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SQL Join vs Subquery

Last Updated : 17 May, 2024
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The difference between SQL JOIN and subquery is that JOIN combines records of two or more tables whereas Subquery is a query nested in another query.

SQL JOIN and Subquery are used to combine data from different tables simplifying complex queries into a single statement.

Here we will discuss SQL JOIN vs Subquery in detail, and understand the difference between JOIN and Subquery with examples.

What is SQL JOIN?

A SQL JOIN is a query that combines records from two or more tables. A join will be performed whenever multiple tables appear in the FROM clause of the query. The select list of the query can select any columns from any of these tables.

A Cartesian product is formed if the JOIN condition is omitted or invalid. If any of these tables have a column name in common, then we must qualify these columns throughout the query with table or table alias names to avoid ambiguity. Most join queries contain at least one join condition, either in the FROM clause or in the WHERE clause.

Advantages of Joins

  • The advantage of a join is that it executes faster.
  • The retrieval time of the query using joins almost always will be faster than that of a subquery.
  • By using joins, you can minimize the calculation burden on the database i.e., instead of multiple queries using one join query. This means you can make better use of the database’s abilities to search through, filter, sort, etc.

Disadvantages of Joins

  • Disadvantage of using joins includes that they are not as easy to read as subqueries.
  • More joins in a query means the database server has to do more work, which means that it is more time consuming process to retrieve data
  • As there are different types of joins, it can be confusing as to which join is the appropriate type of join to use to yield the correct desired result set.
  • Joins cannot be avoided when retrieving data from a normalized database, but it is important that joins are performed correctly, as incorrect joins can result in serious performance degradation and inaccurate query results.

What is Subquery?

A Subquery or Inner query or Nested query is a query within an SQL query and embedded within the WHERE clause. A Subquery is a SELECT statement that is embedded in a clause of another SQL statement.

They can be very useful for selecting rows from a table with a condition that depends on the data in the same or another table. A Subquery is used to return data that will be used in the main query as a condition to further restrict the data to be retrieved. The subquery can be placed in the following SQL clauses they are WHERE clause, HAVING clause, and FROM clause.

Advantages Of Subquery:

  • Subqueries divide the complex query into isolated parts so that a complex query can be broken down into a series of logical steps.
  • It is easy to understand and code maintenance is also at ease.
  • Subqueries allow you to use the results of another query in the outer query.
  • In some cases, subqueries can replace complex joins and unions. 

Disadvantages of Subquery:

  • The optimizer is more mature for MYSQL for joins than for subqueries, so in many cases a statement that uses a subquery can be executed more efficiently if you rewrite it as join.
  • We cannot modify a table and select from the same table within a subquery in the same SQL statement.

Difference Between SQL JOIN and Subquery

The main difference between SQL JOIN and subquery are mentioned in the table below:

Subquery JOIN
A subquery is a query nested inside another query and is used to return data that will be used in the main query as a condition to further restrict the data to be retrieved. A JOIN is a means for combining fields from two tables by using values common to each.
Subqueries can be slower than JOINs, especially if the subquery returns a large number of rows. JOINs are generally faster than subqueries, especially for large datasets.
Subqueries can be more complex and harder to read, especially when there are multiple levels of nesting. JOINs can be easier to read and understand, especially for simple queries.
Subqueries can be used in SELECT, WHERE, and FROM clauses, offering more flexibility. JOINs are used to combine rows from two or more tables based on a related column.
Subqueries are often used when the result of the query is not known or dynamic. JOINs are used when the relationships between the tables are known and fixed.


In conclusion, A subquery is often easier to write, but a join might be better optimized by the server. For example, a Left Outer Join typically works faster because servers can optimize it more efficiently.

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