Filtering With Multi-Select Boxes With SQL Server

I need to filter result sets from sql server based on selections from a multi-select list box. I've been through the idea of doing an instring to determine if the row value exists in the selected filter values, but that's prone to partial matches (e.g. Car matches Carpet).

I also went through splitting the string into a table and joining/matching based on that, but I have reservations about how that is going to perform.

Seeing as this is a seemingly common task, I'm looking to the Stack Overflow community for some feedback and maybe a couple suggestions on the most commonly utilized approach to solving this problem.


I solved this one by writing a table-valued function (we're using 2005) which takes a delimited string and returns a table. You can then join to that or use WHERE EXISTS or WHERE x IN. We haven't done full stress testing yet, but with limited use and reasonably small sets of items I think that performance should be ok.

Below is one of the functions as a starting point for you. I also have one written to specifically accept a delimited list of INTs for ID values in lookup tables, etc.

Another possibility is to use LIKE with the delimiters to make sure that partial matches are ignore, but you can't use indexes with that, so performance will be poor for any large table. For example:

     @my_string LIKE '%|' + my_column + '|%'


    Name:       GetTableFromStringList
    Description:    Returns a table of values extracted from a delimited list
            @StringList - A delimited list of strings
            @Delimiter - The delimiter used in the delimited list

    Date        Name            Comments
    ----------  -------------   ----------------------------------------------------
    2008-12-03  T. Hummel   Initial Creation
CREATE FUNCTION dbo.GetTableFromStringList
    @StringList VARCHAR(1000),
    @Delimiter  CHAR(1) = ','
    String  VARCHAR(1000)   NOT NULL
        @string     VARCHAR(1000),
        @position   SMALLINT

    SET @StringList = LTRIM(RTRIM(@StringList)) + @Delimiter
    SET @position = CHARINDEX(@Delimiter, @StringList)

    WHILE (@position > 0)
        SET @string = LTRIM(RTRIM(LEFT(@StringList, @position - 1)))

        IF (@string <> '')
            INSERT INTO @Results (String) VALUES (@string)

        SET @StringList = RIGHT(@StringList, LEN(@StringList) - @position)
        SET @position = CHARINDEX(@Delimiter, @StringList, 1)


I've been through the idea of doing an instring to determine if the row value exists in the selected filter values, but that's prone to partial matches (e.g. Car matches Carpet)

It sounds to me like you aren't including a unique ID, or possibly the primary key as part of values in your list box. Ideally each option will have a unique identifier that matches a column in the table you are searching on. If your listbox was like below then you would be able to filter for specifically for cars because you would get the unique value 3.

<option value="3">Car</option>
<option value="4">Carpret</option>

Then you just build a where clause that will allow you to find the values you need.

Updated, to answer comment.

How would I do the related join considering that the user can select and arbitrary number of options from the list box? SELECT * FROM tblTable JOIN tblOptions ON tblTable.FK = ? The problem here is that I need to join on multiple values.

I answered a similar question here.

One method would be to build a temporary table and add each selected option as a row to the temporary table. Then you would simply do a join to your temporary table.

If you want to simply create your sql dynamically you can do something like this.

SELECT * FROM tblTable WHERE option IN (selected_option_1, selected_option_2, selected_option_n)

I've found that a CLR table-valued function which takes your delimited string and calls Split on the string (returning the array as the IEnumerable) is more performant than anything written in T-SQL (it starts to break down when you have around one million items in the delimited list, but that's much further out than the T-SQL solution).

And then, you could join on the table or check with EXISTS.

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