Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Unsplash

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In the ideal world, you fully test how your SQL Server will handle upgrading to the latest version.  You’re able to catch and mitigate any performance surprises early on.

In the real world, you might not be able to perform a good test before upgrading.  You only learn about poor performance once you upgrade in production.

Does this scenario sound familiar?  It’s what I’ve been thinking about recently as I have to deal with query performance issues after upgrading to SQL Server 2016.

Coming from SQL Server 2012, I know the new cardnality estimator added in 2014 is a major source of the problems I’m experiencing.  While the new cardinality estimator improves performance of some queries, it has also made made some of my queries take hours to run instead of seconds.

Long-term, the solution is to revisit these queries, their stats, and the execution plans being generated for them to see what can be rewritten for better performance.

But ain’t nobody got time for that (at least when facing performance crippling production issues).

Short-term, put a band-aid on to stop the bleeding.

I could change the compatibility mode of the database to revert back to SQL Server 2012 (before the new cardinality estimator was introduced), but then I miss out on being able to use all of the new SQL Server 2016 improvements just because a few queries are misbehaving.

I could enable trace flag 9481 to have my queries use the old cardinality estimator, however as a developer I probably don’t have access to play with trace flags (and for good reason).

Starting with 2016 SP1, what I can do is use the legacy cardinality estimator query hint:

This hint is great because it doesn’t require developers to have any special permissions.  It also allows SQL to use the old cardinality estimator for poor performing queries only – the rest of the server gets to benefit from the improvements brought on by the new cardinality estimator.

With time, I can revisit the queries that are using this hint to try to improve their performance, but in the mean time it’s a great way to fix regressed query performance due to the new cardinality estimator.

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SQL in 60 Seconds #4

On white: Who you really are” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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How many times have you had to transform some column value and ended up stacking several nested SQL REPLACE() functions like this?

Ugly right? And that’s after careful formatting to try and make it look readable. I could have just left it as:

Here we only have 4 nested REPLACE functions. My shameful record is 29. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes it’s the only way to get things done.

Not only are these nested REPLACE() functions difficult to write, but they are difficult to read too.

Instead of suffering through all of that ugly nesting, what you can do instead is use CROSS APPLY:

Technically the CROSS APPLY solution uses more characters. But it is infinitely more readable.

And the server? The server doesn’t care about the additional characters —it still compiles it down to the same 1s and 0s:

So next time you have to nest several REPLACE() functions (or any other string functions), do yourself a favor and make it more readable by using CROSS APPLY instead. Your future self will thank you.

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SQL in 60 Seconds #3

17/365: i could be your magician” by Jin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here’s the scenario: you copy and paste some code into a query you are building. A few minutes later you need that same snippet again, but you’ve already copied and pasted something else onto the clipboard.

The next five minutes of your life are spent searching across the twenty query editor tabs you have open looking for that original piece of code.

Sound familiar?


Copying and pasting is a feature that’s available in nearly every text editor (“nearly” — anyone remember the days before iOS had a clipboard?).

However, SQL Server Management Studio goes above and beyond the regular copy and paste feature set — it has a clipboard ring.

What’s a clipboard ring you ask?

The clipboard ring let’s you cycle through the last 20 things you copied onto your clipboard when you go to paste in SSMS. It can be accessed in the Edit menu (like in the screenshot above) or by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + V.

Let’s say you have the following queries:

And let’s pretend you want to copy all of the fruit names into the IN statement of this query:

Instead of copying and pasting each fruit separately, you can batch your copies together and then paste them from the clipboard ring into your IN statement at the same time:

Use this trick the next time you need to find that snippet of code you used right before heading off to lunch and I guarantee you will be saving yourself tons of time.


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SQL in 60 Seconds #2

Historically it’s been difficult to accomplish certain tasks in SQL Server.

Probably the most annoying problem I had to do regularly before SQL Server 2012 was to generate a running total. How can a running total be so easy to do in Excel, but difficult to do in SQL?

SUM(), click, drag, done. Excel, you will always have a place in my heart.

Before SQL Server 2012, the solution to generating a running total involved cursors, CTEs, nested subqueries, or cross applies. This StackOverflow thread has a variety of solutions if you need to solve this problem in an older version of SQL Server.

However, SQL Server 2012’s introduction of window functions makes creating a running total incredibly easy.

First, some test data:

Next, we write our query using the following window function OVER() syntax:

The syntax for our OVER() clause is simple:

  • SUM(Price) specifies which column we are creating the running total on
  • PARTITION BY specifies around what group of data we want to create our “window” — each new window will reset the running total
  • ORDER BY specifies in what order the rows should be sorted before being summed

The results? An easy to write running total:


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SQL in 60 Seconds #1

A few keystrokes and BAM! A mostly formatted query

SQL in 60 Seconds is a series where I share SQL tips and tricks that you can learn and start using in less than a minute.

Have you ever copied and pasted a query into SQL Server Management Studio and been annoyed that the list of column names in the SELECT statement were all on one line?

There are 30 columns here. Ugh.

You can make the query easier to read by putting each column name onto its own line.

Simply open the Find and Replace window (CTRL + H) and type in ,(:Wh)* for the Find value and ,nt for the Replace value (in some versions of SSMS you may have better luck using ,(:Wh|t| )* in the Find field). Make sure “Use Regular Expressions” is checked and press Replace All:

Make sure the regular expression icon/box is checked
A few keystrokes and BAM! A mostly formatted query

The magic you just used is a Regular Expression, and Microsoft has its own flavor used in SSMS and Visual Studio. Basically, we found text that

  • began with a comma (,)
  • followed by any whitespace (:Wh) (line break, tab, space, etc…)
  • (in newer versions of SSMS we add |t| to indicate or tab or space)
  • and replaced it with a comma (,) and a new line (n) and tab (t).

Sure, this trick isn’t going to give you the same output as if you used a proper SQL formatter, but this technique is free and built straight into SSMS.


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