SQLServerCentral Article

SQL Server 2005: Intro to XQuery


SQL 2005: Intro to XQuery

One of the coolest new features of SQL Server 2005 is its native XQuery support. The

new XML data type we discussed in the last article, with its

built-in XQuery support, makes server-side XML querying and manipulation easier than


This article demonstrates XQuery in SQL Server 2005. We'll begin with a definition of


What is XQuery?

XQuery (short for "XML Query") is a standard from the same folks who brought

you XML1, XSL2, and dozens of other related specifications: the

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C3). The W3C defines

XQuery 1.0 as an extension to XPath 2.0, borrowing heavily from several other query

language standards including XPath 1.0, XQL, XML-QL, SQL, and OQL.

XQuery is a declarative, functional query language that operates on instances of the

XQuery/XPath Data Model (XDM4). The XDM defines a rich

type system, allowing XQuery to operate on "the abstract, logical structure of an XML

document, rather than its surface syntax" (W3C XQuery 1.0 standard). What this means

is the XDM allows XQuery to query your XML using a "tree-like" logical

representation of your XML. The "XML as a tree" concept should be familiar to Web

programmers who dynamically manipulate HTML and XML using the Document Object Model (DOM)

[although the similarities between DOM and XDM for the most part end there]. Each branch (or

"node") of the XDM tree maintains a set of attributes describing the node. In the

tree each node has an XML node type, XDM data type information, node content (string and

typed representations), parent/child information, and possibly some other information

specific to the node type.

Consider Listing 1 below which defines an XML Schema collection,

creates a typed XML variable associated with the XML Schema

collection, and then populates the XML variable with a valid

XML document.

Listing 1. Typed XML example

/* Create an XML Schema collection */
CREATE XML SCHEMA COLLECTION MovieSchema AS N'<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-16"?>
<xs:schema xmlns="http://schemas.sqlservercentral.com/MovieSchema"
  <xs:element name="movies">
        <xs:element name="film" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="unbounded">
              <xs:element name="name" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:string"/>
              <xs:element name="releaseDate" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:date"/>
              <xs:element name="gross" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:decimal"/>
              <xs:element name="director" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:string"/>
/* Typed xml variable */
DECLARE @doc XML (DOCUMENT MovieSchema);
/* Populate with a valid XML document */
SELECT @doc = N'<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-16"?>
<!-- High-grossing movie listing -->
    <director>Sam Raimi</director>
SELECT @doc;

XQuery can query the typed XML document via a tree structure generated by the XDM.

Figure 1 below shows the XDM tree generated by this XML Schema for

the sample XML document (click the image for a large version in its own pop-up window).

The XDM can also generate trees for untyped XML, in which case it assigns types of

xdt:untyped to element nodes and xdt:untypedAtomic

to attributes, meaning they are not validated against an XML Schema.

Figure 1. XDM tree for sample document and XML Schema

The SQL Server 2005 XQuery implementation is a subset of the W3C XQuery 1.0 standard,

and certain parts of that standard were left unimplemented in the current iteration of

SQL Server XQuery support. This is important to know if you are trying to convert existing

XQuery scripts from other sources, such as existing applications, books on XQuery, or even

samples from the W3C website.

Expressions and Sequences

Expressions are the building block of XQuery queries. Expressions come in many flavors

including literals, variable references, function calls, and others. Examples of

expressions include:


"Hello Mrs. Robinson"


fn:avg( (10, 20, 30, 40) )

Sequences are ordered collections of items. An example of a sequence might include:

(1, 1, 3, 5, 4, 10, 7, 6, 9, 2, 8)

A sequence can contain duplicate values and the order of the sequence is maintained.

Note that the items in the example sequence are not sorted numerically or alphabetically,

but are stored in the order they are added to the sequence. When a sequence is the result

of an XQuery expression, the items are normally added to the sequence in "document


One important property of sequences is that a sequence of one item is

equivalent to a singleton atomic value. So the sequence (2.718281828459) is equivalent

to the singleton atomic value 2.718281828459.

