How to run your CTE just once, and re-use the output

You may already know that common table expressions, like views, don’t behave like regular tables. They’re a way to make your query more readable by allowing you to write a complex SQL expression just once, rather than repeating it all over your statement or view. This makes reading, understanding and future refactoring of your code a little less painful.

But they’re no magic bullet, and you may end up with some unexpected execution plans.

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Splitting a range string into a table

This week’s post is a requirement that I see very regularly as a developer. You get a plaintext string containing one or more ranges. Each range is comma delimited, and the start and end values of the range are separated by a dash. The string could look something like this, for example: 100-120,121-499,510,520,790-999.

Wouldn’t it be practical if we could construct a table value function that returns one row for each range, with columns for the start and end of each range?

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Execution order of non-deterministic functions

Here’s a strange insight that I gained when building a test case where I needed some randomized values. In order to generate random values, you can use the NEWID() function, which creates a uniqueidentifier value for each row. But NEWID() comes with a strange behaviour, that some (including me) will consider a bug, while others (including the SQL Server development team) consider it to be “by design”.

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