Tag Archives: DBA

Articles for the DBA – accidental or otherwise

#0416 – SQL Server – Msg 8101 – Use column lists when working with IDENTITY columns


I have often written about IDENTITY columns on my blog. Identity columns, most commonly used to implement auto-increment keys, have been around for more than a decade now. Yet, I often see teams run into interesting use cases especially in cases where data is being migrated from one system to another.

Today’s post is based on one such incident that came to my attention.

The team was trying to migrate data from one table to another as part of an exercise to change the database structure for more efficiency. When moving the data from one table to another, they were using the option (SET IDENTITY_INSERT ON) in order to explicitly insert values into the Identity column. However, they were running into an error.

Msg 8101, Level 16, State 1, Line 24
An explicit value for the identity column in table 'dbo.tIdentity' can only be specified when a column list is used and IDENTITY_INSERT is ON.

Here is a simulation of what they were doing:

USE tempdb;
GO
SET NOCOUNT ON;
--Prepare the environment
--   Create a table, and add some test data into it
--Safety Check
IF OBJECT_ID('tIdentity','U') IS NOT NULL
    DROP TABLE dbo.tIdentity;
GO
--Create a table
CREATE TABLE dbo.tIdentity (IdentityId INT IDENTITY(1,1),
                            IdentityValue VARCHAR(10)
                           );
GO
--Turn Explicit IDENTITY_INSERT ON and insert duplicate IDENTITY values
SET IDENTITY_INSERT dbo.tIdentity ON;
GO
--NOTICE: No column list has been supplied in the INSERT
INSERT INTO dbo.tIdentity
VALUES (1, 'One'),
       (2, 'Two');
GO

--RESULTS
--Msg 8101, Level 16, State 1, Line 24
--An explicit value for the identity column in table 'dbo.tIdentity' can only be pecified when a column list is used and IDENTITY_INSERT is ON.

The Solution

Let’s re-read the error. It clearly gives an indication of what the issue is – if we need to insert an explicit value into Identity columns, we need to explicitly use column lists in our insert statements, as shown below.

USE tempdb;
GO
SET NOCOUNT ON;
--Prepare the environment
--Create a table, and add some test data into it
--Safety Check
IF OBJECT_ID('tIdentity','U') IS NOT NULL
    DROP TABLE dbo.tIdentity;
GO

--Create a table
CREATE TABLE dbo.tIdentity (IdentityId INT IDENTITY(1,1),
                            IdentityValue VARCHAR(10)
                           );
GO

--Turn Explicit IDENTITY_INSERT ON and insert duplicate IDENTITY values
SET IDENTITY_INSERT dbo.tIdentity ON;
GO

--NOTE: Column list has been supplied in the INSERT,
--      so, no errors will be encountered    
INSERT INTO dbo.tIdentity ([IdentityId], [IdentityValue])
VALUES (1, 'One'),
       (2, 'Two');
GO

--Confirm that data has been inserted
SELECT IdentityId,
       IdentityValue
FROM dbo.tIdentity;
GO

--Now that data has been inserted, turn OFF IDENTITY_INSERT
SET IDENTITY_INSERT dbo.tIdentity OFF;
GO

-----------------------------------------------------------------
--RESULTS
----------
--IdentityId  IdentityValue
--1           One
--2           Two
 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Hope you will find this helpful.

Untill we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

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#0415 – SQL Server – Performance Tuning – Use STRING_AGG to generate comma separated strings


With more and more data being exchanged over APIs, generating comma-separated strings are becoming a much more common requirement.

A few years ago, I wrote about two different ways to generate comma-separated strings. The most common one I find to be in use when generating comma-separated values from a table is the intermediate conversion of XML. This however, is a very costly mechanism and can potentially take minutes for the query to run depending upon the amount of data involved.

SQL Server 2017 brings a new aggregate function that can be used to generate comma-separated values extremely fast. The function is STRING_AGG().

