Sunday T-SQL Tip: APPLY operator

One of the new features of SQL 2005 is APPLY operator. Based on books online APPLY is:

The APPLY operator allows you to invoke a table-valued function for each row returned by an outer table expression of a query. The table-valued function acts as the right input and the outer table expression acts as the left input. The right input is evaluated for each row from the left input and the rows produced are combined for the final output. The list of columns produced by the APPLY operator is the set of columns in the left input followed by the list of columns returned by the right input.

A bit confusing if you read it for a first time. Let’s try to clarify it. Think about APPLY the same way as about the JOIN. The difference is that JOIN tables are independent from each other but APPLY is dependent from the left source. There are 2 types of APPLY – CROSS APPLY (think about it as about it as about inner join) and OUTER apply (outer join)

Let’s see it in the example. This will use the orders table created earlier (code can be downloaded from here).

Let’s create the Customers table and populate it with the data

Assuming we want to return the result set that returns 2 most recent orders per customer. Let’s create inline table-valued functions which can do that.

Now let’s write select with cross apply – again think about it as about inner join that joins customer data (source) with 2 rows per customer produced per table-valued function.

Here it is. As you can see – it’s quite simple. What’s interesting about it – you don’t really need to use the function – you can simply put dependent select into the FROM cause. Look below:

You can download the code from here

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