T-SQL Tuesday #37 – Join me in a Month of Joins

T-SQL Tuesday is a recurring blog party, that is started by Adam Machanic (Blog | @AdamMachanic). Each month a blog will host the party, and everyone that want’s to can write a blog about a specific subject.

This month the subject is “Join me in a month of joins”. If you want to read the opening post, please click the image below to go to the party-starter: Sebastian Meine (Blog | @sqlity).

When I read this months invitation by Sebastian, I thought about a situation last week. A developer asked me to review a bunch of T-SQL queries and procedures that one of the other colleagues wrote, because they didn’t work. The first thing that I noticed was the readability of the scripts. I’ve seen some bad ones in my life, but these were just monstrous!

Thinking about the situation I’m guessing it’s just a lack of knowledge about databases. They don’t see what the connection is between data sets. They don’t know what specific joins do, and so they used what they see everyone uses: just JOIN. But they don’t realize that this implicitly means INNER JOIN for the engine.

One of the biggest issues in the script was the fact that a MERGE was used instead of an UPDATE FROM. I’ll try to explain this by using an example of a car factory. The code is exactly the same as the code I was asked to debug, except the objects are renamed.

MERGE INTO Factory.dbo.Stock
USING #TMP_NewDelivery D
	ON D.Brand = Factory.dbo.Stock.Brand
	AND D.PartID = Factory.dbo.Stock.PartID
		UPDATE SET DeliveredAmount = D.DeliveredAmount
INTO @Logging

One of the issues with this code that I noticed first was the fact that it only updates values. So why didn’t they use an UPDATE FROM? This isn’t too bad, except the JOIN clause isn’t declared once, but twice: in the USING, and in the WHEN MATCHED part. The issue is that the ON clause is joined on Brand (let’s say Seat), and that the PartID is added at a later stage. In the end, the query started updating all rows with the same PartID (let’s say Engine). So instead of updating the stock of Seat Engines, it updated the stock for all Engine parts.

And unfortunately I couldn’t do anything with the logging data that is generated by the script. Instead of storing it in a table, the logging information wasn’t used at all. It was stored in a memory table (why they used a memory table, I don’t know), and this wasn’t saved into another object. So why use precious CPU cycles to “store” information you don’t use?

Looking at this reminded me of something I tend to forget: the database is often some side-track for developers. They quickly write a query that isn’t that good and isn’t that fast, but it does the trick. At least, that’s what they think!

Please start thinking in collections and sets if you work with SQL Server, and don’t use a cursor for everything. If you don’t know the difference between a LEFT, RIGHT and INNER JOIN , please ask for help. Your DBA or SQL developer won’t make fun of you for asking. And if you don’t ask for help, please don’t be mad if we use your code as an example! ;)

Are nested Inserts possible?

Two weeks ago I got an interesting questions. Two of my colleagues thought of a funny way to tease me, by asking me this question:

If we have an insert into table X, can we nest another insert into the query to fill table Y with the identity generated by insert X?

After thinking about this a few minutes, I told them I thought this was possible. Eventually I found a few spare minutes, and came up with this solution. In all honesty, this isn’t completely my solution. A few forums I came across mentioned this option, and I took those ideas and created my own solution.

So first, let’s create the 2 tables we need for this example:

	 String VARCHAR(100))

	 String VARCHAR(100),
	 Action VARCHAR(100))

So I’ve created T1 (table X in the question), and T2 (table Y). Let’s assume that T1 contains your product data, and for every product you insert, you want to insert a log-record into T2.

This can’t be done with actual nested inserts. If you want to do this, the easiest ways is to create a Stored Procedure (SP) that uses SCOPE_IDENTITY to retrieve the generated ID, and insert that into your second table. But because an SP isn’t always the best ways to do this, I wanted to see if I could transform it into a single query.

Since SQL Server 2008 we have the opportunity to use the MERGE statement. What the MERGE does is synchronize two tables by inserting, updating and deleting rows in the destination table, based on a set of rules and/or joins.

