Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Strange Case OF Nulls And Case

Okay it is not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but I had to come up with a title. This was a question someone asked yesterday in the sql programming group

This person had a case statement like this

SELECT
CASE
WHEN COL1 IS NULL THEN 'UNK'
WHEN COL1 = 'SUGAR' THEN 'SGR'
WHEN COL1 = 'SALT' THEN 'SAL'
WHEN COL1 = 'PEPPER' THEN 'PEP'
END AS items
FROM #INV_ITEMS

This still returned NULLS. Can you spot the flaw? there is no else statement, if there is a value which is not sugar, salt or pepper then a NULL will be returned. let's take a look.

Create this table

CREATE TABLE #INV_ITEMS (COL1 varchar(23))
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES('SUGAR')
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES('SALT')
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES('PEPPER')
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES('WASABI')

Now run this
SELECT
CASE
WHEN COL1 IS NULL THEN 'UNK'
WHEN COL1 = 'SUGAR' THEN 'SGR'
WHEN COL1 = 'SALT' THEN 'SAL'
WHEN COL1 = 'PEPPER' THEN 'PEP'
END AS items
FROM #INV_ITEMS

Output
--------
SGR
SAL
PEP
NULL

So we get a NULL, but which row is that? We just add the column to find out

SELECT Col1,
CASE
WHEN COL1 IS NULL THEN 'UNK'
WHEN COL1 = 'SUGAR' THEN 'SGR'
WHEN COL1 = 'SALT' THEN 'SAL'
WHEN COL1 = 'PEPPER' THEN 'PEP'
END AS items
FROM #INV_ITEMS

Output
--------
SUGAR SGR
SALT SAL
PEPPER PEP
WASABI NULL

Aha, it is the wasabi.

Let's try again by including an ELSE

SELECT Col1,
CASE
WHEN COL1 IS NULL THEN 'UNK'
WHEN COL1 = 'SUGAR' THEN 'SGR'
WHEN COL1 = 'SALT' THEN 'SAL'
WHEN COL1 = 'PEPPER' THEN 'PEP'
ELSE 'UNK'
END AS items
FROM #INV_ITEMS

Output
--------
SUGAR SGR
SALT SAL
PEPPER PEP
WASABI UNK

There we go, it is correct now.

Now let's make it more interesting by inserting a blank, a space and a NULL

INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES('')
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES(' ')
INSERT #INV_ITEMS VALUES(NULL)

We can use a combination of NULLIF and RTRIM to filter out blanks, spaces and NULLS

SELECT Col1,
CASE
WHEN NULLIF(RTRIM(COL1),'') IS NULL THEN 'NullOrBlank'
WHEN COL1 = 'SUGAR' THEN 'SGR'
WHEN COL1 = 'SALT' THEN 'SAL'
WHEN COL1 = 'PEPPER' THEN 'PEP'
ELSE 'UNK'
END AS items
FROM #INV_ITEMS

Output
--------
SUGAR SGR
SALT SAL
PEPPER PEP
WASABI UNK
NullOrBlank
NullOrBlank
NULL NullOrBlank

And there it is

DROP TABLE #INV_ITEMS