Here’s a sample of it’s usage:


 --WARNING: THIS SCRIPT IS PROVIDED AS-IS AND WITHOUT
-- WARRANTY.
-- FOR DEMONSTRATION PURPOSES ONLY
--Step 01: Generate Temp table to store source data
DECLARE @NamesTable TABLE ([Id] INT,
[Name] NVARCHAR(50)
);
--Step 02: Generate test data
INSERT INTO @NamesTable
VALUES (1, 'A'),
(2, 'D'),
(2, 'C'),
(3, 'E'),
(3, 'H'),
(3, 'G');
--Step 03: Using STRING_AGG to generate comma-separated strings
SELECT STRING_AGG(tbl.Name, ',') AS [CommaSeparatedString]
FROM @NamesTable AS tbl;
GO
/RESULTS**
CommaSeparatedString
A,D,C,E,H,G
*/

Advantages of STRING_AGG:

  • Can be used just like any other aggregate function in a query
  • Can work with any user supplied separator – doesn’t necessarily have to be a comma
  • No manual step required – Separators are not added at the end of the concatenated string
  • STRING_AGG() is significantly faster than using XML based methods
  • Can be used with any compatibility level as long as the version is SQL Server 2017 (or higher) and Azure SQL database

Here’s an example of how STRING_AGG can be used with any separator:

 --WARNING: THIS SCRIPT IS PROVIDED AS-IS AND WITHOUT
-- WARRANTY.
-- FOR DEMONSTRATION PURPOSES ONLY
--Step 01: Generate Temp table to store source data
DECLARE @NamesTable TABLE ([Id] INT,
[Name] NVARCHAR(50)
);
--Step 02: Generate test data
INSERT INTO @NamesTable
VALUES (1, 'A'),
(2, 'D'),
(2, 'C'),
(3, 'E'),
(3, 'H'),
(3, 'G');
--Step 03: Using STRING_AGG to generate comma-separated strings
SELECT STRING_AGG(tbl.Name, '-*-') AS [CustomSeparatorString]
FROM @NamesTable AS tbl;
GO
/RESULTS**
CustomSeparatorString
A--D--C--E--H--G /

A minor challenge

As with every new feature, there may be a small usability challenge with STRING_AGG. One cannot use keywords like DISTINCT to ensure that only distinct values are used for generating the comma-separated string. There is however a Azure feedback item open where you can exercise your vote if you feel this feature is useful.

Further Reading

  • Different ways to generate a comma-separated string from a table [Blog Link]
  • STRING_AGG() Aggregate Function [MSDN BOL]

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

Output of the sp_help command showing negative signs for a few columns.

#0413 – SQL Server – Interview Question – Why are some columns displayed with a negative sign in sp_help?


One of the first things I do when I start work on a new database is to use “sp_help” to go through each table and study their structure. I recently noticed something that would make an interesting interview question.

Here’s what I saw during my study.

Output of the sp_help command showing negative signs for a few columns.

Output of the sp_help command

The interview question that came to my mind was:

Why is there a negative “(-)” sign in the sp_help output?

The answer

The answer is quite simple – the negative sign simply indicates the columns are in a different sort order. By default, when a sort order is not specified for a column on an index, Microsoft SQL Server arranges it in ascending order. When we explicitly specify a descending sort order of the column on the index, it will be reported with the negative “(-)” sign.

Here is the script I used to capture the screenshot seen above:

USE tempdb;
GO
--Safety Check
IF OBJECT_ID('tempdb..#StudentSubject','U') IS NOT NULL
BEGIN
    DROP TABLE #StudentSubject;
END
GO

--Create a temporary table to demonstrate the point under discussion
CREATE TABLE #StudentSubject 
    (StudentId          INT          NOT NULL,
     SubjectId          INT          NOT NULL,
     DayNumber          TINYINT      NOT NULL,
     SequenceNumber     TINYINT      NOT NULL,
     IsCancelled        BIT          NOT NULL 
                        CONSTRAINT df_StudentSubjectIsCancelled DEFAULT (0),
     Remarks            VARCHAR(255)     NULL,
     CONSTRAINT pk_StudentSubject 
                PRIMARY KEY CLUSTERED (StudentId      ASC,
                                       SubjectId      ASC,
                                       DayNumber      DESC,
                                       SequenceNumber DESC
                                      )
    );
GO

--Notice the DESC keyword against the DayNumber & SequenceNumber columns
--These columns will be reported in index with negative values
sp_help '#StudentSubject';
GO

--Cleanup
IF OBJECT_ID('tempdb..#StudentSubject','U') IS NOT NULL
BEGIN
    DROP TABLE #StudentSubject;
END
GO

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

#0408 – SQL Server – Msg 1750: Could not create constraint or index


An trivial problem came to my desk recently. We were having some issues in creating a table. The script was quite simple, and yet we were facing errors as shown below.

USE tempdb;
GO
IF OBJECT_ID('dbo.ConstraintsCheck','U') IS NOT NULL
    DROP TABLE dbo.ConstraintsCheck;
GO

CREATE TABLE dbo.ConstraintsCheck 
    (RecordId INT NOT NULL IDENTITY(1,1),
     Field1   INT NOT NULL,
     Field2   INT NOT NULL
     CONSTRAINT chk_IsField2GreaterThanField1 CHECK (Field2 > Field1)
    );
GO

The script was being run via an installer, and hence all we got was the last part of the error message:

Msg 1750, Level 16, State 0, Line 7
Could not create constraint or index. See previous errors.

