Sql – NULL values inside NOT IN clause

notinnullsqlsql-servertsql

This issue came up when I got different records counts for what I thought were identical queries one using a not in where constraint and the other a left join. The table in the not in constraint had one null value (bad data) which caused that query to return a count of 0 records. I sort of understand why but I could use some help fully grasping the concept.

To state it simply, why does query A return a result but B doesn't?

A: select 'true' where 3 in (1, 2, 3, null)
B: select 'true' where 3 not in (1, 2, null)

This was on SQL Server 2005. I also found that calling set ansi_nulls off causes B to return a result.

Best Solution

Query A is the same as:

select 'true' where 3 = 1 or 3 = 2 or 3 = 3 or 3 = null

Since 3 = 3 is true, you get a result.

Query B is the same as:

select 'true' where 3 <> 1 and 3 <> 2 and 3 <> null

When ansi_nulls is on, 3 <> null is UNKNOWN, so the predicate evaluates to UNKNOWN, and you don't get any rows.

When ansi_nulls is off, 3 <> null is true, so the predicate evaluates to true, and you get a row.