Toad World Blog

TEMP is A Four Letter Word

May 5, 2018 6:38:21 PM by Bert Scalzo

It’s not uncommon to observe rampant over reliance of database application code on TEMP tables, most often as a SQL language programming crutch. I have a theory as to why. Programmers are chiefly taught record oriented or “record at a time” processing logic as for accessing data. Some lucky students might experience some exposure to a set oriented language such as LIS, but usually insufficient to adequately prepare them for SQL’s set based foundation. As such they often muddle along as best they can – which most often means liberally using TEMP tables. Now while there are legitimate cases where a TEMP table makes sense and is required, it should be the exception rather 

than the rule. If nothing else, it should at least be the choice of last resort after attempting to accomplish the task within a Single SQL statement.

I also believe that the way programmers think is more about “how” vs. “what”. You’ve most likely heard the theory about “right-brained” vs “left-brained. I content that “how” is more analytical and methodical thinking and thus left-brained. Therefore “what” is more creative or artistic, and therefore right-brained. While this observation is more opinion than fact, evidence seems to fit such a conclusion. For now let’s accept that premise and see how it might compound this problem of over reliance on TEMP tables.

The business person might state a problem like this, what percentage of our employees are making 20% more than their department average in our largest 10% of departments? But the programmer tends to dissect that into several smaller problems:

  • What are the largest 10% of departments by employee head count
  • How many employees per department for those large departments
  • What is average salary per department for those large departments
  • How many employees in a large department are paid 20% > average
  • How many employees are there in total
  • What is the percentage of those making more than average overall

There’s nothing wrong with dissecting a problem per se. Remember we all learned about the advantages of the “divide and conquer” approach to problem solving and coding. The main problem is that a “record at a time” attitude will quite often result in multiple SQL statements with intermediate results stored in TEMP tables to be passed on to the following SQL statement. You might argue “So what as the correct result is returned and that’s what matters?” However by subdividing the original problem into multiple smaller ones and thus multiple SQL statements, the database SQL query optimizer can only formulate execution plans for those smaller SQL statements rather than potentially finding a superior approach when the whole problem is presented as a single SQL statement. Moreover creating TEMP tables will consume disk space which when later dropped could end up fragmenting your storage space. Plus you may need to create indexes on your TEMP tables to duplicate what may already exist on the table, so once again it could exasperate your storage issues.

I used a simple data model with just two tables as shown here.


The single SQL statement query to obtain the answer that I came up with for SQL Server was as follows (there could of course be other answers which might be superior – so please comment your ideas):

with num_emps as (select count(eno) as xcnt from emp),
     avg_dsal as (select dno, count(eno) as xcnt, avg(salary) as xavg
                     from emp group by dno),
        dep_data as (select count(*) as xcnt
                     from emp join avg_dsal on emp.dno=avg_dsal.dno
                  where emp.salary>avg_dsal.xavg*1.2
                  and avg_dsal.xcnt in (select top 10 percent
                                                   count(*) as xcnt from dept))
select dep_data.xcnt, num_emps.xcnt, CONVERT(VARCHAR(50),
          cast(dep_data.xcnt as decimal)/
          cast(num_emps.xcnt as decimal)*100)+' %' AS [%]
from dep_data, num_emps

The result for my sample data which I calculated by hand to make sure was 100% correct was: 


While writing a query such as this might take more time, I suggest that it’s well worth the time for all the reasons already stated. I also think from a maintainability and readability standpoint it’s also superior. I often have to ask people who create TEMP tables lots of questions when I have to work on their code.

Tags: Oracle SQL Server

Bert Scalzo

Written by Bert Scalzo

Bert Scalzo is a guest-blogger for Quest and a renowned database expert, Oracle® ACE, author, database technology consultant, and formerly a member of Dell Software’s TOAD dev team. With three decades of Oracle® database experience to draw on, Bert’s webcasts garner high attendance and participation rates. His work history includes time at both Oracle Education and Oracle Consulting. Bert holds several Oracle Masters certifications and has an extensive academic background that includes a BS, MS and Ph.D. in computer science, as well as an MBA, and insurance industry designations.

Bert is a highly sought-after speaker who has presented at numerous Oracle conferences and user groups, including OOW, ODTUG, IOUG, OAUG, RMOUG and many others. Bert enjoys sharing his vast knowledge on data modeling, database benchmarking, database tuning and optimization, "star schema" data warehouses, Linux® and VMware®.

As a prolific writer, Bert has produced educational articles, papers and blogs for such well-respected publications as the Oracle Technology Network (OTN), Oracle Magazine, Oracle Informant, PC Week (eWeek), Dell Power Solutions Magazine, The LINUX Journal,, Oracle FAQ, Ask Toad and Toad World.

This popular author is known throughout the industry for his instructive books, which include:

• Oracle DBA Guide to Data Warehousing and Star Schemas
• TOAD Handbook (1st Edition)
• TOAD Handbook (2nd Edition)
• TOAD Pocket Reference (2nd Edition)
• Database Benchmarking: Practical Methods for Oracle & SQL Server
• Advanced Oracle Utilities: The Definitive Reference
• Oracle on VMware: Expert Tips for Database Virtualization
• Introduction to Oracle: Basic Skills for Any Oracle User
• Introduction to SQL Server: Basic Skills for Any SQL Server User
• Toad Unleashed
• Leveraging Oracle Database 12cR2 Testing Tools
• Database Benchmarking and Stress Testing

Drop Bert an email at and he’ll write you back, and maybe send you an autographed book!