Working with Subqueries

A subquery is a query within another query. Subqueries in a FROM or WHERE clause are used to provide data that will be used to limit or compare/evaluate the data returned by the containing query.

In this Topic:

Types of Subqueries

Correlated vs. Uncorrelated Subqueries

Subqueries can be categorized as correlated or uncorrelated:

  • A correlated subquery refers to one or more columns from outside of the subquery. (The columns are typically referenced inside the WHERE clause of the subquery.) A correlated subquery can be thought of as a filter on the table that it refers to, as if the subquery were evaluated on each row of the table in the outer query.

  • An uncorrelated subquery has no such external column references. It is an independent query, the results of which are returned to and used by the outer query once (not per row).

For example:

-- Uncorrelated subquery:
SELECT c1, c2
  FROM table1 WHERE c1 = (SELECT MAX(x) FROM table2);

-- Correlated subquery:
SELECT c1, c2
  FROM table1 WHERE c1 = (SELECT x FROM table2 WHERE y = table1.c2);

Scalar vs. Non-scalar Subqueries

Subqueries can also be categorized as scalar or non-scalar:

  • A scalar subquery returns a single value (one column of one row). If no rows qualify to be returned, the subquery returns NULL.

  • A non-scalar subquery returns 0, 1, or multiple rows, each of which may contain 1 or multiple columns. For each column, if there is no value to return, the subquery returns NULL. If no rows qualify to be returned, the subquery returns 0 rows (not NULLs).

Types Supported by Snowflake

Snowflake currently supports the following types of subqueries:

  • Uncorrelated scalar subqueries in any place that a value expression can be used.

  • Correlated scalar subqueries in WHERE clauses.

  • EXISTS, ANY / ALL, and IN subqueries in WHERE clauses. These subqueries can be correlated or uncorrelated.

Subquery Operators

Subquery operators operate on nested query expressions. They can be used to compute values that are:

Differences Between Correlated and Non-Correlated Subqueries

The following query demonstrates an uncorrelated subquery in a WHERE clause. The subquery gets the per capita GDP of Brazil, and the outer query selects all the jobs (in any country) that pay less than the per-capita GDP of Brazil. The subquery is uncorrelated because the value that it returns does not depend upon any column of the outer query. The subquery only needs to be called once during the entire execution of the outer query.

SELECT p.name, p.annual_wage, p.country
  FROM pay AS p
  WHERE p.annual_wage < (SELECT per_capita_GDP
                           FROM international_GDP
                           WHERE name = 'Brazil');

The next query demonstrates a correlated subquery in a WHERE clause. The query lists jobs where the annual pay of the job is less than the per-capita GDP in that country. This subquery is correlated because it is called once for each row in the outer query and is passed a value, p.country (country name), from the row.

SELECT p.name, p.annual_wage, p.country
  FROM pay AS p
  WHERE p.annual_wage < (SELECT MAX(per_capita_GDP)
                           FROM international_GDP i
                           WHERE p.country = i.name);

Note

The MAX aggregate function is not logically necessary in this case because the international_GDP table has only one row per country; however, because the server doesn’t know that, and because the server requires that the subquery return no more than one row, we use the aggregate function to force the server to recognize that the subquery will return only one row each time that the subquery is executed.

In additon to MAX, MIN or AVG would have also worked because applying any of these to a single value will return that value unchanged.

Scalar Subqueries

A scalar subquery is a subquery that returns at most one row. A scalar subquery can appear anywhere that a value expression can appear, including the SELECT list, GROUP BY clause, or as an argument to a function in a WHERE or HAVING clause.

Usage Notes

  • A scalar subquery can contain only one item in the SELECT list.

  • If a scalar subquery returns more than one row, a runtime error is generated.

  • Correlated scalar subqueries are currently supported only if they can be statically determined to return one row (e.g. if the SELECT list contains an aggregate function with no GROUP BY).

  • Uncorrelated scalar subqueries are supported anywhere that a value expression is allowed.

  • Subqueries with a correlation inside of FLATTEN are currently unsupported.

  • The LIMIT / FETCH clause is allowed only in uncorrelated scalar subqueries.

Examples

This example shows a basic uncorrelated subquery in a WHERE clause:

SELECT employee_id
FROM employees
WHERE salary = (SELECT max(salary) FROM employees);

This example shows an uncorrelated subquery in a FROM clause; this basic subquery returns a subset of the information in the international_GDP table. The overall query lists jobs in “high-wage” countries where the annual pay of the job is the same as the per_capita_GDP in that country.

SELECT p.name, p.annual_wage, p.country
  FROM pay AS p INNER JOIN (SELECT name, per_capita_GDP
                              FROM international_GDP
                              WHERE per_capita_GDP >= 10000.0) AS pcg
    ON pcg.per_capita_GDP = p.annual_wage AND p.country = pcg.name;

Limitations

Although subqueries can contain a wide range of SELECT statements, they have the following limitations:

  • Some clauses are not allowed inside of ANY/ALL/NOT EXISTS subqueries.

  • The only type of subquery that allows a LIMIT / FETCH clause is an uncorrelated scalar subquery. Also, because an uncorrelated scalar subquery returns only 1 row, the LIMIT clause has little or no practical value inside a subquery.