Performance Considerations: Choosing the Right Method for "SELECT DISTINCT on One Column"

sql server t

Understanding the Problem:

In SQL Server, when you have duplicate values in a specific column of a table, you might want to retrieve only the unique values from that column, excluding duplicates. However, the standard SELECT DISTINCT keyword treats all columns in the selection list, potentially removing additional duplicates that you may not intend to discard.


  1. SELECT DISTINCT <column_name>: This is the basic approach to eliminate duplicates based on the specified column. All other columns will include their original values, potentially with duplicates.

    FROM Products;
  2. GROUP BY <column_name>: For scenarios where you don't need other columns, or they already have unique values based on the distinct column, use GROUP BY to achieve the same result efficiently.

    SELECT Color
    FROM Products
    GROUP BY Color;
  3. Window Functions (ROW_NUMBER(), DENSE_RANK()): If you need to keep other columns and want to control which row's values are retained for each distinct group, use window functions like ROW_NUMBER() or DENSE_RANK().

    • ROW_NUMBER(): Assigns a unique row number within each group, ordered by the specified column (if provided). Keep rows with ROW_NUMBER() = 1.

      SELECT *,
             ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY Color ORDER BY ProductID) AS RowNum
      FROM Products;
    • DENSE_RANK(): Assigns a unique rank within each group, excluding gaps in rankings. Keep rows with DENSE_RANK() = 1.

      SELECT *,
             DENSE_RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY Color ORDER BY ProductID) AS Rank
      FROM Products;
  4. Subqueries: For more complex scenarios or when you need to perform additional filtering, use subqueries.

    SELECT *
    FROM Products
    WHERE ProductID IN (
        SELECT MIN(ProductID)
        FROM Products
        GROUP BY Color

Related Issues and Solutions:

  • Performance: GROUP BY generally performs better than SELECT DISTINCT for retrieving distinct values, especially with large datasets. Window functions might have additional processing overhead, so use them judiciously.
  • Filtering by Other Columns: If you need to filter based on other columns in conjunction with distinct values, use WHERE in combination with the chosen method.
  • Order of Columns: SELECT DISTINCT considers all columns in the list for uniqueness, so the order matters. If you don't intend to consider other columns, explicitly list only the target column for uniqueness.


Choose the appropriate approach based on your specific requirements, considering performance, complexity, and the desired outcome. For most cases, GROUP BY is a good starting point, and window functions offer flexibility for finer control.

I hope this explanation, incorporating the valuable feedback, provides a clear and comprehensive understanding of this T-SQL concept!