The query() Method

The xml data type query() method

allows you to query XML data using XQuery. A simple XQuery query consists of a path

expression. Path expressions determine which nodes should be returned by an XQuery. The

location path is read from left to right, corresponding to moving down and to the right in

the XML node tree. A path expression that begins with a single forward slash

("/") starts at the root of the XML input. A path expression beginning with a

double forward slash ("//") returns nodes that match the path anywhere in the

XML input.

Borrowing from our sample XML in the previous article, we'll create a sample XML

document we can use the xml data type's query() on. I'll

assume you're a Family Guy fan like me (Giggity-Giggity!) for this example. The

sample XML document, and its schema collection, looks like this:

Listing 2. The sample XML document

/* The Family Guy schema collection */
CREATE XML SCHEMA COLLECTION FamilyGuySchema AS N'<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-16"?>
<xs:schema xmlns="http://schemas.sqlservercentral.com/FamilyGuySchema"
  <xs:element name="show">
        <xs:element name="episode" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="unbounded">
              <xs:element name="season" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:integer"/>
              <xs:element name="number" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:integer"/>
              <xs:element name="title" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:string"/>
              <xs:element name="airdate" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:date"/>
              <xs:element name="synopsis" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:string"/>
              <xs:element name="quote" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="1" type="xs:string"/>
      <xs:attribute name="name" type="xs:string" use="required"/>
/* Will hold a well-formed XML document */
DECLARE @doc XML (DOCUMENT FamilyGuySchema);
/* Populate the XML document */
SELECT @doc = N'<?xml version = "1.0" encoding = "UTF-16"?>
<show name = "Family Guy">
    <title>Death Has A Shadow</title>
      After getting drunk at a bachelor party and getting fired from his
      job at the Happy-go-Lucky toy factory for being hung over, Peter
      applies for welfare... and receives a check for $150,000!
      Peter: Guys, our money problems are over; we are officially on
      welfare! Come on kids, help me scatter car parts on the front lawn.
    <title>I Never Met The Dead Man</title>
      Peter crashes into the town satellite dish, knocking out the TV
      across the city.  He promises to buy his daughter Meg a car if
      she takes the blame.  Peter goes crazy without TV, as Stewie
      builds a weather control device to destroy the world's
      Brian:  Hey barkeep, whose leg do you gotta hump to get a dry
      martini around here?
    <title>Chitty Chitty Death Bang</title>
      Peter lets Meg to go to a party with her new suicidal cult-member
      friend on Stewie&apos;s birthday.  Stewie takes on the cult leader,
      who he believes is the &quot;Man in White&quot;, trying to return
      him to the womb.
      Peter:  Hey, Lois, look. The two symbols of the Republican party: an
      elephant and a big fat white guy who&apos;s threatened by change.
    <title>Mind Over Murder</title>
      Peter gets into a fight with a manly-looking woman at a soccer game,
      and gets put on house arrest.  On the advice of a ghost he turns
      his basement into a bar for his friends.  Lois becomes the main
      attraction when she starts singing at Peter&apos;s bar.  Meanwhile,
      Stewie builds a time machine in order to avoid teething pain.
      Stewie:  For the love of God, shake me! Shake me like a British
SELECT @doc;

The first sample XQuery query will use an absolute path expression to retrieve all of

the episode titles from the XML document in Listing 2:

/* Retrieve all show titles - absolute location path */
SELECT @doc.query('/show/episode/title');

The second sample retrieves all the quotes from the XML document using a relative path


/* Retrieve all quote nodes anywhere in the XML */
SELECT @doc.query('//quote');

The wild-card character "*" can be used to match the name of any node within

the path. For instance the sample query below retrieves all nodes beneath the

/show/episode nodes, no matter what their names:

/* Retrieve all nodes beneath the /show/episode nodes */
SELECT @doc.query('/show/episode/*');

Because of its heritage, XQuery can dynamically build XML output from XML input. We can

use the sample that retrieves show titles to dynamically build a well-formed XML document:

/* Retrieve all show titles - absolute location path */
SELECT @doc.query('<titles>

  { /show/episode/title };



Simple path expressions like the above are fine for solving simple problems, but

XQuery's real power lies in its FLWOR expressions.


