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LIKE (Transact-SQL)

Determines whether a specific character string matches a specified pattern. A pattern can include regular characters and wildcard characters. During pattern matching, regular characters must exactly match the characters specified in the character string. However, wildcard characters can be matched with arbitrary fragments of the character string. Using wildcard characters makes the LIKE operator more flexible than using the = and != string comparison operators. If any one of the arguments are not of character string data type, the SQL Server 2005 Database Engine converts them to character string data type, if it is possible.

Topic link icon Transact-SQL Syntax Conventions


match_expression [ NOT ] LIKE pattern [ ESCAPE escape_character ]

match_expression

Is any valid expression of character data type.

pattern

Is the specific string of characters to search for in match_expression, and can include the following valid wildcard characters. pattern can be a maximum of 8,000 bytes.

Wildcard character Description Example

%

Any string of zero or more characters.

WHERE title LIKE '%computer%' finds all book titles with the word 'computer' anywhere in the book title.

_ (underscore)

Any single character.

WHERE au_fname LIKE '_ean' finds all four-letter first names that end with ean (Dean, Sean, and so on).

[ ]

Any single character within the specified range ([a-f]) or set ([abcdef]).

WHERE au_lname LIKE '[C-P]arsen' finds author last names ending with arsen and starting with any single character between C and P, for example Carsen, Larsen, Karsen, and so on.

[^]

Any single character not within the specified range ([^a-f]) or set ([^abcdef]).

WHERE au_lname LIKE 'de[^l]%' all author last names starting with de and where the following letter is not l.

escape_character

Is a character that is put in front of a wildcard character to indicate that the wildcard should be interpreted as a regular character and not as a wildcard. escape_character is a character expression that has no default and must evaluate to only one character.

When you perform string comparisons by using LIKE, all characters in the pattern string are significant. This includes leading or trailing spaces. If a comparison in a query is to return all rows with a string LIKE 'abc ' (abc followed by a single space), a row in which the value of that column is abc (abc without a space) is not returned. However, trailing blanks, in the expression to which the pattern is matched, are ignored. If a comparison in a query is to return all rows with the string LIKE 'abc' (abc without a space), all rows that start with abc and have zero or more trailing blanks are returned.

A string comparison using a pattern that contains char and varchar data may not pass a LIKE comparison because of how the data is stored. You should understand the storage for each data type and where a LIKE comparison may fail. The following example passes a local char variable to a stored procedure and then uses pattern matching to find all of the employees whose last names start with a specified set of characters.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
CREATE PROCEDURE FindEmployee @EmpLName char(20)
AS
SELECT @EmpLName = RTRIM(@EmpLName) + '%';
SELECT c.FirstName, c.LastName, a.City
FROM Person.Contact c JOIN Person.Address a ON c.ContactID = a.AddressID
WHERE c.LastName LIKE @EmpLName;
GO
EXEC FindEmployee @EmpLName = 'Barb';
GO

In the FindEmployee procedure, no rows are returned because the char variable (@EmpLName) contains trailing blanks whenever the name contains fewer than 20 characters. Because the LastName column is varchar, there are no trailing blanks. This procedure fails because the trailing blanks are significant.

However, the following example succeeds because trailing blanks are not added to a varchar variable.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
CREATE PROCEDURE FindEmployee @EmpLName varchar(20)
AS
SELECT @EmpLName = RTRIM(@EmpLName) + '%';
SELECT c.FirstName, c.LastName, a.City
FROM Person.Contact c JOIN Person.Address a ON c.ContactID = a.AddressID
WHERE c.LastName LIKE @EmpLName;
GO
EXEC FindEmployee @EmpLName = 'Barb';

Here is the result set.

FirstName         LastName              City       
---------- ----------------------------------------
Angela             Barbariol            Snohomish
David              Barber               Snohomish

(2 row(s) affected)

Pattern Matching by Using LIKE

LIKE supports ASCII pattern matching and Unicode pattern matching. When all arguments (match_expression, pattern, and escape_character, if present) are ASCII character data types, ASCII pattern matching is performed. If any one of the arguments are of Unicode data type, all arguments are converted to Unicode and Unicode pattern matching is performed. When you use Unicode data (nchar or nvarchar data types) with LIKE, trailing blanks are significant; however, for non-Unicode data, trailing blanks are not significant. Unicode LIKE is compatible with the SQL-92 standard. ASCII LIKE is compatible with earlier versions of SQL Server.

The following is a series of examples that show the differences in rows returned between ASCII and Unicode LIKE pattern matching.

-- ASCII pattern matching with char column
CREATE TABLE t (col1 char(30));
INSERT INTO t VALUES ('Robert King');
SELECT * 
FROM t 
WHERE col1 LIKE '% King'   -- returns 1 row

-- Unicode pattern matching with nchar column
CREATE TABLE t (col1 nchar(30));
INSERT INTO t VALUES ('Robert King');
SELECT * 
FROM t 
WHERE col1 LIKE '% King'   -- no rows returned

-- Unicode pattern matching with nchar column and RTRIM
CREATE TABLE t (col1 nchar (30));
INSERT INTO t VALUES ('Robert King');
SELECT * 
FROM t 
WHERE RTRIM(col1) LIKE '% King'   -- returns 1 row
ms179859.note(en-US,SQL.90).gifNote:
LIKE comparisons are affected by collation. For more information, see COLLATE (Transact-SQL).

Using the % Wildcard Character

If the LIKE '5%' symbol is specified, the Database Engine searches for the number 5 followed by any string of zero or more characters.

