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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Retrieving Scalar Data from a Stored Procedure

Introduction
Virtually all ASP.NET applications of interest work with database data at some level, and one of the most common databases used in ASP.NET applications is Microsoft's own SQL Server database. With relational databases like SQL, commands are issued through the SQL syntax, which includes SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements, among others. One way to issue a command to a database from an ASP.NET application is to craft the SQL query in the application itself. Such queries are often called ad-hoc queries. The primary downside of ad-hoc queries is that they are hard to maintain - if you need to change your query you need to edit the string in your application, recompile, and redeploy.

A better approach, in my opinion, is to use stored procedures. Stored procedures are pre-compiled functions that reside on the database server that can be invoked by name. This is similar to compartmentalizing programmatic functionality into methods. Stored procedures are not only more updateable than their ad-hoc counterpart, but also can be utilized by other applications. For example, you might have both an ASP.NET application and a Web services application that is driven on data from the same database. If you hard code your SQL queries in your source code, any changes will now require modifications in two places (as well as two places that now require recompilation and redeployment). However, by using stored procedures there's a single point that needs modification. (The debate between stored procedures and ad-hoc queries has been done in much greater detail in other venues; see Rob Howard's blog entry Don't use stored procedures yet? Must be suffering from NIHS (Not Invented Here Syndrome) for a pro-stored procedures slant, and Frans Bouma's entry Stored Procedures are Bad, M'Kay? for a look at why stored procedures aren't the end-all answer.)

Stored procedures typically return resultsets, such as the results of a SELECT query. However, there are times when you may be getting back just scalar data from a stored procedure. For example, you might have a stored procedure that returns just the account balance for a particular customer, or one that returns the average age of all users in your database. When calling a stored procedure that INSERTs a new record into a table with an IDENTITY field, you may want to get back the ID for the newly inserted row.

There are a couple of ways to get back scalar data from a SQL Server stored procedure. In this article we'll look at these various techniques along with how to fetch back the returned data in your ASP.NET code. Read on to learn more!

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