A schema is a collection of named objects; it provides a way to group those objects logically. A schema is also a name qualifier; it provides a way to use the same natural name for several objects, and to prevent ambiguous references to those objects.

For example, the schema names 'INTERNAL' and 'EXTERNAL' make it easy to distinguish two different SALES tables (INTERNAL.SALES, EXTERNAL.SALES).

Schemas also enable multiple applications to store data in a single database without encountering namespace collisions.

A schema is distinct from, and should not be confused with, an XML schema, which is a standard that describes the structure and validates the content of XML documents.

A schema can contain tables, views, nicknames, triggers, functions, packages, and other objects. A schema is itself a database object. It is explicitly created using the CREATE SCHEMA statement, with the current user or a specified authorization ID recorded as the schema owner. It can also be implicitly created when another object is created, if the user has IMPLICIT_SCHEMA authority.

A schema name is used as the high order part of a two-part object name. If the object is specifically qualified with a schema name when created, the object is assigned to that schema. If no schema name is specified when the object is created, the default schema name is used (specified in the CURRENT SCHEMA special register).

For example, a user with DBADM authority creates a schema called C for user A:
User A can then issue the following statement to create a table called X in schema C (provided that user A has the CREATETAB database authority):

Some schema names are reserved. For example, built-in functions belong to the SYSIBM schema, and the pre-installed user-defined functions belong to the SYSFUN schema.

When a database is created, if it is not created with the RESTRICTIVE option, all users have IMPLICIT_SCHEMA authority. With this authority, users implicitly create a schema whenever they create an object with a schema name that does not already exist. When schemas are implicitly created, CREATEIN privileges are granted which allows any user to create other objects in this schema. The ability to create objects such as aliases, distinct types, functions, and triggers is extended to implicitly created schemas. The default privileges on an implicitly created schema provide backward compatibility with previous versions.

The owner of an implicitly created schema is SYSIBM. When the database is restrictive, PUBLIC does not have the CREATEIN privilege on the schema. The user who implicitly creates the schema has CREATEIN privilege on the schema. When the database is not restrictive, PUBLIC has the CREATEIN privilege on the schema.

If IMPLICIT_SCHEMA authority is revoked from PUBLIC, schemas can be explicitly created using the CREATE SCHEMA statement, or implicitly created by users (such as those with DBADM authority) who have been granted IMPLICIT_SCHEMA authority. Although revoking IMPLICIT_SCHEMA authority from PUBLIC increases control over the use of schema names, it can result in authorization errors when existing applications attempt to create objects.

Schemas also have privileges, allowing the schema owner to control which users have the privilege to create, alter, and drop objects in the schema. This ability provides a way to control the manipulation of a subset of objects in the database. A schema owner is initially given all of these privileges on the schema, with the ability to grant the privileges to others. An implicitly created schema is owned by the system, and all users are initially given the privilege to create objects in such a schema, except in a restrictive database environment. A user with ACCESSCTRL or SECADM authority can change the privileges that are held by users on any schema. Therefore, access to create, alter, and drop objects in any schema (even one that was implicitly created) can be controlled.