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A Friendly Reminder: One Plus NULL Equals NULL
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A Friendly Reminder: One Plus NULL Equals NULL

A Friendly Reminder: One Plus NULL Equals NULL

Whenever you perform arithmetic across SQL columns, take care to handle NULL values appropriately.

By Charles Wang, June 6, 2019

With the unveiling of Fivetran Transformations, you now have even more reason to perform arithmetic operations across columns within your data warehouse. Unfortunately, a case may arise where a value is missing, but its absence should not invalidate an entire record.

Suppose you have sales records from a variety of jurisdictions and product categories. Not all jurisdictions have sales taxes and some product categories come with mandatory hazardous materials fees:

item price tax hazmat_fee
oat_bran 1.00 0.06 NULL
scalpel 5.50 NULL NULL
mercury_fulminate 200.00 NULL 35.00
cesium_iodide 450.00 45.00 35.00

If you tried to calculate the total cost for each record using the following query:

SELECT item, price, tax, hazmat_fee, price + tax + hazmat_fee as total_cost FROM sales.records

Your results will look like so:

item price tax hazmat_fee total_cost
oat_bran 1.00 0.06 NULL NULL
scalpel 5.50 NULL NULL NULL
mercury_fulminate 200.00 NULL 35.00 NULL
cesium_iodide 450.00 45.00 35.00 530.00

What you really want in this case is to default to a value of 0 whenever a NULL is encountered. You can do this using the COALESCE function, which takes the first non-NULL argument from a list):

SELECT item, price, tax, hazmat_fee, price + COALESCE(tax, 0) + COALESCE(hazmat_fee, 0) as total_cost FROM sales.records

Returning:

item price tax hazmat_fee total_cost
oat_bran 1.00 0.06 NULL 1.06
scalpel 5.50 NULL NULL 5.50
mercury_fulminate 200.00 NULL 35.00 235.00
cesium_iodide 450.00 45.00 35.00 530.00

Remember - when adding across columns, one plus NULL equals NULL! This is true for subtraction, multiplication, and division, too.

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