SQL – Aggregate functions with GROUP BY

There are five main aggregate functions in SQL: COUNT(), SUM(), AVG(), MIN(), and MAX(). These calculate aggregate values for sets of rows. When you use them with GROUP BY, they calculate the aggregate values for each group.

Let’s say you want to get movie streaming stats for each user. Here’s an example of using GROUP BY with all of the aggregate functions to get this result:

SELECT UserName, COUNT(WatchedMins) as MoviesWatched, SUM(WatchedMins) as TotalMinutes, AVG(WatchedMins) as AvgMinutes, MIN(WatchedMins) as MinMinutes, MAX(WatchedMins) as MaxMinutes FROM Streaming GROUP BY UserName
Code language: SQL (Structured Query Language) (sql)

Note: The aggregate functions accept a column name or a numeric expression (less common). COUNT() accepts a column name or * (I’ll explain that below).

This query outputs the following results:

Query results showing aggregate values for each group (by user)

Handling NULLs

In the sample data, one of the rows has NULL in the column to aggregate (WatchedMins).

StreamedDate UserName Title WatchedMins 2023-01-06 Walter Jurassic World NULL
Code language: plaintext (plaintext)

By default, the aggregate functions ignore NULLs, so this row has no effect on the aggregate values. You can handle NULLs differently, which I’ll explain below.

Count all rows

When you use COUNT() with a column name, it doesn’t count rows with NULLs in the column. If you want to count all rows, use COUNT(*). Here’s an example to show the difference:

SELECT UserName, COUNT(WatchedMins) as CountNonNull, COUNT(*) as CountAll FROM Streaming GROUP BY UserName
Code language: SQL (Structured Query Language) (sql)

This outputs the following results. Notice the count difference in the highlighted row:

Query results showing how COUNT(*) counts all rows

Use ISNULL() to provide a default value

Sometimes you may want to provide a default value to the aggregate functions for when a row is NULL. You can do that by using ISNULL(). Here’s an example:

SELECT UserName, MIN(ISNULL(WatchedMins, 0)) as MinWithDefault, COUNT(*) as CountAllRows FROM Streaming GROUP BY UserName
Code language: SQL (Structured Query Language) (sql)

This outputs the following results. Notice the difference in the highlighted row:

Query results showing results of ISNULL()

Alias the aggregate result column

It’s a good idea to alias the aggregate result column (i.e. COUNT(*) as Count), otherwise you end up with a blank / default column in the results. This can be a problem if you need to map the query results in code or save the results (like to a spreadsheet).

Here’s an example to show the difference between an aliased and non-aliased aggregate result column:

SELECT UserName, COUNT(*) as [Count], COUNT(*) FROM Streaming GROUP BY UserName
Code language: SQL (Structured Query Language) (sql)

This outputs the following. Notice the highlighted column has no column name:

Query results showing the non-aliased column has no column name

Using aggregate functions without GROUP BY

The aggregate functions work on sets of rows. You can use them with or without GROUP BY. For example, here’s an example of calculating the aggregate values for the entire table:

SELECT COUNT(WatchedMins) as MoviesWatched, SUM(WatchedMins) as TotalMinutes, AVG(WatchedMins) as AvgMinutes, MIN(WatchedMins) as MinMinutes, MAX(WatchedMins) as MaxMinutes FROM Streaming
Code language: SQL (Structured Query Language) (sql)

Note: You can include a WHERE clause to calculate aggregate values on a subset of the table’s rows.

This outputs the following results:

Query results showing aggregate values for the whole table

Leave a Comment