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I was just looking at a post on SO ( where Aaron Bertrand proposes using a CTE instead of a numbers table, which is an elegant way of performing the task at hand. My question is, why does the first line of the CTE begin with a semi-colon?

;WITH n AS (SELECT TOP (10000) n FROM 
    (ORDER BY s1.[object_id])
    FROM sys.all_objects AS s1
    CROSS JOIN sys.all_objects AS s2
  ) AS x ORDER BY n
SELECT n FROM n ORDER BY n; -- look ma, no gaps!

Is this to ensure the WITH statement does not get parsed into a previous SELECT or something? I see nothing in SQL Server 2005 BOL about using a semi-colon prior to the WITH.

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I asked the same question in SO awhile ago:… – jrara Aug 29 '12 at 19:36
"Why should a CTE start with a semi-colon?" In Standard SQL every statement is supposed to end with a semi-colon. The problem is that T-SQL only enforces that rule in a few places and one of those is for any statement that comes before a CTE. If there is no statement before WITH then you don't need ;. – sqlvogel Aug 29 '12 at 20:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I always do it when posting here or on StackOverflow because for WITH - since the keyword is overloaded - the previous command requires a terminating semi-colon. If I paste a code sample that uses a CTE, inevitably some user will paste it into their existing code, and the previous statement won't have the semi-colon. So the code breaks, and I get complaints like:

Your code broke! I got this error message:

Incorrect syntax near 'WITH'...

While I'd like to believe that folks are becoming better about always terminating their statements with a semi-colon, I'd rather pre-empt the noise and just always include it. Some people don't like it, but <shrug />. You can include as many semi-colons before or after a valid statement as you want. This is valid:

;;;;SELECT 1;;;;;;;;;;;;SELECT 2;;;;;;;;SELECT 3;;;;;

So there is no harm in there being an extra semi-colon preceding a statement that by definition requires it. It is safer to do so even if it ain't so pretty.

It has to be worded weirdly to get the point across, but "not ending a valid statement with a semi-colon" is actually deprecated since SQL Server 2008. So as I describe in the blog post I link to above, even in cases where it's not required to bypass an error, it should be used wherever valid. You can see this here:

(Search the last page for "semi-colon")

Of course it wouldn't be SQL Server if there weren't exceptions. Try this:

  SELECT 1/1;
  SELECT 1/1;

It's not the only exception to the rule but it's the one I find most unintuitive.

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Thanks for the excellent explanation. I always try to terminate everything with ; – Max Vernon Aug 29 '12 at 18:37
I only have SSMS from 2005 on my desktop, so of course that will Incorrect syntax near ';'. for me. Does it behave differently on 2008+? I've actually tried that style of "going overboard" with the ;'s numerous times by mistake! – Max Vernon Aug 29 '12 at 18:41
In 2012 even I get the same error message, but only because of the semi-colon after END TRY: -- if I remove that semi-colon, everything works. – Aaron Bertrand Aug 29 '12 at 18:43
You forgot to close your <shrug> tag above. Thanks, Internet Police – Eric Higgins Aug 29 '12 at 19:16
@EricHiggins fixed, sorry about that. :-) – Aaron Bertrand Aug 29 '12 at 19:36

This is to ensure that it is not included in any previous statements since WITH can serve a variety of purposes in T-SQL.

If it's the first statement in the batch, I don't think you need it.

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