Sunday, September 9, 2012

CASE expressions

There are times when you want to pick one of several alternatives for a field in your select list. The examples we are going to use are from our bookstore database (click to download at In our first example we want to look at the order_filled column and depending on its value display a message. To do this we can use the CASE expression. In our second example we will look at the customer table and show the referrer, if any, for each customer. There are two types of CASE expressions: simple or unsearched and searched. Our examples demonstrate both.

Simple Syntax

CASE selector when expr1 then value1 when expr2 then value2 ... when exprN then valueN else value 3

The else clause is optional. The alternative is selected based on the value of the selector.

Searched Syntax

This one has no selector. The alternative expressions are evaluated and if true that choice is used.

CASE when expr1 then value1 when expr2 then value2 ... when exprN then valueN else value 3

Simple Example

Here is an example of this syntax. It expands the order_filled yes/no field.

use bookstoreselect order_numb, order_date,  case order_filled
  when 'Yes' then 'Order status: Filled'  when 'No' then 'Order status: Not filled'  else 'Errorneous order status detected'  end 'Order_Filled'from orders;
Simple Results

Searched CASE example

This example below shows who referred a customer. If the customer was not referred by another customer we print "self". In this case we cannot use a selector since it might evaluate to a null which leads to no defined choice. Instead, this example uses a searched case which separately evaluates each condition. You have to do it this way if the field you might use for a selector can contain nulls.

use bookstore;
, c.customer_last_name
, case  when c.referred_by is null then 'Self'  else r.customer_last_name
  end as 'Referred By'from customers c left join customers r on c.referred_by = r.customer_numb;
Searched CASE reuslts


The CASE expression can be very helpful when you need to choose between several alternatives. I am sure you will find it useful. Note there is another similar keyword - DECODE - used in Oracle.