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Category: T-SQL

UNISTR() and || in Azure SQL Database

Abhiman Tiwari announces a new function and a new operator:

We are excited to announce that the UNISTR intrinsic function and ANSI SQL concatenation operator (||) are now available in public preview in Azure SQL Database. The UNISTR function allows you to escape Unicode characters, making it easier to work with international text. The ANSI SQL concatenation operator (||) provides a simple and intuitive way to combine characters or binary strings. These new features will enhance your ability to manipulate and work with text data. 

Click through to learn more about both. Honestly, I’d rather stick with CONCAT() versus using || because of how CONCAT() handles NULL without me having to check every operand first.

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Generating Data in SQL Server based on Distributions

Rick Dobson builds some data:

I support a data science team that often asks for datasets with different distribution values in uniform, normal, or lognormal shapes. Please present and demonstrate the T-SQL code for populating datasets with random values from each distribution type. I also seek graphical and statistical techniques for assessing how a random sample corresponds to a distribution type.

This is an interesting article, though if you want a set-based version of generating data according to a normal distribution, I have a blog post where I translated the RBAR version into something that performs a bit better. Converting to log-normal form also makes a lot of intuitive sense.

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Using the CONVERT() Function in T-SQL

Joe Gavin shows how to use a function:

A common task while working with data in Microsoft SQL Server is converting from one data type to another. Most often, it’s done to change the way data is presented, but sometimes it is needed to make sure the right data types are being used for comparisons, joins, or sorting.

The SQL CONVERT function, which has long been part of the SQL language, and as the name implies, can be used to convert a value of one data type into a specified data type with optional formatting attributes. CONVERT gives you the ability to format, whereas the ISO Compliant CAST function does not.

My very strong recommendation for 99% or so of the audience: use TRY_CONVERT() instead. TRY_CONVERT() came out in SQL Server 2012 (sorry for the 1% stuck pre-2012) and has the same performance profile as CONVERT(), except that, when conversion fails, TRY_CONVERT() returns NULL rather than throwing an error.

There is also a TRY_CAST() that does exactly what you think it would.

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Concatenating Strings and (N)VARCHAR Truncation

Vlad Drumea troubleshoots a common problem:

The code in this case is the GetStatsInfoForWholeDB.sql script that’s part of PSBlitz’s resources.
This script is used for, you wouldn’t believe by the name alone, getting statistics information for a specific database.

Due to the fact that it might be ran on Azure or on older versions of SQL Server, as well as on databases with incremental statistics, the best option for it was to use dynamic SQL.

In this case it uses a variable @SQL defined as NVARCHAR(MAX) to store the query that’s built at runtime and execute it via EXEC.

Read on for one of the most common issues you may run into around generating dynamic SQL.

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The Joy of the Common Table Expression

Kevin Wilkie talks common table expressions:

Most of our coding these days has Common Table Expressions, also known as CTEs. If not, you’re either working on an older version of SQL Server or you haven’t been introduced to this piece of goodness.

CTEs can make reading SQL queries a lot easier if the logic is convoluted. For example, let’s use the following in a CTE.

I’ll admit that I probably over-use common table expressions, but I like them more than sub-queries—I find them easier to read, and if they’re going to perform as well (or poorly) as sub-queries, I’d might as well use the form that makes more intuitive sense to me.

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OPTIMIZE FOR vs Forced Plans in SQL Server

Erik Darling makes a comparison:

I often see clients using forced plans or plan guides (yes, even still, to this day) to deal with various SQL Server performance problems with plans changing.

There’s usually an execution plan or two floating around that seems to be a good general idea for a given query, and a couple weird high-end and low-end outliers for very specific populations of values.

Read the whole thing, of course.

In defense of plan guides, the company I used to work for had a few—maybe three or four in total—because of really weird data skew problems on database 106 out of 700 (or so)—because there’s always one customer that makes wildly different use of the system than everyone else. And so a query that worked perfectly fine for 699 databases (or so) flops like a fish out of water for this one database with this one customer’s data in it. So the plan guide was a nicer expediency than optimizing for mediocre on all 700 (or so) databases.

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Job Threading and Thread Partitioning in SQL Server

Aaron Bertrand continues a series on threading:

In part 2 of this series, I showed an example implementation of distributing a long-running workload in parallel, in order to finish faster. In reality, though, this involves more than just restoring databases. And I have significant skew to deal with: one database that is many times larger than all the rest and has a higher growth rate. So, even though I had spread out my 9-hour job with 400 databases to run faster by having four threads with 100 databases each, one of the threads still took 5 hours, while the others all finished within 1.5 hours.

Read on to learn what Aaron did to make things move faster.

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The Joy of Partitioned Views

Rod Edwards talks partitioned views:

This post came around when I was at a loose end one evening, and just started poking at a local sandpit database, and it got me reminiscing and revisiting / testing a few things. The devil makes work for idle thumbs and all that…

Partitioned Views…do they have a place in society anymore?

Rod does a great job of following Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, as well as saving the ‘Yes’ answer for the post itself. Partitioned views come with their own pains, though one use case Rod did not include is using PolyBase and partitioned views to move “cold” data to slower external storage.

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Dynamic Unpivoting of Columns in T-SQL

Kristyna Ferris does a bit of twisting:

Picture this, your data ingestion team has created a table that has the sales for each month year split into different columns. At first glance, you may think “what’s the big deal? Should be pretty easy, right? All I need to do is unpivot these columns in Power BI and I’m good to go.” So you go that route, and the report works for one month. Next month, you get an urgent email from your stakeholders saying they can’t see this month’s numbers. That’s when you realize that this table will grow with new columns every month. That means that any report you make needs a schema refresh every single month. Unfortunately, Power BI will not grab new columns from a table once it’s published into the online service. The only way for the Power Query to pivot the new columns is for you to open the report in your desktop, go to Power Query, and refresh the preview to get all the columns in that table.

Which is quite the pain. But Kristyna has a solution using the UNPIVOT operator in T-SQL.

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