Return Unmatched Records with SQL and Microsoft Access

Over the course of many years of building SQL scripts, I’ve tended to help SQL novices perform the set difference operation on their data. This post will not provide in-depth coverage on SQL run plans and tuning minutiae, but I do want to provide a high level overview for the novice.

If we define set A as the three numbers {1, 2, 3} and set B as the numbers {2, 3, 4} then the set difference, denoted as A \ B, is {1}. Notice that the element 1 is only a member of set A.

A picture is worth a thousand words as they say. A Venn diagram will be effective at illustrating what we’re trying to accomplish in this post.

Venn Diagram Difference

This blog post will cover using SQL and Microsoft Access to address capturing the shaded records in set A. If you have a database table named A and wanted to determine all of the rows in this table that DO NOT reside in another table named B, then you would apply the set difference principle.

LEFT OUTER JOIN & IS NULL SYNTAX

There are multiple ways to implement the set difference principle. It helps if there is a common join key between both sets of data when performing this analysis.

If I were working with two tables, one containing inventory data and one containing order data. I could write the following SQL script to return all the inventory rows that do not reside in the orders table.

SELECT table_inventories.*
FROM   table_inventories
       LEFT OUTER JOIN table_orders
                    ON table_inventories.id = table_orders.id
WHERE  table_orders.id IS NULL  

MICROSOFT ACCESS EXAMPLE

Consider the following tables in Microsoft Access. Observe that table_orders has fewer records than table_inventories.

Access Example Inventory Access Example Orders

We can construct a set difference select query using these tables to return all of the products in table_inventories that have not been ordered. Create a query in Microsoft Access in a similar fashion as shown below.

Access SQL Difference Join

The result of this query would produce the following two products that are not in table_orders.

Access Example Query Result

The Microsoft Access Query & View Designer would automatically generate the following SQL if you cared to open the Access SQL editor.

SELECT table_inventories.*
FROM   table_inventories
LEFT JOIN table_orders
ON table_inventories.id = table_orders.id
WHERE  (( ( table_orders.id ) IS NULL ));

Notice that LEFT JOIN is automatically created instead of LEFT OUTER JOIN. In Microsoft Access, the OUTER operation is optional. Also notice that Access loves to add additional parentheses for reasons known only to Microsoft.

Per Microsoft Access SQL Reference:

Use a LEFT JOIN operation to create a left outer join. Left outer joins include all of the records from the first (left) of two tables, even if there are no matching values for records in the second (right) table [1].

NOT EXISTS SYNTAX

Let’s step away from Microsoft Access for the remainder of this post. The NOT EXISTS approach provides similar functionality in a more performance friendly manner as compared to the LEFT OUTER JOIN & IS NULL syntax.

SELECT table_inventories.*
FROM   table_inventories
WHERE  table_inventories.id NOT EXISTS (SELECT table_orders.id
FROM   table_orders);

EXCEPT SYNTAX (T-SQL)

Alternatively, we could use the SQL EXCEPT operator which would also accomplish the task of returning inventory ids that do not reside in the orders table (i.e. inventory items that were never ordered). This syntax would be appropriate when using SQL Server.

SELECT table_inventories.id
FROM   table_inventories
EXCEPT
SELECT table_orders.id
FROM   table_orders

Per Microsoft:

EXCEPT
Returns any distinct values from the query to the left of the EXCEPT operator that are not also returned from the right query [2].

MINUS SYNTAX (ORACLE)

The following script will yield the same result as the T-SQL syntax. When using Oracle, make sure to incorporate the MINUS operator.

SELECT table_inventories.id
FROM   inventories
MINUS
SELECT table_orders.id
FROM   table_orders

Now take this tip and get out there and do some good things with your data.

Anthony Smoak

 

References:

[1] Access 2007 Developer Reference. https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb208894(v=office.12).aspx

[2] Microsoft T-SQL Docs. Set Operators – EXCEPT and INTERSECT (Transact-SQL). https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sql/t-sql/language-elements/set-operators-except-and-intersect-transact-sql

[3] Oracle Help Center. The UNION [ALL], INTERSECT, MINUS Operators. http://docs.oracle.com/cd/B19306_01/server.102/b14200/queries004.htm

Venn diagram courtesy of http://math.cmu.edu/~bkell/21110-2010s/sets.html

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