Deleting duplicate rows in a table

Have you ever came across a situation where someone has entered duplicate data into a database table and now the queries that you have written is bringing back bad data!

Well, I don't know about you but I have been there and it is no fun!

Here are a few pointers that can help you find the duplicate values in a table and delete those pesky pieces of information.

Lets say you have a table called Employees and its layout is as follows:

create table employee
(
  EmpId number,
  EmpName varchar2(10),
  EmpSSN varchar2(11)
);

insert into employee values(1, 'Jack', '555-55-5555');
insert into employee values (2, 'Joe', '555-56-5555');
insert into employee values (3, 'Fred', '555-57-5555');
insert into employee values (4, 'Mike', '555-58-5555');
insert into employee values (5, 'Cathy', '555-59-5555');
insert into employee values (6, 'Lisa', '555-70-5555');
insert into employee values (7, 'Jack', '555-55-5555');
insert into employee values (8, 'Mike', '555-58-5555');
insert into employee values (9, 'Cathy', '555-59-5555');
insert into employee values (10, 'Lisa', '555-70-5555');
insert into employee values (11, 'Lisa', '555-70-5555');

You can see from the data inserted above that the EmpId is unique but the EmpName and EmpSSN have duplicate values, so now you ask yourself, how in the world can I find these duplicates and remove them?

Look no further as I will show you below one way of solving this problem.

First off you will need to get an idea of what records are duplicate and by running the query below it will help you figure that out:


SQL> select count(empssn), empssn from employee
  2    group by empssn
  3      having count(empssn) > 1;

COUNT(EMPSSN) EMPSSN
------------- -----------
            2 555-55-5555
            2 555-58-5555
            2 555-59-5555
            3 555-70-5555
From the above output you can now tell what employees have duplicate records and now you can move onto the next step and remove them but still retain a unique record for the duplicate employees.

Again here is a list all of the records in the table before we remove them.

SQL> select * from employee;

     EMPID EMPNAME    EMPSSN
---------- ---------- -----------
         1 Jack       555-55-5555
         2 Joe        555-56-5555
         3 Fred       555-57-5555
         4 Mike       555-58-5555
         5 Cathy      555-59-5555
         6 Lisa       555-70-5555
         7 Jack       555-55-5555
         8 Mike       555-58-5555
         9 Cathy      555-59-5555
        10 Lisa       555-70-5555
        11 Lisa       555-70-5555
Now, let's get rid of those duplicate records by running this query:
delete from employee
  where (empid, empssn)
    not in
    ( select min(empid), empssn 
         from employee group by empssn);
After the above query has been executed lets select all the records from the table to see if indeed it actually worked:
SQL> select * from employee;

     EMPID EMPNAME    EMPSSN
---------- ---------- -----------
         1 Jack       555-55-5555
         2 Joe        555-56-5555
         3 Fred       555-57-5555
         4 Mike       555-58-5555
         5 Cathy      555-59-5555
         6 Lisa       555-70-5555

6 rows selected.
BAM! Problem solved, no more duplicates, now finally you can go to bed and get some sleep. WAIT! Just before you do, let me throw a little wrench into the situation, lets say that you have duplicate records once again but this time the empids and empSSNs are the same.

For example the data now looks like this:

insert into employee values(1, 'Jack', '555-55-5555');
insert into employee values (2, 'Joe', '555-56-5555');
insert into employee values (3, 'Fred', '555-57-5555');
insert into employee values (4, 'Mike', '555-58-5555');
insert into employee values (5, 'Cathy', '555-59-5555');
insert into employee values (6, 'Lisa', '555-70-5555');
insert into employee values (1, 'Jack', '555-55-5555');
insert into employee values (4, 'Mike', '555-58-5555');
insert into employee values (5, 'Cathy', '555-59-5555');
insert into employee values (6 ,'Lisa', '555-70-5555');
insert into employee values (6, 'Lisa', '555-70-5555');
Now, how can you figure out what data duplicate as now there is no unique identifier in the table. The Ids are the same and the SSN are the same. This is just great!

No problem, relax, there is actually a distinct value in the table but you can't see it. This little helper is called the rowid.

Remember there is nothing to uniquely identify the data as you can see by the above insert statements so you will now have to rely on the rowid to get us out of this mess. In order to delete the duplicate values in the employee table you will now need to write a query like this:

 
delete from employee
   where (rowid, empssn)
    not in
     (select min(rowid), empssn from employee group by empssn);
And hence, after the delete query above has been executed your data will appear as:
SQL> select * from employee
  2  /

     EMPID EMPNAME    EMPSSN
---------- ---------- -----------
         1 Jack       555-55-5555
         2 Joe        555-56-5555
         3 Fred       555-57-5555
         4 Mike       555-58-5555
         5 Cathy      555-59-5555
         6 Lisa       555-70-5555

6 rows selected.
As you can see all the duplicate values have been removed from the table and now you finally have unique records in the table, so before you call it quits or before someone else slips in and enters more duplicate data make sure you add a primary key to that EMPID or EMPSSN column so this wont happen again!

Now finally, you will be able to get that long awaited sleep!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember rowid will always uniquely identify a row in a table but please do not use this as a primary key. I only showed you this little trick to help you get out of a bind when the database is poorly designed by allowing duplicate data to be entered.

I hope this has helped you out!

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Kevin Saitta Kevin Saitta is an independent Database/Programming consultant specializing in full life cycle development and database design. You can contact Kevin through the Internet at kev@kbaseonline.com.

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