Parameterize an SQL IN clause

How do I parameterize a query containing an IN clause with a variable number of arguments, like this one?

In this query, the number of arguments could be anywhere from 1 to 5.

I would prefer not to use a dedicated stored procedure for this (or XML), but if there is some elegant way specific to SQL Server 2008, I am open to that.

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I think this is a case when a static query is just not the way to go. Dynamically build the list for your in clause, escape your single quotes, and dynamically build SQL. In this case you probably won’t see much of a difference with any method due to the small list, but the most efficient method really is to send the SQL exactly as it is written in your post. I think it is a good habit to write it the most efficient way, rather than to do what makes the prettiest code, or consider it bad practice to dynamically build SQL.

I have seen the split functions take longer to execute than the query themselves in many cases where the parameters get large. A stored procedure with table valued parameters in SQL 2008 is the only other option I would consider, although this will probably be slower in your case. TVP will probably only be faster for large lists if you are searching on the primary key of the TVP, because SQL will build a temporary table for the list anyway (if the list is large). You won’t know for sure unless you test it.

I have also seen stored procedures that had 500 parameters with default values of null, and having WHERE Column1 IN (@Param1, @Param2, @Param3, …, @Param500). This caused SQL to build a temp table, do a sort/distinct, and then do a table scan instead of an index seek. That is essentially what you would be doing by parameterizing that query, although on a small enough scale that it won’t make a noticeable difference. I highly recommend against having NULL in your IN lists, as if that gets changed to a NOT IN it will not act as intended. You could dynamically build the parameter list, but the only obvious thing that you would gain is that the objects would escape the single quotes for you. That approach is also slightly slower on the application end since the objects have to parse the query to find the parameters. It may or may not be faster on SQL, as parameterized queries call sp_prepare, sp_execute for as many times you execute the query, followed by sp_unprepare.

The reuse of execution plans for stored procedures or parameterized queries may give you a performance gain, but it will lock you in to one execution plan determined by the first query that is executed. That may be less than ideal for subsequent queries in many cases. In your case, reuse of execution plans will probably be a plus, but it might not make any difference at all as the example is a really simple query.

Cliffs notes:

For your case anything you do, be it parameterization with a fixed number of items in the list (null if not used), dynamically building the query with or without parameters, or using stored procedures with table valued parameters will not make much of a difference. However, my general recommendations are as follows:

Your case/simple queries with few parameters:

Dynamic SQL, maybe with parameters if testing shows better performance.

Queries with reusable execution plans, called multiple times by simply changing the parameters or if the query is complicated:

SQL with dynamic parameters.

Queries with large lists:

Stored procedure with table valued parameters. If the list can vary by a large amount use WITH RECOMPILE on the stored procedure, or simply use dynamic SQL without parameters to generate a new execution plan for each query.

Answered on April 6, 2016.
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