Rank and Dense_Rank in SQL Server

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we will discuss Rank and Dense_Rank functions in SQL Server

Rank and Dense_Rank functions
  • Introduced in SQL Server 2005
  • Returns a rank starting at 1 based on the ordering of rows imposed by the ORDER BY clause
  • ORDER BY clause is required
  • PARTITION BY clause is optional
  • When the data is partitioned, rank is reset to 1 when the partition changes
Difference between Rank and Dense_Rank functions
Rank function skips ranking(s) if there is a tie where as Dense_Rank will not.

For example : If you have 2 rows at rank 1 and you have 5 rows in total.
RANK() returns - 1, 1, 3, 4, 5
DENSE_RANK returns - 1, 1, 2, 3, 4

Syntax : 
RANK() OVER (ORDER BY Col1, Col2, ...)
DENSE_RANK() OVER (ORDER BY Col1, Col2, ...)

Example : We will use the following Employees table for the examples in this video
rank and dense_rank example

SQl Script to create Employees table
Create Table Employees
    Id int primary key,
    Name nvarchar(50),
    Gender nvarchar(10),
    Salary int

Insert Into Employees Values (1, 'Mark', 'Male', 8000)
Insert Into Employees Values (2, 'John', 'Male', 8000)
Insert Into Employees Values (3, 'Pam', 'Female', 5000)
Insert Into Employees Values (4, 'Sara', 'Female', 4000)
Insert Into Employees Values (5, 'Todd', 'Male', 3500)
Insert Into Employees Values (6, 'Mary', 'Female', 6000)
Insert Into Employees Values (7, 'Ben', 'Male', 6500)
Insert Into Employees Values (8, 'Jodi', 'Female', 4500)
Insert Into Employees Values (9, 'Tom', 'Male', 7000)
Insert Into Employees Values (10, 'Ron', 'Male', 6800)

RANK() and DENSE_RANK() functions without PARTITION BY clause : In this example, data is not partitioned, so RANK() function provides a consecutive numbering except when there is a tie. Rank 2 is skipped as there are 2 rows at rank 1. The third row gets rank 3.

DENSE_RANK() on the other hand will not skip ranks if there is a tie. The first 2 rows get rank 1. Third row gets rank 2.

SELECT Name, Salary, Gender,
FROM Employees

difference between rank and dense_rank with example

RANK() and DENSE_RANK() functions with PARTITION BY clause : Notice when the partition changes from Female to Male Rank is reset to 1

SELECT Name, Salary, Gender,
AS DenseRank
FROM Employees

rank vs dense_rank in sql server 2008

Use case for RANK and DENSE_RANK functions : Both these functions can be used to find Nth highest salary. However, which function to use depends on what you want to do when there is a tie. Let me explain with an example.

If there are 2 employees with the FIRST highest salary, there are 2 different business cases
  • If your business case is, not to produce any result for the SECOND highest salary, then use RANK function
  • If your business case is to return the next Salary after the tied rows as the SECOND highest Salary, then use DENSE_RANK function
Since we have 2 Employees with the FIRST highest salary. Rank() function will not return any rows for the SECOND highest Salary.

WITH Result AS
    SELECT SalaryRANK() OVER (ORDER BY Salary DESC) AS Salary_Rank
    FROM Employees
SELECT TOP 1 Salary FROM Result WHERE Salary_Rank = 2

Though we have 2 Employees with the FIRST highest salary. Dense_Rank() function returns, the next Salary after the tied rows as the SECOND highest Salary

WITH Result AS
    SELECT Salary, DENSE_RANK() OVER (ORDER BY Salary DESC) AS Salary_Rank
    FROM Employees
SELECT TOP 1 Salary FROM Result WHERE Salary_Rank = 2

You can also use RANK and DENSE_RANK functions to find the Nth highest Salary among Male or Female employee groups. The following query finds the 3rd highest salary amount paid among the Female employees group

WITH Result AS
    SELECT Salary, Gender,
           AS Salary_Rank
    FROM Employees
SELECT TOP 1 Salary FROM Result WHERE Salary_Rank = 3
AND Gender = 'Female'


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