Table Valued Functions

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I’ve been blogging for a whole nine months now. I decided to look back and see what’s bringing people to the site. The number one search phrase is “sql server 2005 service pack 3” but the overwhelming topic that most people are using to get to the site are user defined functions, specifically multi-statement table valued user defined functions.

It’s completely understandable. Ever since I first saw these things in use back in SQL Server 2000, I thought they were slick. Unfortunately appearances can be deceiving. The reason so many people are searching out information on these things is because they just don’t work very well. SQL Server can’t create statistics on the tables generated through the multi-statement UDF. Because it has no statistics to work with, the query optimizer assumes that each of these tables has a single row. Creating execution plans for only a single row of data works well when there is only a single row, or just a few rows, of data. But when you have hundreds, thousands, or more, it breaks down very quickly.

Because of this rather severe short coming, I recommend avoiding the use of multi-statement table valued functions. There are any number of tests (look through Gail’s blog, just for starters) proving this for those who are skeptical and think that, if they just adjust the right little bit of the query, it’ll move millions of rows through 8 layers of functions lickety split. It won’t. It can’t. Stop trying.

The single statement functions, parameterized views as they’re sometimes referred to, work very well, so feel free to use them if they’ll help your code. They resolve out, like views, into actual execution plans based on the statistics within the database.

OK, fine, but what do you think?