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Mastering the SQL Server WHILE Statement: Syntax and Usage

SQL Server WHILE Statement

Definition and Function of WHILE Statement

The WHILE statement is a control-flow statement used in SQL to repeatedly execute a set of SQL statements based on a specified condition. The statement is executed only if the Boolean_expression condition evaluates to TRUE.

It is important to note that if the specified condition is always true, the WHILE loop becomes infinite, and the execution will never stop. Thus, it is crucial to use a condition that will eventually evaluate to false.

The WHILE statement executes a statement block consisting of one or more SQL statements. The statement block can include conditional statements such as IF-ELSE, nested WHILE loops, and subqueries. This provides flexibility in executing complex queries while using the loop.

Syntax of WHILE Statement

The WHILE statement in SQL Server follows the standard syntax used in most programming languages. Here is an example of a basic WHILE loop syntax:

WHILE Boolean_expression

The Boolean_expression is a condition that controls the loop iteration. If the condition is true, the sql_statement and statement_block are executed once.

The statement_block is a set of one or more SQL statements enclosed in a BEGIN and END statement. The SELECT statement is the most commonly used sql_statement in the statement block, used to retrieve data from a table.

The parentheses (( )) enclose the Boolean_expression and the statement_block.

Using SQL Server WHILE Statement

Example of using WHILE Statement

Now that we have defined the WHILE loop and its syntax, let us demonstrate how to use it by printing out numbers 1 through 10 using the loop.

DECLARE @counter INT = 1
WHILE @counter <= 10 BEGIN PRINT @counter SET @counter += 1 END

In the example above, we first declare a variable "counter" and assign it a starting value of 1. The WHILE loop is initialized with the condition @counter <= 10, which checks if the counter variable is less than or equal to 10.

If the condition is true, the loop executes the statement PRINT @counter, which prints out the current value of the counter variable. The SET @counter += 1 statement increments the counter variable by 1 at the end of every iteration of the loop.

The loop stops executing once the condition becomes false when the counter variable exceeds 10.

Processing Row by Row using WHILE Loop

Another useful application of the WHILE loop is processing data row by row from a table. This is particularly helpful when dealing with large datasets where cursor processing is time-consuming.

To demonstrate this, let us assume we have a table named "Employees" with columns "Name," "Age," and "Salary." The Employee table has ten rows of data.

DECLARE @counter INT = 1
DECLARE @name VARCHAR(50), @age INT, @salary INT
WHILE @counter <= 10 BEGIN SELECT @name = Name, @age = Age, @salary = Salary FROM Employees WHERE Employee_ID = @counter PRINT @name + ' is ' + CAST(@age AS VARCHAR) + ' years old and earns ' + CAST(@salary AS VARCHAR) + ' dollars.' SET @counter += 1 END

In the example above, we use the WHILE loop to iterate through the rows of the Employee table one by one. We declare a variable "counter" and set it to 1.

Then, we use the SELECT statement to fetch the data from the Employee table, for a row with an Employee_ID equal to the current value of the counter. The data is then stored in the variables @name, @age, and @salary.

We then use the PRINT statement to display the name, age, and salary data we have retrieved, as well as concatenate the strings with the plus sign.


In conclusion, the SQL Server WHILE statement is a powerful control-flow statement that allows us to execute SQL statements repeatedly. It is essential to ensure that the loops condition is eventually false to avoid an infinite loop that could lead to the system's crash.

The examples we have provided show how the WHILE statement can be used to loop through data row by row in tables and other applications. As you use the WHILE statement in SQL queries, it is important to consider performance and optimization. This will help ensure better query execution and faster processing times.

In summary, the SQL Server WHILE statement is an essential tool for executing SQL statements repeatedly based on a specified condition. When used correctly, this control-flow statement can be helpful in processing large datasets and improving query execution performance. It is crucial to ensure that the loop's condition eventually evaluates to false to avoid an infinite loop.

By understanding the WHILE loop's syntax and usage, SQL developers can improve their data processing capabilities. Overall, the SQL Server WHILE statement is a powerful tool that can enhance the SQL query execution process and management of relational databases.

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