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Welcome to my weblog. My name is Jeff Smith, I am software developer in Boston, MA and I was recently named a 2009 SQL Server MVP. Check in frequently for tips, tricks, commentary and ideas on SQL Server and .NET programming.


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Passing Arrays of Values as Parameters to Stored Procedures

I see many people have the need to pass in multiple pieces of information to stored procedures in a parameter, often as a CSV string.  For example, you might have a stored procedure that will return customer info for all customer ID's passed in a CSV string, called something like this:

exec GetCustInfo '123,322,12,9122,1'

That's all fine and good, but it can take a little bit of work to process the string, find the commas, strip the whitespace, and then use the results.  The extra work is required because of the CSV format chosen for the input parameter -- it creates a little more difficulty because you need to parse it to find commas, and to make sure you don't miss the last item or the first item passed due to the lack of surrounding commas on those items. 

But remember -- YOU write the stored procedure, and YOU can specify the how data should be passed to it.  CSV's look nice to us humans, but why not require that a fixed length string is passed in with the customer ID's?   You can specify that your string requires ID's to be exactly 4 characters long, padded with spaces, and all concatenated together:

exec GetCustInfo '123 322 12  91221   '

This is much easier to parse, and it is no harder for the client to build this string when calling the procedure.  In fact, it is probably much easier for the client because you don't have to deal with making sure you don't leave a beginning or trailing comma on the string.  Sure, it doesn't look  as nice as a comma-separated string of ID's, but who cares -- no one ever sees this, and the computer certainly doesn't care which method is more readable to human eyes !

When using a fixed length string, the # of elements passed equals the length of the string divided by the length of each element.  You can easily check to make sure the input is valid, and it is trivial to join to a Tally table (a table of numbers, starting at 1, permanently stored in your database) to parse the elements immediately and quickly:

If Len(@CustList) % 4 != 0
  Begin
   -- There's an error in the string passed
  End
Else
  Select SUBSTRING( @CustList, (Number-1)*4+1,4) as CustID
  From Numbers
  where Numbers.Number <= Len(@CustList) / 4 + 1

And that's pretty much it -- put the SELECT into a temp table or table variable, or join to your Customers table, do whatever you need.  You may need to add an RTRIM() or a CONVERT() to get the datatype of your ID columns, but that is also very easily done.  The point is -- you are the one deciding the specification for your stored procedure, you decide the rules, so make it easier, quicker and more direct by using a simpler format for the input strings if possible. 

I've seen so many questions in the forum at SQLTeam about parsing CSV strings and asking “why doesn't WHERE ID IN (@CSV) work ?” that I thought it would be worthwhile to take a minute to provide some ideas on an easier way of solving this problem.

Good programmers are almost always a little lazy by nature -- they want to write shorter, more direct, more efficient, and more easily maintainable code. These are all good things!

Print | posted on Monday, October 04, 2004 9:49 AM | Filed Under [ T-SQL ]

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# A little lazy?

I would say more than a little...

I've got to give it a shot. Thanks Dr.

BTW...just had a request to deal with some streaks and run type of stuff...

I'll have to do some more in depth stuff on your work.

Ya know...that would make for a good blog article.....have you done anyomre with that since you published it?

10/4/2004 11:45 AM | Brett
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# re: Passing CSV's (or not) as Parameters to Stored Procedures

That's exactly it. We needed more than just ids or numbers. Sure, we do have some cases where we take lists of numbers (or better, lists of guids, which are fixed length by definition), but a good portion of our code dealing with input CSVs needs to take in a list representing some structure, with one or more variable length strings. That's all I meant by saying that you can't always make the assumptions necessary for doing fixed-length splitting.

You're absolutely correct that the formatting required for the input list is a defined contract, and a caller could certainly break that contract even in a delimited implementation. It wasn't my intent to imply that using fixed length strings is more fragile than using delimiters, just that it doesn't give you as much flexibility (in exchange for speed, of course).
10/4/2004 2:18 PM | Todd
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# re: Passing CSV's (or not) as Parameters to Stored Procedures

Great point, Todd -- I probably should have mentioned right in the beginning that this really only works for "non-freeform" data like ID's or Codes or GUID's -- I can see that it might not have been clear that that was the perspective I was taking.

(it realyl bothers me that I just used the word "that" twice in a row -- is that proper Enligh?)

Thanks again for contributing !
- Jeff
10/4/2004 2:54 PM | Jeff S
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# re: Passing CSV's (or not) as Parameters to Stored Procedures

Hey Brett --
Let me know if you need assistance. the biggest problem with that technique at SQLTeam I posted is that it can be inefficient for large sets of data.

I'd post it in the blog, but i figure it's already at SQLTeam so no need to reference it again -- google turns up a link to it just fine over there!
10/5/2004 10:02 AM | Jeff S
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# How many Input parameter i can passed to stored procedure

I want the result when i write stored procedure how many input parameter i can pass?
5/10/2007 3:46 AM | s.simson
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# re: Passing Arrays of Values as Parameters to Stored Procedures

adas
9/28/2007 4:02 AM | Sonali
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