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Web Development February 17, 2024

Our Approach to Managing Parent-Child Relationships in SQL Databases

Our Approach to Managing Parent-Child Relationships in SQL Databases

One of the common challenges when working with SQL databases is managing hierarchical or tree-structured data, like categories in an e-commerce application. At Global Concept, we have devised a unique approach to handle this common scenario, ensuring efficient querying even as the tree structure expands to N levels deep. This blog post outlines our method of handling parent-child relationships in SQL databases, specifically in the context of category hierarchies.

The Challenge: Managing Hierarchical Data in SQL

While SQL databases are powerful and versatile, they don't naturally lend themselves to handling hierarchical data. For example, let's consider an e-commerce store's categories, where a 'category' can have a 'parent category' and numerous 'child categories'.

A traditional approach might involve storing each category as a row, with one column specifying the 'parent category' if one exists. However, the complexity arises when we need to retrieve all 'child categories' for a given parent, particularly if these children also have their own child categories. SQL lacks support for easily querying all child categories up to N levels deep.

The Solution: Storing Tree Path in a Separate Column

To tackle this challenge, we store the entire tree path in a separate column for each category. Each category's path includes its own ID and the IDs of all its parent categories, surrounded by hyphens (-).

For instance, if we have a 'Kids' category with ID 1, a 'Shoes' category with ID 2 (a child of 'Kids'), and a 'Casual' category with ID 3 (a child of 'Shoes'), we store the tree paths as follows:


With this approach, the 'Casual' category's tree path indicates that it's a child of 'Shoes', which in turn is a child of 'Kids'.

Querying Child Categories

When we want to retrieve all categories under a certain parent, we use the LIKE expression. To get all categories under 'Shoes', we'd look for all categories whose tree path is LIKE '%-1-2-%'. This simple yet powerful approach allows us to efficiently retrieve all descendants of a category, regardless of how deep the hierarchy goes.


Navigating hierarchical data in SQL databases can be a complex task, especially when dealing with deep levels of parent-child relationships. At Global Concept, we've implemented this unique approach to overcome this challenge, providing robust, scalable, and efficient solutions for our clients.

Remember, this is just one of many strategies that can be used to handle hierarchical data in SQL databases. The best approach often depends on the specific use case, data size, query patterns, and other factors. If you need assistance or advice in designing your database, we're always here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our innovative solutions.

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