I'm trying to migrate a MySQL-based app over to Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (not by choice, but that's life).

In the original app, we used almost entirely ANSI-SQL compliant statements, with one significant exception -- we used MySQL's group_concat function fairly frequently.

group_concat, by the way, does this: given a table of, say, employee names and projects...

SELECT empName, projID FROM project_members;

returns:

ANDY   |  A100
ANDY   |  B391
ANDY   |  X010
TOM    |  A100
TOM    |  A510

... and here's what you get with group_concat:

SELECT 
    empName, group_concat(projID SEPARATOR ' / ') 
FROM 
    project_members 
GROUP BY 
    empName;

returns:

ANDY   |  A100 / B391 / X010
TOM    |  A100 / A510

So what I'd like to know is: Is it possible to write, say, a user-defined function in SQL Server which emulates the functionality of group_concat?

I have almost no experience using UDFs, stored procedures, or anything like that, just straight-up SQL, so please err on the side of too much explanation :)

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This is an old question, but I like the CLR solution given here. – Diego
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possible duplicate of How do I Create a Comma-Separated List using a SQL Query? - that post is broader so I would choose that one as canonical – TMS
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How do you know which order the list by should be built, e.g. you show A100 / B391 / X010 but given there is no implicit ordering in a relational database it could just as easily be X010 / A100 / B391 or any other combination. – Steve Ford

9 Answers 11

up vote 145 down vote accepted

No REAL easy way to do this. Lots of ideas out there, though.

Best one I've found:

SELECT table_name, LEFT(column_names , LEN(column_names )-1) AS column_names
FROM information_schema.columns AS extern
CROSS APPLY
(
    SELECT column_name + ','
    FROM information_schema.columns AS intern
    WHERE extern.table_name = intern.table_name
    FOR XML PATH('')
) pre_trimmed (column_names)
GROUP BY table_name, column_names;

Or a version that works correctly if the data might contain characters such as <

WITH extern
     AS (SELECT DISTINCT table_name
         FROM   INFORMATION_SCHEMA.COLUMNS)
SELECT table_name,
       LEFT(y.column_names, LEN(y.column_names) - 1) AS column_names
FROM   extern
       CROSS APPLY (SELECT column_name + ','
                    FROM   INFORMATION_SCHEMA.COLUMNS AS intern
                    WHERE  extern.table_name = intern.table_name
                    FOR XML PATH(''), TYPE) x (column_names)
       CROSS APPLY (SELECT x.column_names.value('.', 'NVARCHAR(MAX)')) y(column_names) 
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This example worked for me, but I tried doing another aggregation and it didn't work, gave me an error: "the correlation name 'pre_trimmed' is specified multiple times in a FROM clause." – PhilChuang
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'pre_trimmed' is just an alias for the subquery. Aliases are required for subqueries and have to be unique, so for another subquery change it to something unique... – Koen
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can you show an example without table_name as a column name it's confusing. – S.Mason

With the below code you have to set PermissionLevel=External on your project properties before you deploy, and change the database to trust external code (be sure to read elsewhere about security risks and alternatives [like certificates]) by running "ALTER DATABASE database_name SET TRUSTWORTHY ON".

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Data.SqlTypes;
using System.IO;
using System.Runtime.Serialization;
using System.Runtime.Serialization.Formatters.Binary;
using Microsoft.SqlServer.Server;

[Serializable]
[SqlUserDefinedAggregate(Format.UserDefined,
MaxByteSize=8000,
IsInvariantToDuplicates=true,
IsInvariantToNulls=true,
IsInvariantToOrder=true,
IsNullIfEmpty=true)]
    public struct CommaDelimit : IBinarySerialize
{


[Serializable]
 private class StringList : List<string>
 { }

 private StringList List;

 public void Init()
 {
  this.List = new StringList();
 }

 public void Accumulate(SqlString value)
 {
  if (!value.IsNull)
   this.Add(value.Value);
 }

 private void Add(string value)
 {
  if (!this.List.Contains(value))
   this.List.Add(value);
 }

 public void Merge(CommaDelimit group)
 {
  foreach (string s in group.List)
  {
   this.Add(s);
  }
 }

 void IBinarySerialize.Read(BinaryReader reader)
 {
    IFormatter formatter = new BinaryFormatter();
    this.List = (StringList)formatter.Deserialize(reader.BaseStream);
 }

 public SqlString Terminate()
 {
  if (this.List.Count == 0)
   return SqlString.Null;

  const string Separator = ", ";

  this.List.Sort();

  return new SqlString(String.Join(Separator, this.List.ToArray()));
 }

 void IBinarySerialize.Write(BinaryWriter writer)
 {
  IFormatter formatter = new BinaryFormatter();
  formatter.Serialize(writer.BaseStream, this.List);
 }
    }

I've tested this using a query that looks like:

SELECT 
 dbo.CommaDelimit(X.value) [delimited] 
FROM 
 (
  SELECT 'D' [value] 
  UNION ALL SELECT 'B' [value] 
  UNION ALL SELECT 'B' [value] -- intentional duplicate
  UNION ALL SELECT 'A' [value] 
  UNION ALL SELECT 'C' [value] 
 ) X 

And yields: A, B, C, D

Possibly too late to be of benefit now, but is this not the easiest way to do things?

