Computed Columns: Reversing Data For Easier Searching

During Training

We were talking about computed columns, and one of our students mentioned that he uses computed columns that run the REVERSE() function on a column for easier back-searching.

What’s back-searching? It’s a word I just made up.

The easiest example to think about and demo is Social Security Numbers.

One security requirement is often to give the last four.

Obviously running this for a search WHERE ssn LIKE '%0000' would perform badly over large data sets.

Now, if you only ever needed the last four, you could easily just use SUBSTRING or RIGHT to pull out the last four.

If you wanted to give people the ability to expand their search further, REVERSE becomes more valuable.

Oh, a demo

You must have said please.

Let’s mock up some dummy data.

We should have 1 million rows of randomly generated (and unfortunately not terribly unique) data.

If we run this query, we get a query plan that scans the index on ssn and reads every row. This is the ~bad~ kind of index scan.


Let’s add that reverse column and index it. We don’t have to persist it.

Now we can run queries like this — without even directly referencing our reversed column — and get the desired index seeks.

(Hot 97 air horn)

What I thought was cool

Was that the REVERSE on the LIKE predicate put the wildcard on the correct side. That’s usually the kind of thing that I hope works, but doesn’t.

Thanks, whoever wrote that!

And thank YOU for reading!

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • Norwegian Encryption

  • Mind Blown! Every once in a while someone uses a function you wondered if there was ever a use for, and it’s a-maze-ing!

  • Not too many use cases for reverse() – thanks for sharing!

  • That was me during the Expert Performance Tuning for SQL Server 2016 and 2017 class 🙂 Thanks for blogging on this one.

  • Praveen Lokanathan
    January 24, 2018 12:03 pm

    The newer queries can also reference the column reversi with similar query execution plans, but I guess the point of the article is not to break code (which I get)

    SELECT COUNT(*) AS records
    FROM dbo.AllYourPersonalInformation AS aypi
    WHERE aypi.reversi LIKE reverse(‘%9156’)

  • Greg Kohlschreiber
    January 24, 2018 3:28 pm

    This example contradicts SQL “rule” that functions in predicates prevent the use of indexes.

    • Greg – that’s not a rule, air quotes or not. They may prevent an index seek, but saying they prevent the use of indexes is absurd.

      • Greg Kohlschreiber
        January 25, 2018 11:32 am

        Ouch! I wasn’t bashing your example. Poor phrasing on my part. And I didn’t pay attention to the actual Predicate in the seek operator (and missing the heart of the article).
        I posted about the behavior of indexed columns inside functions in the WHERE clause and the SEEK not being performed on your new NC index. And if we don’t use that index, using the scan is essentially not getting any at all.
        I located an article from Bill Graziano that discusses this pattern of using a computed column and new index and getting an index seek even though we aren’t using the new computed column.
        I played with the query and we lose the SEEK if you change the WHERE clause such that the filter doesn’t match the defintion of the computed column (i.e. This is inline with Bill’s analysis that the optimizer is searching for a computed column and filter match)
        Learned than one thing in a single post. Thanks

  • Alex Friedman
    January 25, 2018 3:02 am

    Yup, we use this too — works great.


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