vzczc vzczc - 5 months ago 7x
SQL Question

SQL, Auxiliary table of numbers

For certain types of sql queries, an auxiliary table of numbers can be very useful. It may be created as a table with as many rows as you need for a particular task or as a user defined function that returns the number of rows required in each query.

What is the optimal way to create such a function?


Heh... sorry I'm so late responding to an old post. And, yeah, I had to respond because the most popular answer (at the time, the Recursive CTE answer with the link to 14 different methods) on this thread is, ummm... performance challenged at best.

First, the article with the 14 different solutions is fine for seeing the different methods of creating a Numbers/Tally table on the fly but as pointed out in the article and in the cited thread, there's a very important quote...

"suggestions regarding efficiency and performance are often subjective. Regardless of how a query is being used, the physical implementation determines the efficiency of a query. Therefore, rather than relying on biased guidelines, it is imperative that you test the query and determine which one performs better."

Ironically, the article itself contains many subjective statements and "biased guidelines" such as "a recursive CTE can generate a number listing pretty efficiently" and "This is an efficient method of using WHILE loop from a newsgroup posting by Itzik Ben-Gen" (which I'm sure he posted just for comparison purposes). C'mon folks... Just mentioning Itzik's good name may lead some poor slob into actually using that horrible method. The author should practice what (s)he preaches and should do a little performance testing before making such ridiculously incorrect statements especially in the face of any scalablility.

With the thought of actually doing some testing before making any subjective claims about what any code does or what someone "likes", here's some code you can do your own testing with. Setup profiler for the SPID you're running the test from and check it out for yourself... just do a "Search'n'Replace" of the number 1000000 for your "favorite" number and see...

--===== Test for 1000000 rows ==================================
--===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method
   WITH Tally (N) AS 
         SELECT 1 UNION ALL 
         SELECT 1 + N FROM Tally WHERE N < 1000000 
   INTO #Tally1 
   FROM Tally 
--===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method
    SET @Index = 1;
  WHILE @Index <= 1000000 
         INSERT #Tally2 (N) 
         VALUES (@Index);
            SET @Index = @Index + 1;
--===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table method
 SELECT TOP (1000000)
   INTO #Tally3
   FROM Master.sys.All_Columns ac1
  CROSS JOIN Master.sys.ALL_Columns ac2;
--===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method
        E02(N) AS (SELECT 1 FROM E00 a, E00 b),
        E04(N) AS (SELECT 1 FROM E02 a, E02 b),
        E08(N) AS (SELECT 1 FROM E04 a, E04 b),
        E16(N) AS (SELECT 1 FROM E08 a, E08 b),
        E32(N) AS (SELECT 1 FROM E16 a, E16 b),
   INTO #Tally4
   FROM cteTally
  WHERE N <= 1000000;
--===== Housekeeping
   DROP TABLE #Tally1, #Tally2, #Tally3, #Tally4;

While we're at it, here's the numbers I get from SQL Profiler for the values of 100, 1000, 10000, 100000, and 1000000...

SPID TextData                                 Dur(ms) CPU   Reads   Writes
---- ---------------------------------------- ------- ----- ------- ------
  51 --===== Test for 100 rows ==============       8     0       0      0
  51 --===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method      16     0     868      0
  51 --===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method CR      73    16     175      2
  51 --===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table met      11     0      80      0
  51 --===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method        6     0      63      0
  51 --===== Housekeeping   DROP TABLE #Tally      35    31     401      0

  51 --===== Test for 1000 rows =============       0     0       0      0
  51 --===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method      47    47    8074      0
  51 --===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method CR      80    78    1085      0
  51 --===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table met       5     0      98      0
  51 --===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method        2     0      83      0
  51 --===== Housekeeping   DROP TABLE #Tally       6    15     426      0

  51 --===== Test for 10000 rows ============       0     0       0      0
  51 --===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method     434   344   80230     10
  51 --===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method CR     671   563   10240      9
  51 --===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table met      25    31     302     15
  51 --===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method       24     0     192     15
  51 --===== Housekeeping   DROP TABLE #Tally       7    15     531      0

  51 --===== Test for 100000 rows ===========       0     0       0      0
  51 --===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method    4143  3813  800260    154
  51 --===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method CR    5820  5547  101380    161
  51 --===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table met     160   140     479    211
  51 --===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method      153   141     276    204
  51 --===== Housekeeping   DROP TABLE #Tally      10    15     761      0

  51 --===== Test for 1000000 rows ==========       0     0       0      0
  51 --===== Traditional RECURSIVE CTE method   41349 37437 8001048   1601
  51 --===== Traditional WHILE LOOP method CR   59138 56141 1012785   1682
  51 --===== Traditional CROSS JOIN table met    1224  1219    2429   2101
  51 --===== Itzik's CROSS JOINED CTE method     1448  1328    1217   2095
  51 --===== Housekeeping   DROP TABLE #Tally       8     0     415      0

As you can see, the Recursive CTE method is the second worst only to the While Loop for Duration and CPU and has 8 times the memory pressure in the form of logical reads than the While Loop. It's RBAR on steroids and should be avoided, at all cost, for any single row calculations just as a While Loop should be avoided. There are places where recursion is quite valuable but this ISN'T one of them.

As a side bar, Mr. Denny is absolutely spot on... a correctly sized permanent Numbers or Tally table is the way to go for most things. What does correctly sized mean? Well, most people use a Tally table to generate dates or to do splits on VARCHAR(8000). If you create an 11,000 row Tally table with the correct clustered index on "N", you'll have enough rows to create more than 30 years worth of dates (I work with mortgages a fair bit so 30 years is a key number for me) and certainly enough to handle a VARCHAR(8000) split. Why is "right sizing" so important? If the Tally table is used a lot, it easily fits in cache which makes it blazingly fast without much pressure on memory at all.

Last but not least, every one knows that if you create a permanent Tally table, it doesn't much matter which method you use to build it because 1) it's only going to be made once and 2) if it's something like an 11,000 row table, all of the methods are going to run "good enough". So why all the indigination on my part about which method to use???

The answer is that some poor guy/gal who doesn't know any better and just needs to get his or her job done might see something like the Recursive CTE method and decide to use it for something much larger and much more frequently used than building a permanent Tally table and I'm trying to protect those people, the servers their code runs on, and the company that owns the data on those servers. Yeah... it's that big a deal. It should be for everyone else, as well. Teach the right way to do things instead of "good enough". Do some testing before posting or using something from a post or book... the life you save may, in fact, be your own especially if you think a recursive CTE is the way to go for something like this. ;-)

Thanks for listening...