FLWOR expressions are named for the keywords they are made of: for,

let, where, order by, and

return. SQL Server's XQuery supports all but the let

clause. A FLWOR expression is a powerful construct that iterates your XML nodes with the

for clause, limits the results using the where clause,

sorts the results using the order by clause, and returns the

results via the return clause. Consider the following sample

FLWOR expression:

/* Retrieve all show titles - absolute location path */
SELECT @doc.query('

  for $ep in (/show/episode)

  where $ep/number le 3

  order by $ep/title

  return <episode>

    { ($ep/title, $ep/number, $ep/synopsis) }



This sample begins with a for clause, which iterates the

/show/episode nodes, assigning each matching node to the

variable $ep in turn:

for $ep in (/show/episode)

The where clause limits the results to episode nodes

containing a number node with a value less than or equal to 3, discarding nodes that don't


where $ep/number le 3

The order by clause is an optional clause that determines

the sort order of the results. In this example the results will be ordered by title.

order by $ep/title

Finally each matching episode's title, number, and synopsis are returned by the

return clause.

return <episode>

  { ($ep/title, $ep/number, $ep/synopsis) }


Comparison Operators

In the sample FLWOR expression above, I used the le

comparison operator in the where clause to narrow result

set to those nodes with a number node value "less than or equal to" 3. XQuery

provides several comparison operators divided into three categories: value comparison

operators, general comparison operators, and node comparison operators.

Figure 2 below is a summary of the comparison operators available

to XQuery.

Figure 2. XQuery comparison operators

The value comparison operators compare one singleton atomic value to another, as in the

following examples:

3 ne 4

"harry" lt "sally"

The general comparison operators are "existential" operators that can be used

to compare sequences of items. Existential simply means the operator returns true if any

of the singleton atomic values from the left-hand sequence fulfills the operator comparison

with any of the singleton atomic values from the right-hand sequence. As an example, the

following expressions return true:

(1, 2, 3) = (2, 4, 6)                 (: true because 2 eq 2 evaluates to true 🙂

("C", "E", "F") < ("A", "B", "D")     (:

true because "C" lt "D" evaluates to true 🙂

But this expression returns false:

("Terry", "Terry", "Michael") = ("Eric", "John", "Graham")  

(: false because none of the items on the left are equal to any items on the right 🙂

The final type of comparison operators are node comparison operators. The

is operator returns true if the node on the left-hand side is

the node on the right-hand side. Note that this doesn't mean it will return true if the

two nodes have the same name, value, and contents: the is

operator returns true only if the two nodes are actually the exact same node.

The << operator returns true if the left-hand node appears before the right-hand

node, in document order. The >> operator returns true if the right-hand node appears

after the left-hand node, in document order.

You can easily test XQuery expressions and get immediate feedback from SQL Server with a

little snippet of code:

SELECT @x = N'';
SELECT @x.query('3.141592 eq 3.0 (: replace the expression on the left with your own expression :)');

When you run the snippet of code above (with my sample expression or your own

expression plugged in), you will get immediate feedback from SQL Server: either true,

false, or an empty sequence.


This article is an introduction to SQL Server 2005 XQuery. SQL Server 2005 also

supports a subset of the XQuery 1.0/XPath 2.0 Data Model (XDM), a subset of the XQuery

Functions and Operators (F&O) specifications, most of the XQuery-specified math

operators, axes, node tests, and other XQuery functionality.

I hope this article provides a starting point for those beginning to explore the full

power of SQL Server 2005's XQuery functionality.


1The XML 1.0 standard is available at


and the XML 1.1 standard is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/2006/REC-xml11-20060816/

2The XSL family of recommendations is available at


3The W3C website is http://www.w3.org
4The XQuery 1.0/XPath 2.0 Data Model (XDM) specification is

at http://www.w3.org/TR/xpath-datamodel/

©2007 by Michael Coles, regular contributor to SQLServerCentral and author of the upcoming

Apress book

Pro T-SQL 2005 Programmer's Guide (April 2007).


4 (11)

You rated this post out of 5. Change rating




4 (11)

You rated this post out of 5. Change rating