If you have already caught the error, great work! As for us, it took a couple of minutes and running the script via SSMS before we realized that the issue was a just a plain human error.

Here’s the full error that we got when the script was executed in SSMS:

Msg 8141, Level 16, State 0, Line 7
Column CHECK constraint for column 'Field2' references another column, table 'ConstraintsCheck'.
Msg 1750, Level 16, State 0, Line 7
Could not create constraint or index. See previous errors.

The first message that is thrown is the key – it clearly tells us that the CHECK constraint definition cannot be created because it references another column. However, this is a fairly common requirement which is what threw us off.

Finally we realized that we did not have a comma in the T-SQL script before the constraint was defined. Without the comma, SQL Server is trying to create a column constraint, when what we wanted was a table constraint. Here’s the extract from TechNet:

  • A column constraint is specified as part of a column definition and applies only to that column.
  • A table constraint is declared independently from a column definition and can apply to more than one column in a table.

So, we just added the comma to convert the column constraint to a table constraint and we were all set.

USE tempdb;
GO
IF OBJECT_ID('dbo.ConstraintsCheck','U') IS NOT NULL
    DROP TABLE dbo.ConstraintsCheck;
GO

CREATE TABLE dbo.ConstraintsCheck 
    (RecordId INT NOT NULL IDENTITY(1,1),
     Field1   INT NOT NULL,
     Field2   INT NOT NULL, --<-- A comma here makes it a legal Table Constraint
     CONSTRAINT chk_IsField2GreaterThanField1 CHECK (Field2 > Field1)
    );
GO

References:

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

#0406 – SQL Server – Remember that spaces and blank strings are the same


It was recently brought to my attention that a particular script was passing spaces when it should not. Here’s an example:

DECLARE @spaceCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N' ';
DECLARE @blankCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N'';

--Confirm that we are looking at different values
--The ASCII codes are different!
SELECT ASCII(@spaceCharacter) AS ASCIICodeForSpace,
       ASCII(@blankCharacter) AS ASCIICodeForBlankString;

--Compare a blank string with spaces
IF (@spaceCharacter = @blankCharacter)
    SELECT 'Yes' AS IsSpaceSameAsBlankString;
ELSE 
    SELECT 'No' AS IsSpaceSameAsBlankString;
GO

/* RESULTS
ASCIICodeForSpace ASCIICodeForBlankString
----------------- -----------------------
32                NULL

IsSpaceSameAsBlankString
------------------------
Yes
*/

01_Symptom

We then checked the LENGTH and DATALENGTH of both strings and noticed something interesting – the check on the LENGTH was trimming out trailing spaces whereas the check on the DATALENGTH was not.

DECLARE @spaceCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N' ';
DECLARE @blankCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N'';

--Check the length
SELECT LEN(@spaceCharacter) AS LengthOfSpace, 
       LEN(@blankCharacter) AS LengthOfBlankCharacter,
       DATALENGTH(@spaceCharacter) AS DataLengthOfSpace, 
       DATALENGTH(@blankCharacter) AS DataLengthOfBlankCharacter;
GO

/* RESULTS
LengthOfSpace LengthOfBlankCharacter DataLengthOfSpace DataLengthOfBlankCharacter
------------- ---------------------- ----------------- --------------------------
0             0                      2                 0
*/

02_LengthAndDataLength

Often, we loose sight of the most basic concepts – they hide in our subconscious. This behaviour of SQL Server is enforced by the SQL Standard (specifically SQL ’92) based on which most RDBMS systems are made of.

The ideal solution for an accurate string comparison was therefore to also compare the data length in addition to a normal string comparison.

DECLARE @spaceCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N' ';
DECLARE @blankCharacter NVARCHAR(1) = N'';

--The Solution
IF (@spaceCharacter = @blankCharacter) 
   AND (DATALENGTH(@spaceCharacter) = DATALENGTH(@blankCharacter))
    SELECT 'Yes' AS IsSpaceSameAsBlankString;
ELSE 
    SELECT 'No' AS IsSpaceSameAsBlankString;
GO

/* RESULTS
IsSpaceSameAsBlankString
------------------------
No
*/

03_Solution

Further Reading

  • How SQL Server Compares Strings with Trailing Spaces [KB316626]

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.