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In Defense of Hand-coded SQL

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In Defense of Hand-coded SQL

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One common comment I get when I point out that I hand-write all of my SQL queries, rather than relying on an ORM or the like, is that it is drudge work, obsoleted by modern tools, and when I mention that these are usually wrapped in stored procedures, the reactions go from disdainful to horrified.  This piece is the other side: why I do this and why I find that it works.  I am not saying that these approaches are free of costs, but software engineering is about tradeoffs.  These tradeoffs are real.  My approach is not a magic bullet, but it forms a vital piece of how I build software on the database. 

The first thing to note is that I use a lot of SELECT * FROM table queries when querying tables that match the output structure.  We all know that we run into tables that cannot be reasonably further normalized where the application structure can feed directly into the application.  In a stored procedure wrapper, SELECT * reduces maintenance points of such tables if new fields need to be added (in which case the query still matches the specified return type with no modifications).  This has costs in that it discourages refactoring of tables down the road, but this just needs to be checked.  One can still have central management by using views if needed.  Central management of type definitions is generally a good thing.  Views can take the place of an ORM ...

The second point is that CRUD queries of this sort don't really take significant time to write, even on a well-normalized database, and having these encapsulated behind a reasonably well-designed procedural interface is not a bad thing provided that some of the classical difficulties of stored procedures are addressed.

I find that my overall development time is not slowed down by hand-writing SQL.  This remains true even as the software matures.  The time-savings of automatic query tools is traded for the fact that one doesn't get to spend time thinking about how to best utilize queries in the application.  The fact is that, as application developers, we tend to do a lot in application code that could be done better as part of a query.  Sitting down and thinking about how the queries fit into the application is one of the single most productive exercises one can do.

The reason is that a lot of data can be processed and filtered in the queries themselves.  This allows one to request that the database send back data in the way the application can make best use of it.  This can eliminate a lot of application-level code and lead to a shrinking codebase.  This in turn allows application-level code to make better use of data returned from queries, which leads to better productivity all around.

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