OK, first let me say I got this issue from:
I was trying to assist to figure out the issue, but got stumped when trying to debug the code one step at a time. I know the issue is due to the nested CTEs (because during debug if you dump each step aka cteX into temp tables the correct results are achieved) but not knowing how they work “under the hood” I cannot explain it in a sensible fashion outside of “it dont work yo.” I suspect that it has something to do with how the compiler is trying to evaluate them all at the same time during run time but without more context I cant say for sure.
My question is merely about trying to understand how they work under the hood and how it relates to this situation. Now that I’m involved, I just want to understand the issue so I can speak to it in the future and learn something fun in the mean time.
Whoever answers here can also cross post on SO and answer there as well.
Code Set up:
declare @t1 TABLE (ID varchar(max),Action varchar(max), DateTime datetime ); INSERT INTO @t1 Select * from ( VALUES ('w2337','Open','2020-11-06 12:28:10.000'), ('w2337','Hold','2021-06-14 14:50:59.000'), ('w2337','Open','2021-06-14 14:51:26.000'), ('w2337','Hold','2021-06-15 14:50:59.000'), ('w2337','Open','2021-06-17 14:51:26.000'), ('w2337','Open','2021-06-18 14:51:26.000') ) t (ID, Action, DateTime); with cte1 as ( select [ID],[Action],[DateTime] ,ROW_NUMBER() OVER(ORDER BY (SELECT NULL)) as [RegIndex] ,DENSE_RANK () OVER (ORDER BY ID) as [Index by ID] ,ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY ID ORDER BY [DateTime]) as [Index by DateTimeID] ,CASE when [Action]='Hold' then ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY ID,Action ORDER BY DateTime) end as [TimesHeld] FROM @t1 ) ,cte2 as ( select *, MAX([TimesHeld]) OVER (PARTITION BY ID ORDER BY RegIndex ROWS UNBOUNDED PRECEDING) as [FD] from cte1 ) ,cte3 as( select *, CASE when [Action]='Open' then ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY ID,Action ORDER BY DateTime) end as [TimesOpened] from cte2 where FD is not null ) select a.*, ' ' as thing, b.DateTime -- b.* alternating between the direct column versus all is the issue from cte3 a LEFT OUTER JOIN cte3 b ON a.ID=b.ID and a.TimesHeld=b.TimesOpened where a.TimesHeld is not null and b.TimesOpened is not null
When compiling the queries below, in the final LEFT OUTER JOIN, if you select b.* you get the correct results. However if you just select the one column (datetime for example) the results are not correct.
The problem isn’t incorrect results, but rather non-deterministic ordering of the
ROW_NUMBER window function.
I’m going to reference Itzik Ben-Gan’s great article, definitely check it out in full when you have the time: Row numbers with nondeterministic order
RegIndex is calculated in cte1 is explicitly non-deterministic:
ROW_NUMBER() OVER(ORDER BY (SELECT NULL)) as [RegIndex]
Ordering by a subquery that produces a constant value lets the optimizer know that order does not matter here:
…with this solution, SQL Server’s optimizer recognizes that there’s no ordering relevance, and therefore doesn’t impose an unnecessary sort or limit the storage engine’s choices to ones that must guarantee order
Following from that,
FD in cte2 is based on
RegIndex, and is thus non-deterministic as well:
MAX([TimesHeld]) OVER (PARTITION BY ID ORDER BY RegIndex ROWS UNBOUNDED PRECEDING) as [FD]
Finally, the query in cte3 is filtered by the value of
where FD is not null
The end result is that a different set of rows can end up in cte3 depending on how the query gets optimized. And the number and data types of the columns included in the
SELECT list can absolutely influence how the query is optimized, thus resulting in different results here.
How do you expect deterministic results when the first cte (
ROW_NUMBER() OVER (ORDER BY (SELECT NULL)) as RegIndex
and then that Regindex column is used in the following CTEs?
OVER (ORDER BY (SELECT NULL)) basically says to the optimizer “choose any order you like” and give me row numbers.
It’s very well expected that the next time you run it, you may get (as you do) a different order – since you say again “choose any order you like” – and thus different results.