[sql-server] SQL Server insert if not exists best practice

I have a Competitions results table which holds team member's names and their ranking on one hand.

On the other hand I need to maintain a table of unique competitors names:

CREATE TABLE Competitors (cName nvarchar(64) primary key)

Now I have some 200,000 results in the 1st table and when the competitors table is empty I can perform this:

INSERT INTO Competitors SELECT DISTINCT Name FROM CompResults

And the query only takes some 5 seconds to insert about 11,000 names.

So far this is not a critical application so I can consider truncate the Competitors table once a month, when I receive the new competition results with some 10,000 rows.

But what is the best practice when new results are added, with new AND existing competitors? I don't want to truncate existing competitors table

I need to perform INSERT statement for new competitors only and do nothing if they exists.

This question is related to sql-server insert-update

The answer is


Another option is to left join your Results table with your existing competitors Table and find the new competitors by filtering the distinct records that donĀ“t match int the join:

INSERT Competitors (cName)
SELECT  DISTINCT cr.Name
FROM    CompResults cr left join
        Competitors c on cr.Name = c.cName
where   c.cName is null

New syntax MERGE also offer a compact, elegant and efficient way to do that:

MERGE INTO Competitors AS Target
USING (SELECT DISTINCT Name FROM CompResults) AS Source ON Target.Name = Source.Name
WHEN NOT MATCHED THEN
    INSERT (Name) VALUES (Source.Name);

The answers above which talk about normalizing are great! But what if you find yourself in a position like me where you're not allowed to touch the database schema or structure as it stands? Eg, the DBA's are 'gods' and all suggested revisions go to /dev/null?

In that respect, I feel like this has been answered with this Stack Overflow posting too in regards to all the users above giving code samples.

I'm reposting the code from INSERT VALUES WHERE NOT EXISTS which helped me the most since I can't alter any underlying database tables:

INSERT INTO #table1 (Id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData)
SELECT Id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData
FROM #table2
WHERE NOT EXISTS (Select Id, guidd From #table1 WHERE #table1.id = #table2.id)
-----------------------------------
MERGE #table1 as [Target]
USING  (select Id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData from #table2) as [Source]
(id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData)
    on [Target].id =[Source].id
WHEN NOT MATCHED THEN
    INSERT (id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData)
    VALUES ([Source].id, [Source].guidd, [Source].TimeAdded, [Source].ExtraData);
------------------------------
INSERT INTO #table1 (id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData)
SELECT id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData from #table2
EXCEPT
SELECT id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData from #table1
------------------------------
INSERT INTO #table1 (id, guidd, TimeAdded, ExtraData)
SELECT #table2.id, #table2.guidd, #table2.TimeAdded, #table2.ExtraData
FROM #table2
LEFT JOIN #table1 on #table1.id = #table2.id
WHERE #table1.id is null

The above code uses different fields than what you have, but you get the general gist with the various techniques.

Note that as per the original answer on Stack Overflow, this code was copied from here.

Anyway my point is "best practice" often comes down to what you can and can't do as well as theory.

  • If you're able to normalize and generate indexes/keys -- great!
  • If not and you have the resort to code hacks like me, hopefully the above helps.

Good luck!


Don't know why anyone else hasn't said this yet;

NORMALISE.

You've got a table that models competitions? Competitions are made up of Competitors? You need a distinct list of Competitors in one or more Competitions......

You should have the following tables.....

CREATE TABLE Competitor (
    [CompetitorID] INT IDENTITY(1,1) PRIMARY KEY
    , [CompetitorName] NVARCHAR(255)
    )

CREATE TABLE Competition (
    [CompetitionID] INT IDENTITY(1,1) PRIMARY KEY
    , [CompetitionName] NVARCHAR(255)
    )

CREATE TABLE CompetitionCompetitors (
    [CompetitionID] INT
    , [CompetitorID] INT
    , [Score] INT

    , PRIMARY KEY (
        [CompetitionID]
        , [CompetitorID]
        )
    )

With Constraints on CompetitionCompetitors.CompetitionID and CompetitorID pointing at the other tables.

With this kind of table structure -- your keys are all simple INTS -- there doesn't seem to be a good NATURAL KEY that would fit the model so I think a SURROGATE KEY is a good fit here.

So if you had this then to get the the distinct list of competitors in a particular competition you can issue a query like this:

DECLARE @CompetitionName VARCHAR(50) SET @CompetitionName = 'London Marathon'

    SELECT
        p.[CompetitorName] AS [CompetitorName]
    FROM
        Competitor AS p
    WHERE
        EXISTS (
            SELECT 1
            FROM
                CompetitionCompetitor AS cc
                JOIN Competition AS c ON c.[ID] = cc.[CompetitionID]
            WHERE
                cc.[CompetitorID] = p.[CompetitorID]
                AND cc.[CompetitionName] = @CompetitionNAme
        )

And if you wanted the score for each competition a competitor is in:

SELECT
    p.[CompetitorName]
    , c.[CompetitionName]
    , cc.[Score]
FROM
    Competitor AS p
    JOIN CompetitionCompetitor AS cc ON cc.[CompetitorID] = p.[CompetitorID]
    JOIN Competition AS c ON c.[ID] = cc.[CompetitionID]

And when you have a new competition with new competitors then you simply check which ones already exist in the Competitors table. If they already exist then you don't insert into Competitor for those Competitors and do insert for the new ones.

Then you insert the new Competition in Competition and finally you just make all the links in CompetitionCompetitors.


