Adventures in Machine Learning

Mastering Null Values in SQL Server: COALESCE vs CASE

Introduction to SQL Server COALESCE Expression

When working with SQL Server, it is not uncommon to come across scenarios where we need to handle null values. Null values are placeholders for missing or unknown data and can cause issues when used in calculations or data manipulation.

This is where the COALESCE expression comes in handy.

The SQL Server COALESCE expression returns the first non-null argument from a list of expressions.

It is a versatile function that can be used in different clauses like SELECT, WHERE, GROUP BY, and HAVING. Let’s take a closer look at how it works and its applications.

Syntax and

Functionality of SQL Server COALESCE Expression

The syntax of SQL Server COALESCE expression is as follows:

COALESCE(expression1, expression2, expression3, …)

The arguments are a list of expressions that can be of any data type. The function returns the first non-null argument in the list.

If all arguments are null, it returns null. The functionality of COALESCE expression is simple yet powerful.

It eliminates the need to check for null values manually using conditional statements. It saves time and reduces the complexity of SQL queries.

Use of SQL Server COALESCE Expression in Different Clauses

The SQL Server COALESCE expression can be used in various SQL clauses for different purposes. In the SELECT clause, it can be used to return non-null values for specific columns, as shown below:

SELECT COALESCE(column1, column2, column3) AS new_column

FROM table_name

In the WHERE clause, it can be used to exclude rows with null values based on specific criteria, as shown below:

WHERE COALESCE(column1, column2) > 0

In the GROUP BY clause, it can be used to group data based on non-null values, as shown below:

GROUP BY COALESCE(column1, column2)

In the HAVING clause, it can be used to filter groups based on non-null values, as shown below:

HAVING COALESCE(column1, column2) > 0

SQL Server COALESCE Expression Examples

Here are a few examples that demonstrate the use of SQL Server COALESCE expression.

Using with Character String Data

Suppose we have a table that contains customer information, and some of the names are missing. We can use the COALESCE expression to substitute any missing name with the last known name.

SELECT COALESCE(first_name, last_name) AS customer_name

FROM customers

In this case, if the first name is null, it returns the last name instead.

Using with Numeric Data

Suppose we have a table that contains employee information, and some of the hourly rates are null. We can use the COALESCE expression to substitute any missing hourly rate with a default value.

SELECT COALESCE(hourly_rate, 20) AS new_hourly_rate

FROM employees

In this case, if the hourly rate is null, it returns 20 as the new hourly rate.

Substituting NULL with New Values

Suppose we have a table that contains product information, and some of the prices are null. We can use the COALESCE expression to substitute any missing price with a new price based on a specific condition.

SELECT COALESCE(price,

CASE

WHEN quantity > 100 THEN 50

ELSE 100

END) AS new_price

FROM products

In this case, if the price is null, it returns a new price of 50 if the quantity is greater than 100, and 100 otherwise.

Using Available Data

Suppose we have a table that contains employee information, and some of them have hourly rates, while others have weekly rates or monthly rates. We can use the COALESCE expression to calculate the total cost based on the available rate.

SELECT employee_name,

COALESCE(hourly_rate, weekly_rate/40, monthly_rate/160)*hours_worked AS total_cost

FROM employment_data

In this case, if the hourly rate is null, it calculates the total cost using the weekly rate divided by 40 or the monthly rate divided by 160, multiplied by the number of hours worked.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the SQL Server COALESCE expression is a handy function that simplifies data manipulation in SQL queries. It allows us to handle null values efficiently and eliminates manual checking for nulls.

It can be used in different SQL clauses for various purposes like returning non-null values, filtering null rows, grouping and filtering data based on non-null values. We demonstrated a few applications of the COALESCE expression in character string data, numeric data, substituting null values with new values, and using the available data for calculating cost.

COALESCE vs.

CASE Expression

When handling null values in SQL Server, there are different functions available to choose from.

Two commonly used functions are COALESCE and CASE. While these functions are similar in some regards, they have different use cases and can produce different results.

In this article, we will compare COALESCE and

CASE expressions to understand their differences and determine the best situations to use each function.

