16

I was just looking at a post on StackOverflow 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 
  (SELECT n = ROW_NUMBER() OVER
    (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.

1

3 Answers 3

31

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 (and this entry has been there for multiple versions):

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

BEGIN TRY;
  SELECT 1/1;
END TRY;
BEGIN CATCH;
  SELECT 1/1;
END CATCH;

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

0
11

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.

5

Why should a CTE start with a semi-colon?

It shouldn't. The statement before should be correctly terminated instead.

From the documentation for WITH common_table_expression:

  • When a CTE is used in a statement that is part of a batch, the statement before it must be followed by a semicolon.

If you do decide to use an extra statement terminator for whatever reason, I suggest placing the terminator on a separate line with a comment explaining why it is there:

; -- Previous statement must be properly terminated
WITH n AS (SELECT TOP (10000) n FROM 
  (SELECT n = ROW_NUMBER() OVER
    (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;

This avoids misleading people into thinking it is part of the common table expression syntax, which it is not.

0

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.