For example, the following query shows all dynamic management views in the AdventureWorks database, because they all start with the letters dm.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
SELECT Name
FROM sys.system_views
WHERE Name LIKE 'dm%';
GO

To see all objects that are not dynamic management views, use NOT LIKE 'dm%'. If you have a total of 32 objects and LIKE finds 13 names that match the pattern, NOT LIKE finds the 19 objects that do not match the LIKE pattern.

You may not always find the same names with a pattern such as LIKE '[^d][^m]%'. Instead of 19 names, you may find only 14, with all the names that start with d or have m as the second letter eliminated from the results, and the dynamic management view names. This is because match strings with negative wildcard characters are evaluated in steps, one wildcard at a time. If the match fails at any point in the evaluation, it is eliminated.

Using Wildcard Characters As Literals

You can use the wildcard pattern matching characters as literal characters. To use a wildcard character as a literal character, enclose the wildcard character in brackets. The following table shows several examples of using the LIKE keyword and the [ ] wildcard characters.

Symbol Meaning

LIKE '5[%]'

5%

LIKE '[_]n'

_n

LIKE '[a-cdf]'

a, b, c, d, or f

LIKE '[-acdf]'

-, a, c, d, or f

LIKE '[ [ ]'

[

LIKE ']'

]

LIKE 'abc[_]d%'

abc_d and abc_de

LIKE 'abc[def]'

abcd, abce, and abcf

Pattern Matching with the ESCAPE Clause

You can search for character strings that include one or more of the special wildcard characters. For example, the discounts table in a customers database may store discount values that include a percent sign (%). To search for the percent sign as a character instead of as a wildcard character, the ESCAPE keyword and escape character must be provided. For example, a sample database contains a column named comment that contains the text 30%. To search for any rows that contain the string 30% anywhere in the comment column, specify a WHERE clause such as WHERE comment LIKE '%30!%%' ESCAPE '!'. If ESCAPE and the escape character are not specified, the Database Engine returns any rows with the string 30.

If there is no character after an escape character in the LIKE pattern, the pattern is not valid and the LIKE returns FALSE. If the character after an escape character is not a wildcard character, the escape character is discarded and the character following the escape is treated as a regular character in the pattern. This includes the percent sign (%), underscore (_), and left bracket ([) wildcard characters when they are enclosed in double brackets ([ ]). Also, within the double bracket characters ([ ]), escape characters can be used and the caret (^), hyphen (-), and right bracket (]) can be escaped.

Boolean

LIKE returns TRUE if the match_expression matches the specified pattern.

A. Using LIKE with the % wildcard character

The following example finds all telephone numbers that have area code 415 in the Contact table.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
SELECT FirstName, LastName, Phone
FROM Person.Contact
WHERE phone LIKE '415%'
ORDER by LastName;
GO

Here is the result set.

FirstName               LastName              phone
-----------------       ----------------      ------------
Ruben                   Alonso                415-555-0124
Shelby                  Cook                  415-555-0121
Karen                   Hu                    415-555-0114
John                    Long                  415-555-0147
David                   Long                  415-555-0123
Gilbert                 Ma                    415-555-0138
Meredith                Moreno                415-555-0131
Alexandra               Nelson                415-555-0174
Taylor                  Patterson             415-555-0170
Gabrielle               Russell               415-555-0197
Dalton                  Simmons               415-555-0115

(11 row(s) affected)

B. Using NOT LIKE with the % wildcard character

The following example finds all telephone numbers in the Contact table that have area codes other than 415.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
SELECT FirstName, LastName, Phone
FROM Person.Contact
WHERE Phone NOT LIKE '415%' AND FirstName = 'Gail'
ORDER BY LastName;
GO

Here is the result set.

FirstName              LastName         Phone
---------              ----------       -------------------
Gail                   Alexander        1 (11) 500 555-0120
Gail                   Butler           1 (11) 500 555-0191
Gail                   Erickson         834-555-0132
Gail                   Erickson         849-555-0139
Gail                   Griffin          450-555-0171
Gail                   Moore            155-555-0169
Gail                   Russell          334-555-0170
Gail                   Westover         305-555-0100

(8 row(s) affected)

C. Using the ESCAPE clause

The following example uses the ESCAPE clause and the escape character to find the exact character string 10-15% in column c1 of the mytbl2 table.

USE tempdb;
GO
IF EXISTS(SELECT TABLE_NAME FROM INFORMATION_SCHEMA.TABLES
      WHERE TABLE_NAME = 'mytbl2')
   DROP TABLE mytbl2;
GO
USE tempdb;
GO
CREATE TABLE mytbl2
(
 c1 sysname
);
GO
INSERT mytbl2 VALUES ('Discount is 10-15% off');
INSERT mytbl2 VALUES ('Discount is .10-.15 off');
GO
SELECT c1 
FROM mytbl2
WHERE c1 LIKE '%10-15!% off%' ESCAPE '!';
GO

D. Using the [ ] wildcard characters

The following example finds Contacts with the first name of Cheryl or Sheryl.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
SELECT ContactID, FirstName, LastName 
FROM Person.Contact 
WHERE FirstName LIKE '[CS]heryl';
GO

The following example finds the rows for Contacts with last names of Zheng or Zhang.

USE AdventureWorks;
GO
SELECT LastName, FirstName, Phone
FROM Person.Contact
WHERE LastName LIKE 'Zh[ae]ng'
ORDER BY LastName ASC, FirstName ASC;
GO
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