Comparison between COALESCE and CASE

COALESCE and

CASE are both functions that provide a way to handle null values in SQL Server. However, they differ in their syntax and functionality.

COALESCE is a simple function that returns the first non-null argument from a list of expressions. The syntax for COALESCE is as follows:

COALESCE(expression1, expression2, expression3, …)

In contrast,

CASE is a more complex function that provides conditional logic to evaluate one or more expressions.

The syntax for a simple

CASE expression is as follows:

CASE expression

WHEN value1 THEN result1

WHEN value2 THEN result2

ELSE result

END

With a

CASE expression, you can specify different conditions and corresponding results. The ELSE clause in a

CASE expression is optional.

If an ELSE clause is not specified, it returns null for unmatched conditions. COALESCE and

CASE expressions differ in their functionality and how they handle different types of data.

Functionality

COALESCE is used to return the first non-null argument from a list of expressions. It is a simple and straightforward function that can substitute a null value with an alternative value.

Let’s consider the following example. Suppose we have a table, “Students”, containing the following fields: “ID”, “Name”, “Age” and “Address”.

SELECT COALESCE(Name, ‘Not Available’) AS StudentName

FROM Students

In the above example, if “Name” has a null value, then “Not Available” gets displayed instead. On the other hand, a

CASE expression is more powerful and allows you to evaluate multiple expressions and return different results based on specified conditions.

It can handle complex logic and can become more complex as the number of conditions increases. Let’s consider an example for a

CASE expression.

Suppose we have a table “Employees” with fields such as “ID”, “FirstName”, “LastName”, “Salary”.

SELECT FirstName,

CASE

WHEN Salary < 15000 THEN 'Low Salary'

WHEN Salary > 15000 AND Salary < 50000 THEN 'Average Salary'

ELSE ‘High Salary’

END

AS SalaryCategory

FROM Employees

In the above example, we use a

CASE expression to categorize employees into different salary categories based on their salary. We evaluate multiple conditions to determine the appropriate salary category for each employee.

Data Types

COALESCE and

CASE expressions handle different types of data. COALESCE can handle any data type, while

CASE expressions are not as flexible.

COALESCE is especially useful when working with character string data and dates. You can use it to return non-null values from a list of expressions regardless of type.

However, note that when working with different types of data, COALESCE will return the data type with the highest precedence. For example:

SELECT COALESCE(firstName, lastName, email) AS contact

FROM employees

In the above example, the function returns the first non-null argument from a list of expressions, regardless of their data type.

CASE expressions, on the other hand, require that all expressions and results have a common data type. If different data types are evaluated, you may need to cast the data to a common data type.

For example:

SELECT FirstName,

CASE

WHEN Salary < 15000 THEN CAST(Salary AS VARCHAR) + ' (Low Salary)'

WHEN Salary > 15000 AND Salary < 50000 THEN CAST(Salary AS VARCHAR) + ' (Average Salary)'

ELSE CAST(Salary AS VARCHAR) + ‘ (High Salary)’

END

AS SalaryCategory

FROM Employees

In the above example, we cast the salaries to VARCHAR before we concatenate them with the salary category to ensure compatibility of data types in the

CASE expression.

Conclusion

In conclusion, COALESCE and

CASE expressions are both useful functions that can help handle null values in SQL Server. COALESCE provides a simple and concise way to return the first non-null expression from a list of expressions.

In contrast,

CASE expressions can handle complex logic and can evaluate multiple expressions before assigning a result.

When deciding which function to use, consider the data type, complexity of logic, and the desired outcome.

Knowing the differences and similarities between COALESCE and

CASE expressions can help you choose the right function for your needs. In conclusion, SQL Server COALESCE and

CASE expressions are both important functions for handling null values in SQL queries.

COALESCE is a simple function that returns the first non-null argument from a list of expressions, while

CASE is a more complex function that provides conditional logic to evaluate one or more expressions. When deciding which function to use, consider the data type, complexity of logic, and the desired outcome.

It is important to understand the differences and similarities between COALESCE and

CASE expressions to choose the right function for your needs. Remember that COALESCE is best for simple substitutions, and

CASE is better for handling complex logic with multiple conditions.

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