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How to Retrieve XML Data from a Database Table: SQL

At times, you need to retrieve the relational data from a table into the XML format for reporting purposes or to share the data across different applications. This involves extracting data from a table in the form of well-formed XML fragments. You can retrieve the XML data in the following ways:

Using the FOR XML Clause in the SELECT statement

SQL Server allows you to extract data from relational tables into an XML format by using the SELECT statement with the FOR XML clause. You can use the FOR XML clause to retrieve the XML data by using the following modes:
  • RAW
  • AUTO
  • PATH
  • EXPLICIT

Using the RAW Mode

The RAW mode is used to return an XML file with each row representing an XML element. The RAW mode transforms each row in the query result set into an XML element with the element name row. Each column value that is not NULL is mapped to an attribute with the same name as the column name.

The following statements display the details of employees with employee ID as 1 or 2:
SELECT EmployeeID, ContactID, LoginID, Title
FROM HumaneResources.Employee
WHERE EmployeeID=1 OR EmployeeID=2
FOR XML RAW

The preceding query displays the employee details in the following format:

<row EmployeeID=”1” ContactID=”1209” LoginID=”adventure-works/guy1” Title=”Production Technician – WC60” />
<row EmployeeID=”2” ContactID=”1030” LoginID=”adventure-works/kevin0” Title=”Marketing Assistant” />

Using the AUTO Mode

The AUTO mode is used to return query results as nested XML elements. Similar to the RAW mode, each column value that is not NULL is mapped to an attribute that is named after either the column name or the column alias. The element that these attributes belong to is named to the table that they belong to or the table alias that is used in the SELECT statement, as shown in the following query:

SELECT EmployeeID, ContactID, LoginID, Title
FROM HumanResources.Employee Employee
WHERE EmployeeID=1 OR EmployeeID=2
FOR XML AUTO

If the optional ELEMENTS directive is specified in the FOR XML clause, the columns listed in the SELECT clause are mapped to sub-elements, as shown in the following query:

SELECT EmployeeID, ContactID, LoginID, Title
FROM HumanResources.Employee Employee
WHERE EmployeeID=1 OR EmployeeID=2
FOR XML AUTO, ELEMENTS

Using the PATH Mode

The PATH mode is used to return specific values by indicating the column names for which you need to retrieve the data, as shown in the following query:

SELECT EmployeeID “@EmpID”,
FirstName “EmpName/First”,
MiddleName “EmpName/Middle”,
LastName “EmpName/Last”
FROM HumanResources.Employee e JOIN Person.Contact c
AND e.EmployeeID=1
FOR XML PATH

The preceding query displays the output in the following format:
<row EmpID=”1”>
<EmpName>
<First>Guy</First>
<Middle>R</Middle>
<Last>Gilbert</Last>
</Employee>
</row>

In the preceding result set, the EmployeeID column is mapped to the EmpID attribute with @ sign. The FirstName, MiddleName, and LastName columns are mapped as subelements of the EmpName element with the slash mark(/)

You can also use the optional ElementName argument with the PATH mode query to modify the name of the default row element, as shown in the following query:

SELECT EmployeeID “@EmpID”,
FirstName “EmpName/First”,
MiddleName “EmpName/Middle”,
LastName “EmpName/Last”
FROM HumanResources.Employee e JOIN Person.Contact c ON e.ContactID = c.ContactID
AND e.EmployeeID=1
FOR XML PATH (‘Employee’)

Using the EXPLICIT Mode

The EXPLICIT mode is used to return an XML file that obtains the format as specified in the SELECT statement. Separate SELECT statement can be combined with the UNION ALL statement to generate each level/element in the resulting XML output. Each of these SELECT statements requires the first two tags to be called Tag and Parent. The Parent element is used to control the nesting of elements. It contains the tag number of the parent element of the current element. The top-level element in the document should have the Parent value set to 0 or NULL.

For example, the managers of AdventureWorks want to access the information regarding products through their mobile devices. These devices cannot directly connect to the SQL Server, but can read the data provided in the XML format. Therefore, you need to convert the details of the products from the Product table into the XML document. To perform this task, you need to create an XML document with <Product> as the parent tag. The <Product> tag will contain ProductID as an attribute and <ProductName> and <Color> as child elements.

To perform this task, the database developer can create the following query:

SELECT 1 AS Tag,
NULL AS Parent,
ProductID AS [Product!1!ProductID],
Name AS [Product!1!ProductName!element],
Color AS [Product!1!Color!elementxsinil]
FROM Production.Product
FOR XML EXPLICIT

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