INF: Semantics of SELECT DISTINCT with ORDER BY

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Summary

The information in this article applies to ODBC Desktop Database Drivers version 2.0. A SELECT clause that has the DISTINCT modifier in the select list and has an ORDER BY and the ORDER BY clause has columns that are not present in the select list, causes an error due to ambiguous semantics. The article discusses why this occurs.

More Information

ODBC Desktop Database drivers are single-tier drivers. They are written as a thin layer on top of the JET database engine. The JET engine is the SQL engine that Microsoft Access and Microsoft Visual Basic use to get to dBASE, Paradox, FoxPro, Btrieve, Access, Excel, and Text file formats.


When a SELECT statement is executed, the JET engine always performs an implicit sort if a DISTINCT modifier is present; an ORDER BY clause causes another sort to be done, which occurs after all other sorts (if any).


As an extension to ANSI 89 SQL, the JET engine allows you to ORDER BY columns that do not appear in the SELECT list. Thus, a SELECT statement of the form

   SELECT x FROM test_table
ORDER BY y
is a valid SQL statement. On this statement, the engine does a sort on the result set and throws out the columns that are not selected.


However, the semantics of a statement of the form
   SELECT DISTINCT x FROM test_table
ORDER BY y
are non-deterministic. The engine does an implicit sort for the SELECT DISTINCT. If it has the pairs (x0,y1),(x0,y2), one of them has to go because of the DISTINCT x. But which one should go?


The decision that the engine makes will affect where in the sort order (x0) appears, because the sort for the ORDER BY clause is always done last. Because of the non-determinism in the semantics of a SELECT statement, when you try to execute it, you will generate the error:

[Microsoft][ODBC Microsoft Access 2.0 Driver] ORDER BY clause (y) conflicts with DISTINCT
SQLSTATE = "22005", NativeError = -3015
Note that what you want might be obtained by the following query:

   SELECT DISTINCT x,y FROM test_table
ORDER BY y
This will cause duplicate values of x that you would not otherwise see had you not included y in the select list. However, in most cases, this is a very acceptable workaround.
Lastnosti

ID članka: 125324 – Zadnji pregled: 12. jun. 2001 – Revizija: 1

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