs to scan the entire table or index.
  4. Use Cases: Best suited for simple pattern matching, especially when the exact content of the string isn’t known. For example, finding a name that starts with ‘Jo’ (WHERE name LIKE 'Jo%').
  5. Syntax Example: SELECT * FROM table_name WHERE column_name LIKE 'pattern';
  6. Limitations:
    • It does not support full-text search in the sense of understanding the linguistic meaning of the search.
    • It’s case-insensitive in some databases and case-sensitive in others, depending on the collation settings of the database.


  1. Basic Usage: CONTAINS is often used in full-text search within a database, allowing you to search for words, phrases, and even proximity of words within the text. It’s more powerful but also more complex.
  2. Wildcards and Proximity:
    • Supports wildcard searches.
    • Can search for words near each other using the NEAR operator.
  3. Performance: Generally faster on large texts or documents because it’s built on full-text search indexes, which are designed for efficient text search.
  4. Use Cases: Best suited for complex text searches, like finding documents that contain certain words or phrases, especially in large databases or document stores.
  5. Syntax Example: SELECT * FROM table_name WHERE CONTAINS(column_name, 'search_expression');
  6. Limitations:
    • Not part of the standard SQL and is implemented differently across various database systems (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle).
    • Requires setting up full-text search indexes, which can be complex and resource-intensive.


  • Complexity and Power: CONTAINS is more complex and powerful, suitable for full-text search scenarios. LIKE is simpler and more suited for basic pattern matching.
  • Performance: CONTAINS generally performs better for large datasets or complex text searches due to its use of full-text indexes. LIKE may perform slower, especially without proper indexing and on large datasets.
  • Portability: LIKE is more portable across different database systems as it’s part of standard SQL, whereas CONTAINS is more database-specific.

Choosing between LIKE and CONTAINS depends on the specific requirements of your search operation, the size of your dataset, and the database system you’re using.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to SQL CONTAINS

What is the SQL CONTAINS Command Used For?

The SQL CONTAINS command is used for performing full-text searches within a text column in a database table. It allows you to search for words, phrases, or even formats where certain words are near each other. It’s particularly useful in large databases where you need to search through extensive text data efficiently.

How Does the SQL CONTAINS Command Differ from the LIKE Operator?

The CONTAINS command is used for full-text searches and is more powerful and flexible than the LIKE operator. CONTAINS can search for exact matches, prefixes, word proximity, and more complex text patterns. On the other hand, LIKE is a simpler pattern matching tool that can search for a specified pattern in a column. While CONTAINS is efficient for large text-based data, LIKE is more suitable for simple pattern matching in smaller datasets.

Can I Use SQL CONTAINS to Search for Words Near Each Other?

Yes, you can use the CONTAINS command to search for words that are near each other in a text column. You can specify the maximum distance between the words using the NEAR operator. For example, CONTAINS(column_name, ‘NEAR((word1, word2), distance)’) will find rows where word1 and word2 are within the specified distance from each other.

Is the SQL CONTAINS Command Case-Sensitive?

The case-sensitivity of the CONTAINS command depends on the collation settings of the database system you are using. Some database systems, like SQL Server, provide options to perform case-sensitive or case-insensitive searches. It’s essential to check the documentation of your specific database system to understand how case sensitivity is handled.

Do I Need to Index My Table to Use SQL CONTAINS?

Yes, to use the CONTAINS command effectively, you need to have a full-text index on the column(s) you want to search. A full-text index is a special type of index that is specifically designed to allow fast and efficient searching of text within a column. Setting up a full-text index can be a complex process and requires additional storage, but it significantly improves the performance of full-text searches in large datasets.

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