Pagination in SQL

SQL is a standard language for managing data held in relational database management systems (RDBMS). Often, we deal with large amounts of data that are difficult to manage and visualize all at once. In these situations, we often use a technique known as "Pagination". This article will explore this useful technique, explaining what pagination is and how it can be implemented in SQL. We will start with basic principles and gradually progress to more complex examples. So, if you're a beginner or just need a refresher, this article is for you!

Understanding Pagination

Pagination, in the context of databases and SQL, refers to the process of dividing a large set of results into smaller, more manageable chunks or 'pages'. If you've ever used a search engine or browsed through an e-commerce website, you've likely encountered pagination. When the results are too numerous to display on a single page, they're divided into several 'pages', each containing a specific number of results.

Let's dive into how this technique can be implemented using SQL.

Pagination with LIMIT and OFFSET

A basic and popular way to implement pagination in SQL is by using the LIMIT and OFFSET keywords. The LIMIT keyword is used to specify the maximum number of records to return, while OFFSET specifies the number of records to skip before starting to return records.

Let's assume we have a users table with 100 rows, and we want to break this down into pages with 10 records each. The SQL query for the first page would be:


This would return the first 10 records from the users table. The ORDER BY clause is used to sort the records by the id in ascending order. The LIMIT keyword tells SQL to return only 10 records, and OFFSET tells it to skip 0 records.

For the second page, the query would be:


This time, SQL skips the first 10 records and returns the next 10.

While the LIMIT and OFFSET method is quite straightforward, it has performance issues. When dealing with large data sets, this method can be slow because the database server must still fetch all rows up to the OFFSET value internally before it returns the desired records.

Pagination with SEEK Method

To overcome the performance issues of LIMIT and OFFSET, we can use the SEEK method (also known as Keyset Pagination). Instead of skipping a fixed number of rows, the SEEK method remembers the last item of the previous page and directly starts from the next one.

Assuming we still want to paginate the users table, which has an indexed id column. The SQL query for the first page would be the same as before:


However, the query for the second page would look like this:

SELECT * FROM users WHERE id > (SELECT id FROM users ORDER BY id LIMIT 10, 1) ORDER BY id LIMIT 10;

The WHERE clause here fetches the id of the first record to be left out (the 11th record), and then retrieves the 10 records following it. This method provides faster results as it doesn't need to scan through the initial records.


Q: Why is pagination necessary?

A: Pagination is used when dealing with large data sets. It allows you to manage and present your data in smaller, more digestible chunks. It's especially important in web applications, where loading thousands ofresults at once can significantly slow down the application and degrade the user experience.

Q: Are there any downsides to using the LIMIT and OFFSET method for pagination?

A: While the LIMIT and OFFSET method is easy to implement, it has some performance issues when dealing with large data sets. This is because the database has to count off the OFFSET number of rows before starting to return results, which can be slow for large OFFSETs.

Q: What is the SEEK method or Keyset Pagination?

A: The SEEK method, also known as Keyset Pagination, is an alternative way to implement pagination. Instead of skipping a certain number of rows, the SEEK method remembers the last item from the previous page and starts from the next one. This method is more performant than the LIMIT and OFFSET method, especially for large data sets.

Q: Can pagination be implemented on non-indexed columns?

A: Yes, pagination can be implemented on non-indexed columns. However, it's generally better to paginate on indexed columns. Pagination queries on non-indexed columns can be slow because the database needs to perform a full table scan instead of jumping directly to the indexed row.

Q: Does the order of data affect pagination?

A: Yes, the order of data is crucial in pagination. The ORDER BY clause is used to ensure that the data is sorted in a consistent way. Without ordering, the data returned could be unpredictable and might lead to duplicates or missing rows across pages.

As we wrap up this blog post, we hope you now have a solid understanding of SQL Pagination. The ability to properly paginate data is an essential skill for any developer working with SQL databases. Keep practicing, and remember: The best way to learn is by doing!

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