So, how would this statement look like? After some trial and error, I created this statement:

USING (SELECT -1 AS ID, 'This is a string' AS String) Q
	ON Q.ID = T1.ID
	THEN INSERT (String) VALUES ('This is a string...')
	inserted.ID, inserted.String, CONCAT('<<<<< Inserted in T1 @ ', CONVERT(DATE, GETDATE()) ,' >>>>>')

As you can see the destination table is T1. This is the first table the record is inserted into, and the table that generates the identity. Because we only want to insert the record, and not update or delete anything, I only created a “WHEN NOT MATCHED BY TARGET” clause.

Because the ID columns don’t match, the record gets inserted into T1. After that, I use the OUTPUT clause of the merge statement to insert the same record (but with the generated identity) into T2. As a reference, I also insert the action-description that contains a date.

So as you can see, you can use nested inserts in SQL Server, only via another statement. But remember, this is just written to prove it’s possible in a single statement, and not for production usage. So if you decide to use this in production or on your system, consider your other options first!

Code samples:
Are nested Inserts possible.sql

Calculating Running Totals

When you work with data and database systems, eventually you need to calculate running totals on (for example) product sales or financial data. There are several methods to calculate these amounts. In this post I’ll try to show the pros and cons to the different solutions.

Let’s start with creating the resources for the examples. The most basic example I could think of, is one with only the necessary information: Date and Turnover.

	(Date DATE,
	 Turnover FLOAT)

And then insert some data:

	(Date, Turnover)
	('2011-01-01', 1000),
	('2011-02-01', 1250),
	('2011-03-01', 1500),
	('2011-04-01', 1750),
	('2011-05-01', 2000),
	('2011-06-01', 2250),
	('2011-07-01', 2250),
	('2011-08-01', 2000),
	('2011-09-01', 1750),
	('2011-10-01', 1500),
	('2011-11-01', 1250),
	('2011-12-01', 1000)

	(Date, Turnover)
	('2012-01-01', 100),
	('2012-02-01', 125),
	('2012-03-01', 150),
	('2012-04-01', 175),
	('2012-05-01', 200),
	('2012-06-01', 225),
	('2012-07-01', 225),
	('2012-08-01', 200),
	('2012-09-01', 175),
	('2012-10-01', 150),
	('2012-11-01', 125),
	('2012-12-01', 100)

With this resource, we can start on the examples.

Different solutions

When looking at this question, you’ll notice that there are more solutions to return the correct result. The following queries return the same result, but all the solutions are written for a specific version of SQL Server.

SQL 2000
If you’re using SQL Server 2000 (and I certainly hope you don’t have to anymore ;)), you can use the query with the INNER JOIN. This can be used on all SQL Server versions:

	SUM(B.Turnover)		AS RunningTotal
FROM Dough A
	ON YEAR(B.Date) = YEAR(A.Date)
	AND B.Date <= A.Date
GROUP BY A.Date, A.Turnover

SQL 2005
In SQL Server 2005 they entered a new join type, called CROSS JOIN:

	SUM(B.Turnover)		AS RunningTotal
FROM Dough A
AND B.Date <= A.Date
GROUP BY A.Date, A.Turnover

The example with the INNER JOIN and the CROSS JOIN generate the same execution plan.

SQL 2012
With the release of SQL Server 2012 they handed us (SQL developers) a whole new “bag of tricks”. One of these “tricks” is the window function.

The first time I saw the window function, was at a Techdays NL 2012 session. This session was hosted by Bob Beauchemin (Blog | @bobbeauch). The sessions (T-SQL improvements in SQL Server 2012) is worth watching. Even if you’re using SQL Server 2012 already!

With the window function you can compute and group data, and this is done with the rows you specify.

						ORDER BY Date ASC
FROM Dough


Seeing all these different solutions for the same question, I (and you probably will too) wonder about the performance of these queries. One very quick conclusion: they all return the same records ;).

When using SET STATISTICS IO, you can see the amount of disk activity generated by your statement. If you run this for the queries above, you will get the following results:


Table ‘Dough’. Scan count 2, logical reads 25, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0.


Table ‘Dough’. Scan count 2, logical reads 25, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0.


Table ‘Worktable’. Scan count 0, logical reads 0, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0.
Table ‘Dough’. Scan count 1, logical reads 1, physical reads 0, read-ahead reads 0, lob logical reads 0, lob physical reads 0, lob read-ahead reads 0.

