Queries made against the relational database, and the derived relvars in the database are expressed in a relational calculus or a relational algebra each. The first four operators were based on the traditional mathematical set operations:

- The unons operator combines the tuples of two relations and removes all duplicate tuples from the result. The relational union operator is equivalent to the SQL UNION operator.
- The intersections operator produces the set of tuples that two relations share in common. Intersection is implemented in SQL in the form of the INTERSECT operator.
- The difference operator acts on two relations and produces the set of tuples from the first relation that do not exist in the second relation. Difference is implemented in SQL in the form of the EXCEPT or MINUS operator.
- The Cartesian product of two relations is a join that is not restricted by any criteria, resulting in every tuple of the first relation being matched with every tuple of the second relation. The cartesian product is implemented in SQL as the CROSS JOIN join operator.

- The selection, or restriction, operation retrieves tuples from a relation, limiting the results to only those that meet a specific criteria, i.e. a subset in terms of set theory. The SQL equivalent of selection is the SELECT query statement with a WHERE clause.
- The projection operation extracts only the specified attributes from a tuple or set of tuples.
- The join operation defined for relational databases is often referred to as a natural join. In this type of join, two relations are connected by their common attributes. SQL's approximation of a natural join is the INNER JOIN join operator.
- The relational division operation is a slightly more complex operation, which involves essentially using the tuples of one relation (the dividend) to partition a second relation (the divisor). The relational division operator is effectively the opposite of the cartesian product operator (hence the name).

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