Tag Archives: Development

Articles on Microsoft SQL Server development

#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.

#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.

#0412 – SQL Server – SSIS – Error – The value type (__ComObject) can only be converted to variables of type Object. Variables may not change type during execution.


Recently, we were manipulating a string in an “Execute SQL” task inside a SSIS package, when we ran into the following sequence of errors.

[Execute SQL Task] Error: The value type (__ComObject) can only be converted to variables of type Object.
[Execute SQL Task] Error: An error occurred while assigning a value to variable "MyStringVariable": "The type of the value (DBNull) being assigned to variable "User::MyStringVariable" differs from the current variable type (String). Variables may not change type during execution. Variable types are strict, except for variables of type Object.".
Error: The type of the value (DBNull) being assigned to variable "User::MyStringVariable" differs from the current variable type (String). Variables may not change type during execution. Variable types are strict, except for variables of type Object.

The Execute SQL was similar to something that we had done hundreds of times before, and therefore we were stumped by the error. I found the root cause interesting and hence wanted to write about it right away.

The Test Setup

Before we go ahead, allow me to walk through the sample SSIS package which we used to reproduce the issue. As I mentioned, it is a simple SSIS package with a single “Execute SQL Task”.

0412_01_SSISExecuteSQLTask

The Execute SQL task in the sample SSIS package

The “Execute SQL” task simply executes a T-SQL statement that returns a single-row result set and sets a package variable of type “string“.

DECLARE @myVariable VARCHAR(MAX);

SET @myVariable = 'SQLTwins';

SELECT @myVariable AS myVariable;

0412_02_SSISVariable

User Variable of type “string” in the test package

0412_03_SSISExecuteSQLDetails

Execute SQL task details showing sample T-SQL script

0412_04_SSISResultSetVariableMapping

Variable Mapping in the Execute SQL Task

When we execute this SSIS package, it fails with the error referenced above.

0412_05_ExecuteSQLFailure

Failed Execute SQL Task

0412_06_ExecuteSQLFailureDetails

Execute SQL Task Failure Details

The Solution

The solution was right there in our faces, but we failed to notice it for a while. If we read the error message carefully, we can isolate the following points:

  • The data-type of the variable from the Result Set output of the Execute SQL task is different from the data-type of the target user variable
  • SSIS detects this as an attempt to change the data-type, which is not allowed because variables types are strict unless defined as an “object”

Based on this, we set about looking at differences between the single-row result set and the SSIS user variable of type “string”. We soon realized that the result set was returning a VARCHAR(MAX).

It appears that the (MAX) was causing problems in the SSIS engine. As soon as we changed it to a fixed-length variable the package worked as expected.

DECLARE @myVariable VARCHAR(8000);

SET @myVariable = 'SQLTwins';

SELECT @myVariable AS myVariable;

0412_07_ExecuteSQLSuccess

Successful execution of Execute SQL after changing to a fixed-length data-type

Hope this little tip helps in your development efforts someday.

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

 

#0410 – SQL Server – Dividing a TimeSpan by an Integer to find average time per execution


I recently encountered an interesting question on the forums the other day. The question was how to determine the average time taken by a single execution of the report provided we know how many times the report ran and the total time taken for all those executions.

The challenge is that the total time taken for all the report executions is a timespan value (datatype TIME in SQL Server). A TIME value cannot be divided by an INTEGER. If we try to do that, we run into an error – an operand clash.

USE [tempdb];
GO
DECLARE @timeSpan TIME = '03:18:20';
DECLARE @numberOfExecutions INT = 99;

SELECT @timeSpan/@numberOfExecutions;
GO
Msg 206, Level 16, State 2, Line 6
Operand type clash: time is incompatible with int

The solution is to realize that a timespan/TIME value is ultimately the number of seconds passed from a given instant. Once the timespan is converted to the appropriate unit (number of seconds), dividing by the number of executions should be quite simple.

Here’s the working example:

USE [tempdb];
GO
DECLARE @timeSpan TIME = '03:18:20';
DECLARE @numberOfExecutions INT = 99;

SELECT @timeSpan AS TotalActiveTime,
       DATEDIFF(SECOND,'1900-01-01 00:00:00.000',CAST(@timeSpan AS DATETIME)) AS TotalExecutionTimeInSeconds,
       DATEDIFF(SECOND,'1900-01-01 00:00:00.000',CAST(@timeSpan AS DATETIME))/(@numberOfExecutions * 1.0) AS TimePerExecution;
GO

/* RESULTS
TotalActiveTime  TotalExecutionTimeInSeconds TimePerExecution   
---------------- --------------------------- -------------------
03:18:20.0000000 11900                       120.20202020202020
*/

I trust this simple thought will help in resolving a business problem someday.

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.

Collapsed Regions using BEGIN_END

#0409 – SQL Server – Code Blocks – Equivalent of #region…#endregion


I was recently participating in a forum and came across an interesting question. What attracted my attention was that the person was trying to keep their T-SQL code clean and readable (which in itself is a rare sight).

The person was trying to group their T-SQL code into regions. In the world of application development technologies (e.g. C#) we would typically use the #region….#endregion combination. However, it does not work with T-SQL because the hash (#) is used to define temporary tables.

In T-SQL, the basic control-of-flow statements¬† that allow you to group the code are the BEGIN…END keywords. The BEGIN…END keywords can be used to logically group code so that they can be collapsed or expanded as required.

Collapsed Regions using BEGIN_END

Collapsed Regions using BEGIN_END

Expanded Regions using BEGIN_END

Expanded Regions using BEGIN_END

Summarizing,

The BEGIN…END keywords are therefore the functional equivalents of the #region…#endregion statements.

Until we meet next time,

Be courteous. Drive responsibly.