Using Table-Valued Parameters in SQL Server

I work with stored procedures in SQL Server pretty frequently and have often found myself with a need to pass in a list of values at run-time. Quite often this list contains a set of ids on which the stored procedure needs to operate the size and contents of which are not known at design time. In the past I’ve taken the collection of ids (which are usually integers), converted them to a string representation where each value is separated by a comma and passed that string into a VARCHAR parameter of a stored procedure. The body of the stored procedure would then need to parse that string into a table variable which could be easily consumed with set-based logic within the rest of the stored procedure. This approach works pretty well but the VARCHAR variable has always felt like an un-wanted “middle man” in this scenario. Of course, I could use a BULK INSERT operation to load the list of ids into a temporary table that the stored procedure could use, but that approach seems heavy-handed in situations where the list of values is usually going to contain only a few dozen values. Fortunately SQL Server 2008 introduced the concept of table-valued parameters which effectively eliminates the need for the clumsy middle man VARCHAR parameter.

Example: Customer Transaction Summary Report

Let’s say we have a report that can summarize the the transactions that we’ve conducted with customers over a period of time. The report returns a pretty simple dataset containing one row per customer with some key metrics about how much business that customer has conducted over the date range for which the report is being run. Sometimes the report is run for a single customer, sometimes it’s run for all customers, and sometimes it’s run for a handful of customers (i.e. a salesman runs it for the customers that fall into his sales territory).

This report can be invoked from a website on-demand, or it can be scheduled for periodic delivery to certain users via SQL Server Reporting Services. Because the report can be created from different places and the query to generate the report is complex it’s been packed into a stored procedure that accepts three parameters:

  • @startDate – The beginning of the date range for which the report should be run.
  • @endDate – The end of the date range for which the report should be run.
  • @customerIds – The customer Ids for which the report should be run.

Obviously, the @startDate and @endDate parameters are DATETIME variables. The @customerIds parameter, however, needs to contain a list of the identity values (primary key) from the Customers table representing the customers that were selected for this particular run of the report. In prior versions of SQL Server we might have made this parameter a VARCHAR variable, but with SQL Server 2008 we can make it into a table-valued parameter.

Defining And Using The Table Type

In order to use a table-valued parameter, we first need to tell SQL Server about what the table will look like. We do this by creating a user defined type. For the purposes of this stored procedure we need a very simple type to model a table variable with a single integer column. We can create a generic type called ‘IntegerListTableType’ like this:

CREATE TYPE IntegerListTableType AS TABLE (Value INT NOT NULL)

Once defined, we can use this new type to define the @customerIds parameter in the signature of our stored procedure. The parameter list for the stored procedure definition might look like:

CREATE PROCEDURE dbo.rpt_CustomerTransactionSummary
  @starDate datetime,
  @endDate datetime,
  @customerIds IntegerListTableTableType READONLY

Note the ‘READONLY’ statement following the declaration of the @customerIds parameter. SQL Server requires any table-valued parameter be marked as ‘READONLY’ and no DML (INSERT/UPDATE/DELETE) statements can be performed on a table-valued parameter within the routine in which it’s used. Aside from the DML restriction, however, you can do pretty much anything with a table-valued parameter as you could with a normal TABLE variable.

With the user defined type and stored procedure defined as above, we could invoke like this:

DECLARE @cusomterIdList IntegerListTableType
INSERT @customerIdList VALUES (1)
INSERT @customerIdList VALUES (2)
INSERT @customerIdList VALUES (3)

EXEC dbo.rpt_CustomerTransationSummary
@startDate = '2012-05-01',
@endDate = '2012-06-01'
@customerIds = @customerIdList

Note that we can simply declare a variable of type ‘IntegerListTableType’ just like any other normal variable and insert values into it just like a TABLE variable. We could also populate the variable with a SELECT … INTO or INSERT … SELECT statement if desired.

Using The Table-Valued Parameter With ADO .NET

Invoking a stored procedure with a table-valued parameter from ADO .NET is as simple as building a DataTable and passing it in as the Value of a SqlParameter. Here’s some example code for how we would construct the SqlParameter for the @customerIds parameter in our stored procedure:

var customerIdsParameter = new SqlParameter();
customerIdParameter.Direction = ParameterDirection.Input;
customerIdParameter.TypeName = "IntegerListTableType";
customerIdParameter.Value = selectedCustomerIds.ToIntegerListDataTable("Value");

All we’re doing here is new’ing up an instance of SqlParameter, setting the pamameters direction, specifying the name of the User Defined Type that this parameter uses, and setting its value. We’re assuming here that we have an IEnumerable<int> variable called ‘selectedCustomerIds’ containing all of the customer Ids for which the report should be run. The ‘ToIntegerListDataTable’ method is an extension method of the IEnumerable<int> type that looks like this:

public static DataTable ToIntegerListDataTable(this IEnumerable<int> intValues, string columnName)
{
  var intergerListDataTable = new DataTable();
  intergerListDataTable.Columns.Add(columnName);
  foreach(var intValue in intValues)
  {
    var nextRow = intergerListDataTable.NewRow();
    nextRow[columnName] = intValue;
    intergerListDataTable.Rows.Add(nextRow);
  }

  return intergerListDataTable;
}

Since the ‘IntegerListTableType’ has a single int column called ‘Value’, we pass that in for the ‘columnName’ parameter to the extension method. The method creates a new single-columned DataTable using the provided column name then iterates over the items in the IEnumerable<int> instance adding one row for each value. We can then use this SqlParameter instance when invoking the stored procedure just like we would use any other parameter.

Advanced Functionality

Using passing a list of integers into a stored procedure is a very simple usage scenario for the table-valued parameters feature, but I’ve found that it covers the majority of situations where I’ve needed to pass a collection of data for use in a query at run-time. I should note that BULK INSERT feature still makes sense for passing large amounts of data to SQL Server for processing. MSDN seems to suggest that 1000 rows of data is the tipping point where the overhead of a BULK INSERT operation can pay dividends.

I should also note here that table-valued parameters can be used to deal with more complex data structures than single-columned tables of integers. A User Defined Type that backs a table-valued parameter can use things like identities and computed columns. That said, using some of these more advanced features might require the use the SqlDataRecord and SqlMetaData classes instead of a simple DataTable. Erland Sommarskog has a great article on his website that describes when and how to use these classes for table-valued parameters.

What About Reporting Services?

Earlier in the post I referenced the fact that our example stored procedure would be called from both a web application and a SQL Server Reporting Services report. Unfortunately, using table-valued parameters from SSRS reports can be a bit tricky and warrants its own blog post which I’ll be putting together and posting sometime in the near future.