13 September 2009

Randomized data selection     A few years back I was asked to provide a random set of data from a data collection. Dealing only with a small number of records and as they were in Excel, it was much easier to use the Excel’s RAND function. Even if SQL Server provides a RAND function too, it returns the same value within a data set when the same parameter is provided. In order to avoid this behavior it would be useful if could be provided a distinct parameter value for each row, for example using the data set's integer unique identifier or eventually create one, thus if ID is such a column the query would look something like that: SELECT TOP 10 RAND(ID) PERC, ID, N1, N2 FROM ORDER BY RAND(ID)     The fact that RAND will return always the same value for the same parameter value might be a problem because the above query will always return the same records. In exchange you can use a multiplier for the parameter provided to RAND function - for example in a first attempt you can use RAND(id), in a second RAND(id*2), in a third RAND(id*3), etc.     This approach offers unfortunately a relatively "weak" randomization which might be not sufficient for repetitive selections, therefore under SQL Server 2005+ could be used instead a CLR-based UDF (user defined function) and use the random functions available in VB, C# or any other CLR programming language, or even the .Net Random class designed to produce a sequence of numbers that meet certain statistical requirements for randomness.

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