# Exploring SQL Window Functions: A Comprehensive Guide

In the vast world of SQL, window functions stand out as powerful features that perform computations across a set of rows related to the current row. Unlike aggregate functions, which return a single result per group, window functions return a single result for each row from the underlying query, providing more detailed analysis and insight.

In this blog, we're going to dive into the depths of SQL window functions, how to use them, and examples to illustrate their power.

## What Are Window Functions?

Window functions perform a calculation across a set of rows that are related to the current row. Unlike regular aggregate functions, window functions do not cause rows to be grouped into a single output row — the rows retain their separate identities. This is what differentiates window functions from other functions in SQL.

## Types of Window Functions

There are four types of window functions in SQL:

**Ranking Functions**: These functions return a unique rank for each row within a partition. The most common ranking functions are:`RANK()`

: This function assigns a unique rank to each distinct row within a partition, leaving gaps in rank sequence for duplicate values. For example:Example in sql`SELECT salesperson, sales_amount, RANK() OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount DESC) sales_rank FROM sales;`

This ranks salespeople by their sales amounts in descending order. If two salespeople have the same sales amount, they get the same rank, and the next sales amount gets a rank incremented by 2.

`DENSE_RANK()`

: This is similar to`RANK()`

, but it doesn't leave gaps in rank sequence when there are duplicates. So, if two salespeople have the same sales amount, they get the same rank, and the next sales amount gets a rank incremented by 1.`ROW_NUMBER()`

: This function assigns a unique row number to each row in the result, regardless of duplicates. So, even if two salespeople have the same sales amount, they get different row numbers.

**Aggregate Functions**: These functions perform a calculation on a set of values and return a single value. As window functions, they operate on a set of rows and return a single result for each row. Examples are:`SUM()`

: Returns the sum of values in a set.`AVG()`

: Returns the average of values in a set.`MIN()`

and`MAX()`

: Return the minimum and maximum value in a set, respectively.`COUNT()`

: Returns the number of rows in a set.

For example:

Example in sql````sql SELECT salesperson, sales_amount, AVG(sales_amount) OVER (PARTITION BY salesperson) average_sales FROM sales; ``` This returns the average sales amount for each salesperson.`

**Value Functions**: These functions operate on a set of rows and return a single value for each row based on the value in a specified column. Examples include:`FIRST_VALUE()`

: Returns the first value in the window.`LAST_VALUE()`

: Returns the last value in the window.`NTH_VALUE()`

: Returns the nth value in the window.

For example:

Example in sql````sql SELECT salesperson, sales_amount, FIRST_VALUE(sales_amount) OVER (PARTITION BY salesperson ORDER BY sales_amount) lowest_sales FROM sales; ``` This returns the lowest sales amount for each salesperson.`

**Analytic Functions**: These functions are used for complex statistical and analytic computations and return a group of values. Examples include:`LAG()`

: Returns the value from a previous row in the partition.`LEAD()`

: Returns the value from a following row in the partition.`NTILE()`

: Divides the rows in an ordered partition into a specified number of groups.

For example:

Example in sql````sql SELECT salesperson, sales_amount, quarter, LAG(sales_amount) OVER (PARTITION BY salesperson ORDER BY quarter) previous_sales FROM sales; ``` This returns the sales amount of the previous quarter for each salesperson.`

## SQL Window Function Syntax

In general, the syntax for a window function is as follows:

```
<Window function> (<expression>) OVER ([PARTITION BY <expression list>]
[ORDER BY <expression list>]
[ROWS|RANGE <frame specification>])
```

Here's what each part of this syntax means:

`<Window function>`

: This is the specific window function you're using, such as RANK(), ROW_NUMBER(), SUM(), AVG(), MIN(), MAX(), COUNT(), etc.`<expression>`

: This is the column or the result of a calculation on which you want to apply the window function.`OVER`

: This keyword is used to indicate that a window function is being used. Everything in the parentheses after`OVER`

is called the "window specification" and defines the "window" of rows the function operates on.`PARTITION BY <expression list>`

: This is an optional part of the syntax that divides the result set into partitions (like groups). The window function is applied independently to each partition. The`<expression list>`

can be one or more columns. If you skip the`PARTITION BY`

clause, the function treats all rows of the query result set as a single partition.`ORDER BY <expression list>`

: This is another optional part of the syntax that orders the rows within each partition. The`<expression list>`

can be one or more columns. This clause is used with functions that work on an ordered set of rows (like RANK() or ROW_NUMBER()).`ROWS|RANGE <frame specification>`

: This is a further optional part of the syntax that limits the rows within a window, according to the frame specification. The frame specification can be`UNBOUNDED PRECEDING`

,`<value> PRECEDING`

,`CURRENT ROW`

,`<value> FOLLOWING`

, or`UNBOUNDED FOLLOWING`

.`ROWS`

means the frame is defined in terms of physical rows.`RANGE`

means the frame is defined as a range of values. When using`RANGE`

, remember that it includes rows with the same ORDER BY value, hence the actual set of rows in the frame can be more than the stated range.

Let's consider an example for a clearer understanding:

```
SELECT salesperson, sales_amount,
AVG(sales_amount) OVER (PARTITION BY salesperson
ORDER BY sales_amount ROWS BETWEEN UNBOUNDED PRECEDING AND CURRENT ROW) avg_sales
FROM sales;
```

This query calculates a running average of the sales amount for each salesperson. The ` PARTITION BY salesperson `

means the average is calculated separately for each salesperson. The ` ORDER BY sales_amount `

means the sales amounts are considered in ascending order. The ` ROWS BETWEEN UNBOUNDED PRECEDING AND CURRENT ROW `

means that for each row, all preceding rows and the current row are used for the average calculation.

## Conclusion

Window functions bring a new level of power to SQL. They allow us to perform complex calculations that previously required cumbersome self-joins or unions. Whether you're analyzing financial data or looking at user behavior on a website, window functions can provide insights that basic SQL queries can't. Next time you're faced with a complex analysis, don't forget about window functions. They could be the tool you need!