Additionally, if you have multiple columns to insert and want to check if they exists or not use the following code

Insert Into [Competitors] (cName, cCity, cState)
Select cName, cCity, cState from 
(
    select new.* from 
    (
        select distinct cName, cCity, cState 
        from [Competitors] s, [City] c, [State] s
    ) new
    left join 
    (   
        select distinct cName, cCity, cState 
        from [Competitors] s
    ) existing
    on new.cName = existing.cName and new.City = existing.City and new.State = existing.State
    where existing.Name is null  or existing.City is null or existing.State is null
)

You will need to join the tables together and get a list of unique competitors that don't already exist in Competitors.

This will insert unique records.

INSERT Competitors (cName) 
SELECT DISTINCT Name
FROM CompResults cr LEFT JOIN Competitors c ON cr.Name = c.cName
WHERE c.Name IS NULL

There may come a time when this insert needs to be done quickly without being able to wait for the selection of unique names. In that case, you could insert the unique names into a temporary table, and then use that temporary table to insert into your real table. This works well because all the processing happens at the time you are inserting into a temporary table, so it doesn't affect your real table. Then when you have all the processing finished, you do a quick insert into the real table. I might even wrap the last part, where you insert into the real table, inside a transaction.


Normalizing your operational tables as suggested by Transact Charlie, is a good idea, and will save many headaches and problems over time - but there are such things as interface tables, which support integration with external systems, and reporting tables, which support things like analytical processing; and those types of tables should not necessarily be normalized - in fact, very often it is much, much more convenient and performant for them to not be.

In this case, I think Transact Charlie's proposal for your operational tables is a good one.

But I would add an index (not necessarily unique) to CompetitorName in the Competitors table to support efficient joins on CompetitorName for the purposes of integration (loading of data from external sources), and I would put an interface table into the mix: CompetitionResults.

CompetitionResults should contain whatever data your competition results have in it. The point of an interface table like this one is to make it as quick and easy as possible to truncate and reload it from an Excel sheet or a CSV file, or whatever form you have that data in.

That interface table should not be considered part of the normalized set of operational tables. Then you can join with CompetitionResults as suggested by Richard, to insert records into Competitors that don't already exist, and update the ones that do (for example if you actually have more information about competitors, like their phone number or email address).

One thing I would note - in reality, Competitor Name, it seems to me, is very unlikely to be unique in your data. In 200,000 competitors, you may very well have 2 or more David Smiths, for example. So I would recommend that you collect more information from competitors, such as their phone number or an email address, or something which is more likely to be unique.

Your operational table, Competitors, should just have one column for each data item that contributes to a composite natural key; for example it should have one column for a primary email address. But the interface table should have a slot for old and new values for a primary email address, so that the old value can be use to look up the record in Competitors and update that part of it to the new value.

So CompetitionResults should have some "old" and "new" fields - oldEmail, newEmail, oldPhone, newPhone, etc. That way you can form a composite key, in Competitors, from CompetitorName, Email, and Phone.

Then when you have some competition results, you can truncate and reload your CompetitionResults table from your excel sheet or whatever you have, and run a single, efficient insert to insert all the new competitors into the Competitors table, and single, efficient update to update all the information about the existing competitors from the CompetitionResults. And you can do a single insert to insert new rows into the CompetitionCompetitors table. These things can be done in a ProcessCompetitionResults stored procedure, which could be executed after loading the CompetitionResults table.

That's a sort of rudimentary description of what I've seen done over and over in the real world with Oracle Applications, SAP, PeopleSoft, and a laundry list of other enterprise software suites.

One last comment I'd make is one I've made before on SO: If you create a foreign key that insures that a Competitor exists in the Competitors table before you can add a row with that Competitor in it to CompetitionCompetitors, make sure that foreign key is set to cascade updates and deletes. That way if you need to delete a competitor, you can do it and all the rows associated with that competitor will get automatically deleted. Otherwise, by default, the foreign key will require you to delete all the related rows out of CompetitionCompetitors before it will let you delete a Competitor.

(Some people think non-cascading foreign keys are a good safety precaution, but my experience is that they're just a freaking pain in the butt that are more often than not simply a result of an oversight and they create a bunch of make work for DBA's. Dealing with people accidentally deleting stuff is why you have things like "are you sure" dialogs and various types of regular backups and redundant data sources. It's far, far more common to actually want to delete a competitor, whose data is all messed up for example, than it is to accidentally delete one and then go "Oh no! I didn't mean to do that! And now I don't have their competition results! Aaaahh!" The latter is certainly common enough, so, you do need to be prepared for it, but the former is far more common, so the easiest and best way to prepare for the former, imo, is to just make foreign keys cascade updates and deletes.)


Ok, this was asked 7 years ago, but I think the best solution here is to forego the new table entirely and just do this as a custom view. That way you're not duplicating data, there's no worry about unique data, and it doesn't touch the actual database structure. Something like this:

CREATE VIEW vw_competitions
  AS
  SELECT
   Id int
   CompetitionName nvarchar(75)
   CompetitionType nvarchar(50)
   OtherField1 int
   OtherField2 nvarchar(64)  --add the fields you want viewed from the Competition table
  FROM Competitions
GO

Other items can be added here like joins on other tables, WHERE clauses, etc. This is most likely the most elegant solution to this problem, as you now can just query the view:

SELECT *
FROM vw_competitions

...and add any WHERE, IN, or EXISTS clauses to the view query.