In the OVER query, you see a table called “Worktable”. This is an “extra object” that is generated by SQL Server because you use the OVER statement.


As shown above, there are several different ways to get to the same result. In this example I didn’t show you the cursor solution. This because it’s a bad practice, a bad performer, and a little bit to preserve my good name ;). If you do want to see this, please leave me a comment, and I’ll add it to this post.

But with every solution you’ll see as much discussion about reasons to use is, as discussions on why NOT to use it. And in this case, you might be bound to a specific SQL Server version, so you can’t use a specific approach.

But if you ask me for my opinion, I’ll go for the last option. Not only because I’ve got the privilege to work with SQL Server 2012 in my daily work, but also because it’s the best performer and you’ll end up with the most readable code.

I’m guessing you have a totally different opinion, so please leave a comment with your ideas and/or approaches to this challenge! Also, comments and questions are also greatly appreciated!

SQL Joins – The Differences

In SQL Server you can find several joins. In this post I will try to explain the diffences between them, and how you can use them in your advantage.

There are several different types of joins. Some of them look different, but are actually the same. For example, a Left Join is the same as a Left Outer Join. This also counts for Right/Right Outer Joins. And if you ever encounter a statement with just Join in it, this is converted by SQL Server to an Inner Join.

(Inner) Join
An Inner Join takes the results from both tables in the join, and combines data that matches. All data that doesn’t match the ON clause, isn’t shown in the result set.

Left (Outer) Join
A Left Join takes the 2 tables used in the join, and takes all records from the left table (1st table in your join), and matches and adds data from the right (2nd table in your join). All data from the 2nd table that doesn’t match the ON clause is filtered out.

Right (Outer) Join
A Right Join takes the 2 tables used in the join, and takes all records from the right (2nd table in your join), and matches and adds data from the left (1st table in your join). All data from the 1st table that doesn’t match the ON clause is filtered out.

Full (Outer) Join
A Full Join takes the records from both tables, and matches all the data. The data that doesn’t match is also shown, except with NULL values in the columns that are missing on the other side.

Left (Outer) Join – Right Key Is NULL
With this Join (can be found in code samples, download below), you will get all the results that are not included in the Left Join.

Right (Outer) Join – Left Key Is NULL
With this statement (can be found in code samples, download below), you will get all the results that are not included in the Right Join.

Full (Outer) Join – Both Keys Are NULL
With this join you get all the data that isn’t included in the Full Join result set.

Cross Join
The Cross Join is a “special” Join. This Join type selects all the possible combinations it can. This sounds weird, but in the image below and in the code samples, it’s much clearer.

Code samples:

Join vs Sub Query

If you work with SQL Server you will eventually encounter a JOIN statement. This JOIN statement can be stated as an ordinary JOIN, or as a sub select. In most cases I try to use JOINS (even though it’s just for readability), but in some cases it’s quicker to do it in a sub select (for example with production code, in which you don’t want to change the output but filter output).

Curious about the performance differences between the two, I tried to create a test. I created 2 tables with country information:

In this case I will JOIN both tables, based on DefaultAbbreviation. The queries I used look like this:

SELECT CA.UNAbbreviation
FROM CountryAbbreviation CA
WHERE 1 = 1
AND CA.DefaultAbbreviation IN
    (SELECT DefaultAbbreviation
     FROM CountryInformation) 
SELECT CA.DefaultAbbreviation
FROM CountryAbbreviation CA
INNER JOIN CountryInformation CI
    ON CI.DefaultAbbreviation = CA.DefaultAbbreviation
WHERE 1 = 1

Both queries are executed, and the Execution Plans look like this:

Query 1:

And for query 2:

As you can see the Execution Plans are practically the same. But if you look at the Execution Plan if you execute both statements simultaneously:

So in this case it proves that a JOIN is slower than a sub select. But what if you want a specific value…? I used the same statements, except in both versions I ask for the specific “CountryProper” value “Netherlands”:

So the Execution Plans show that if you fetch a specific value, the costs of both queries are the same.
The conclusion is the same as always: check the Execution Plan if you’re not sure about the performance of your statements.



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