My SQL Bad Habits

I’m reasonably proficient at SQL – a coworker when pseudocoding some logic for him pointed out that my pseudocode is what he thought was executable SQL. I’m fully capable of writing clear and readable SQL – which most SQL is not. Despite that I still have several bad habits when it comes to SQL. Without further adieu heres some of my dirty laundry so hopefully others can not make the same mistakes.

Order/Group by Column Numbers

When quickly iterating on a query its a lot less typing to put the column number as the thing you want to order by. Here’s a quick lightweight example:

SELECT
  email,
  created_at
FROM 
  users
ORDER BY 2 DESC
LIMIT 5;

This gives me my last 5 users that have signed up for my site. Of course as soon as I have this I may want to add some data to it, like their first name so I can send them a welcome email. I quickly alter the query to:

SELECT
  email,
  first_name,
  created_at
FROM 
  users
ORDER BY 2 DESC
LIMIT 5;

And now I have 5 users that have signed up ordered by their first name. Sure its obvious when you have 1 column you’re ordering by, but when you have GROUP BY 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 which is actually open in one of my tabs currently its a bit more confusing….

Though if you really want to have some fun, share a query with someone that looks something like this:

SELECT
  email as "3",
  first_name "2",
  created_at "1"
FROM 
  users
ORDER BY "1", "3" DESC
LIMIT 5;

Implicit Joins

I seldom use the syntax INNER JOIN. Instead I simply put the two tables in my where clause and ensure I have a where condition. The problem with ensuring I have a where condition is sometimes I don’t, especially when you’re dealing with 3 tables.

SELECT 
  email,
  product.name,
  product.price
FROM 
  users,
  orders,
  items
WHERE users.id = orders.user_id
  AND orders.id = items.order_id

Is less clear (especially when dealing with 5-6 tables) than the alternative:

SELECT 
  email,
  product.name,
  product.price
FROM users
INNER JOIN orders on users.id = orders.user_id
INNER JOIN items on orders.id = items.order_id

Lack of comments

I comment my SQL far less than I comment my code, yet it can be done just as easily. For example I have this in one of my queries:

SELECT convert_from(CAST(E'\\x' || array_to_string(ARRAY(
   SELECT 
     CASE 
       WHEN length(r.m[1]) = 1 
     THEN encode(convert_to(r.m[1], 'SQL_ASCII'), 'hex') 
     ELSE substring(r.m[1] from 2 for 2) 
     END
  FROM regexp_matches(url_here, '%[0-9a-f][0-9a-f]|.', 'gi') AS r(m)
), '') AS bytea), 'UTF8');

While this has its own issues theres no documentation around what this actually does, in contrast:

--- DECODES url ---
SELECT convert_from(CAST(E'\\x' || array_to_string(ARRAY(
   SELECT 
     CASE 
       WHEN length(r.m[1]) = 1 
     THEN encode(convert_to(r.m[1], 'SQL_ASCII'), 'hex') 
     ELSE substring(r.m[1] from 2 for 2) 
     END
  FROM regexp_matches(url_here, '%[0-9a-f][0-9a-f]|.', 'gi') AS r(m)
), '') AS bytea), 'UTF8');

Comments also work well inline at the end of a line.

Large Manually Generated Lists

A lot of times in working with some specific data set I’ll manually or automatically generate a list that I want to filter. A common example is filtering out staging/dev environments. I’ll often manually search and prune the list, then save that result for the queries I’m going to build going forward. This is a bit of effort but still feels reasonable the downside is it results in something like:

SELECT 
  foo
FROM 
  bar
WHERE 
  bar.id NOT IN (34723, 42735, 32321, 47205, 20375, 30261, 26194, 109371, 9313, 6351, 20184, 50273, 34735, 39854, 23954, 25323, 23405, 30528, 50182, 29340, 47659, ... and the list goes on)

SQL is meant to be reasonable for containing some level of logic. Data changes, hard coding keys is going to bite you at some point, spend the extra effort and re-use something thats clear.

What else

I’m sure theres plenty more; I suspect within a few minutes of sitting down with someone they could point out some other bad habits. While I know mine at least some of mine I still often know the trade-off. What are yours? I’d love to hear to document them for others so hopefully they can prevent developing the same bad habits. Let me know; craig.kerstiens@gmail.com