We need to do some reporting on values that are usually mixed strings of numbers and letters that need to be sorted 'naturally'. Things like, e.g. "P7B18" or "P12B3". @The strings will mostly be sequences of letters then numbers alternating. The number of these segments and the length of each could vary, though.
We'd like the numeric portions of these to be sorted in numeric order. Obviously, if I just handle those string values directly with
ORDER BY, then "P12B3" is going to come before "P7B18", since "P1" is earlier than "P7", but I'd like the reverse, as "P7" naturally precedes "P12".
I'd also like to be able to do range comparisons, e.g.
@bin < 'P13S6' or some such. I don't have to handle floating point or negative numbers; these will strictly be non-negative integers that we're dealing with. String lengths and number of segments could potentially be arbitrary, with no fixed upper bounds.
In our case, string casing isn't important, though if there's a way to do this in a collation-aware fashion, others might find that useful. The ugliest part of all this is I'd like to be able to do both ordering, and range filtering in the
If I were doing this in C#, it would be a pretty simple task: do some parsing to separate the alpha from the numeric, implement IComparable, and you're basically done. SQL Server, of course, doesn't appear to offer any similar functionality, at least as far as I'm aware.
Anybody know any good tricks to make this work? Is there some little-publicized ability to create custom CLR types that implement IComparable and have this behave as expected? I'm also not opposed to Stupid XML Tricks (see also: list concatenation), and I've got CLR regex matching/extracting/replacement wrapper functions available on the server as well.
EDIT: As a slightly more detailed example, I'd want the data to behave something like this.
SELECT bin FROM bins ORDER BY bin bin -------------------- M7R16L P8RF6JJ P16B5 PR7S19 PR7S19L S2F3 S12F0
i.e. break the strings into tokens of all letters or all numbers, and sort them either alphabetically or numerically respectively, with the leftmost tokens being the most significant sorting term. Like I mentioned, piece of cake in .NET if you implement IComparable, but I don't know how (or if) you can do that sort of thing in SQL Server. It's certainly not something I've ever come across in 10 or so years of working with it.