Human-readable ranges of integers or dates

This is a real-world problem that I came across the other day. In a reporting scenario, I wanted to output a number of values in an easy, human-readable way for a report. But just making a long, comma-separated string of numbers doesn’t really make it very readable. This is particularly true when there are hundreds of values.

So here’s a powerful pattern to solve that task.

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My brand-new T-SQL reference app for Slack

If you haven’t heard of Slack, it’s a wonderful team messaging platform. At first glance, it looks a bit like a private Twitter where you can set up “channels” to have conversations with colleagues. But the great thing with Slack is its flexible API and all the marvelous ways in which you can extend its functionality. You can send rich text messages with status updates from your production servers or you can interface with popular web services like Trello, right there in the chat window!

So as a way to kick start an effort at learning node.js and re-discover web development (which I haven’t really done in about 15 years now), I set out to build a Slack API. Here’s what I learned.

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Comparing nullable columns

Do you ever compare the values of a lot of columns in two tables? Sure you do. Like, for instance, in a cross update, when you need to figure out which rows you should actually update. But it gets worse if the columns are nullable. The fact that any value could potentially be NULL vastly complicates the comparison and might wreak havoc not only on your code but also on your query performance.

But there’s hope.

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Selectively disable “Include actual execution plan”

The “include actual execution plan” feature in SQL Server Management Studio is an invaluable tool for performance tuning. It returns the actual execution plan used for each statement, including actual row counts, tempdb spills and a lot of other information you need to do performance tuning.

But sometimes you want to run a series of statements or procedures where you only want the execution plan for some of the statements. Here’s how:

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Detaching a database also alters file permissions

Moving a database or some of its files from one drive to another or from one instance of SQL Server to another is as simple as detaching it and re-attaching it again. This is actually pretty smart, compared to backuprestore, because you only perform one I/O operation (moving the file), as opposed to two (backing up, restoring).

But when you try to attach the database, you might get something like

Msg 5120, Level 16, State 101, Line 3
Unable to open the physical file "E:\Microsoft SQL Server\SQL2014\MSSQL\Data\Playlist.mdf".
Operating system error 5: "5(Access is denied.)".

The reason, as I found out the hard way, is that SQL Server can actually modify the file permissions of the .mdf and .ldf files when it detaches a database.

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Last row per group

A very common challenge in T-SQL development is filtering a result so it only shows the last row in each group (partition, in this context). Typically, you’ll see these types of queries for SCD 2 dimension tables, where you only want the most recent version for each dimension member. With the introduction of windowed functions in SQL Server, there are a number of ways to do this, and you’ll see that performance can vary considerably.

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Different query plans for “OR” type queries

The SQL Server query optimizer can find interesting ways to tackle seemingly simple operations that can be hard to optimize. Consider the following query on a table with two indexes, one on (a), the other on (b):

SELECT a, b
FROM #data
WHERE a<=10 OR b<=10000;

The basic problem is that we would really want to use both indexes in a single query.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at a few examples of how this type of query would be optimized, as well as how statistics can affect the query plan, and finally, we’ll take a look at a slightly rare plan operator called “Merge Join (Concatenation)”.

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