SELECT     empName, projIDs = replace
                          ((SELECT Surname AS [data()]
                              FROM project_members
                              WHERE  empName = a.empName
                              ORDER BY empName FOR xml path('')), ' ', REQUIRED SEPERATOR)
FROM         project_members a
WHERE     empName IS NOT NULL
GROUP BY empName
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Interesting. I've already finished the project at hand, but I'll give this method a try. Thanks! – DanM
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Nice trick -- only problem is for surnames with spaces it will replace the space with the separator. – Mark Elliot
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I have encountered such a problem myself, Mark. Unfortunately, until MSSQL gets with the times and introduces GROUP_CONCAT, this is the least of the overhead-intensive methods I have been able to come up with for what is needed here. – J Hardiman
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Thanks for this! Here's a SQL Fiddle showing it working: sqlfiddle.com/#!6/c5d56/3 – fleed

About J Hardiman's answer, how about:

SELECT empName, projIDs=
  REPLACE(
    REPLACE(
      (SELECT REPLACE(projID, ' ', '-somebody-puts-microsoft-out-of-his-misery-please-') AS [data()] FROM project_members WHERE empName=a.empName FOR XML PATH('')), 
      ' ', 
      ' / '), 
    '-somebody-puts-microsoft-out-of-his-misery-please-',
    ' ') 
  FROM project_members a WHERE empName IS NOT NULL GROUP BY empName

By the way, is the use of "Surname" a typo or am i not understanding a concept here?

Anyway, thanks a lot guys cuz it saved me quite some time :)

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Rather unfriendly answer if you ask me and not at all helpful as an answer. – Tim Meers
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only seeing that now... I didn't mean it in a mean way, at the time I was very frustrated with sql server (still am). answers from this post really were helpful actually; EDIT: why wasn't it helpful btw? it did the trick for me – user422190

Tried these but for my purposes in MS SQL Server 2005 the following was most useful, which I found at xaprb

declare @result varchar(8000);

set @result = '';

select @result = @result + name + ' '

from master.dbo.systypes;

select rtrim(@result);

@Mark as you mentioned it was the space character that caused issues for me.

I may be a bit late to the party but this method works for me and is easier than the COALESCE method.

SELECT STUFF(
             (SELECT ',' + Column_Name 
              FROM Table_Name
              FOR XML PATH (''))
             , 1, 1, '')
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This only shows how to concat values - group_concat concats them by group, which is more challenging (and what the OP appears to require). See the accepted answer to SO 15154644 for how to do this - the WHERE clause is the critical addition – DJDave

To concatenate all the project manager names from projects that have multiple project managers write:

SELECT a.project_id,a.project_name,Stuff((SELECT N'/ ' + first_name + ', '+last_name FROM projects_v 
where a.project_id=project_id
 FOR
 XML PATH(''),TYPE).value('text()[1]','nvarchar(max)'),1,2,N''
) mgr_names
from projects_v a
group by a.project_id,a.project_name

Have a look at the GROUP_CONCAT project on Codeplex, I think I does exactly what you are searching for:

This project contains a set of SQLCLR User-defined Aggregate functions (SQLCLR UDAs) that collectively offer similar functionality to the MySQL GROUP_CONCAT function. There are multiple functions to ensure the best performance based on the functionality required...

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Why the downvote ? Please explain... – MaxiWheat
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I've used this and it works good so far. – Gary Brunton
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@MaxiWheat: a lot of guys don't read question or answer carefully before clicking down vote. It affects to owner post directly due to their mistake. – Tai Phat Lam

SQL Server 2017 does introduce a new aggregate function

STRING_AGG ( expression, separator).

Concatenates the values of string expressions and places separator values between them. The separator is not added at the end of string.

The concatenated elements can be ordered by appending WITHIN GROUP (ORDER BY some_expression)

For versions 2005-2016 I typically use the XML method in the accepted answer.

This can fail in some circumstances however. e.g. if the data to be concatenated contains CHAR(29) you see

FOR XML could not serialize the data ... because it contains a character (0x001D) which is not allowed in XML.

A more robust method that can deal with all characters would be to use a CLR aggregate. However applying an ordering to the concatenated elements is more difficult with this approach.

The method of assigning to a variable is not guaranteed and should be avoided in production code.

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This is also available now in Azure SQL : azure.microsoft.com/en-us/roadmap/… – Simon_Weaver

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