Return Values: Getting Something Back from Your SQL Server Stored Procedures

You give so much to your database . . . sometimes you just want something back. What do you give your database?  Plenty. You give it new records (INSERT). You give it changes to existing records (UPDATE/DELETE). Every now and then, you just look around (SELECT). When you do these things, it is often essential that the database send back a code or value for you to pass to your front-end application. Luckily, we can do this with stored procedures in SQL Server.

Why would you want something sent back? There are plenty of reasons. Returning a value from your database action (SELECT, INSERT, etc.) can help maintain session, drive display elements (such as insert confirmations), and can even help trigger a redirect to a new web page. Essentially, something as simple as a small code—returned from the query—can drive a series of actions in an application, and provide context to a variety of user experiences.

“Return values” help get the job done. This feature provides the foundation for all the tasks described above. There are limits to using the “RETURN” function; they can’t do everything. In fact, there are a number of other ways to return data—such as “OUTPUT” and recordsets. Return values, though, are a fast, efficient way to drive information flow and context in any application that is tied to a database. A return value is a single data element that is the result of a query. Essentially, you can run a query that outputs a single value, such as:

SELECT id FROM USRS

This query will return a single value, the contents of “id”. We can use return values to store the contents of “id” in a variable, and output it to the user or application (as appropriate). The user can define what to return. This is a powerful feature that can be leveraged in a number of situations that are database-driven, including:

  • Application login—Was the login successful? Username only?

  • Page redirection based on database activity—Did you try to update a record that doesn’t exist?

  • Alerts and notifications.

There is definitely a lot you can do with return values. Let’s take a closer look.

Rules of the Road

In order to get this exercise off the ground, there are a few housekeeping items for us to get out of the way. In this section, I’ll do my job for you. First, I’ll give you the DDL for the database I’ll use in this article. Check for it at the end of this article (I didn’t want to clutter everything). You will notice that it is for SQL Server. I focus on SQL Server, and I don’t apologize for it. I am focused (or lazy, as the case may be). Also, this site is focused on SQL Server performance and development. For those of you who are not “SQL Server Samurais”, don’t fret. These principles can be applied to any other database management system. If you have any thoughts or feedback, please e-mail me at tomoneill@deloitte.com.

Using Return Values

I assume that you have set up a database by now. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be the database I used to write this article (though I went to a lot of trouble). The principles you will learn in this lesson will apply to any database you decide to build and deploy. The next step is to build a simple stored procedure. It doesn’t have to be complex. We just need to build a framework to use in our exploration of stored procedures.

A basic stored procedure for the sample database will run a simple select statement, similar to what you would see when logging into an application. When you log into an application, you generally present to data elements:  a username and a password. When you log into an application, though, these data elements are generally passed to a database. To accept these data elements, you can build a stored procedure. This stored procedure (for now) will run a select to see if the user exists, and if the username and password combination is acceptable. The stored procedure will look like this (though there are a variety of ways to accomplish the same task):

CREATE PROCEDURE usp_checkuser 

            @login varchar(50),

            @pswd varchar(50)

AS

SELECT login, pswd FROM USRS

WHERE login=@login

AND pswd=@pswd

GO

For now, we are sending a username and password, and using them in a select statement against the USRS table.

The next step is to build an execution file. While you can build your execute statement every time you want to run the stored procedure, I recommend that you build it ahead of time. For a small stored procedure like this, it doesn’t add much value. But, if you get into the habit now, you’ll thank me later.

exec usp_checkuser ‘’, ‘’

When you run this statement in the query analyzer, it will execute the stored procedure. This is the rest of our “homework.” Our next steps will be to alter the stored procedure. We’re getting ready to make return values happen!

Let’s dig into this. A quick review of what a “return value” is: it is a single data element that a stored procedure kicks back after it has been executed. It is a single data element. You can’t return a full database record. Also, you can’t return multiple rows of a single data element. One record, one element. I’m not going to negotiate this point with you!

Let’s take another look at our existing stored procedure.

CREATE PROCEDURE usp_checkuser

            @login varchar(50),

            @pswd varchar(50)

AS

SELECT login, pswd FROM USRS

WHERE login=@login

AND pswd=@pswd

GO

Continues…

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