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Simplify String Concatenations with Nulls and Zero Length Strings

Provided by: Luke Chung, FMS President

The concatenation of string values can be a nuisance when referencing fields with Null values, because you want to avoid having extra spaces where the missing string value should have appeared.

A classic example of this is a person's name and their spouse. You want to add the " and Spouse" to the name if the Spouse field is filled.

Here's the data:

PersonID FirstName LastName Spouse
1 Robert Jones  
2 Thomas Smith Jane
3 Jack Thompson Sally
4 William Johnson  

And the results we want:

PersonID Person
1 Robert Jones
2 Thomas and Jane Smith
3 Jack and Sally Thompson
4 William Johnson

Zero Length Strings Allowed

If the Spouse field allows zero length string values ("") -- its AllowZeroLength property is True, you need to consider both Nulls and "". You should use the NullToZero function NZ, to handle either case:

SELECT PersonID, FirstName & IIF(Nz(Spouse)<>"", " & " & Spouse) & " " & LastName AS Person
FROM tblPerson

The NZ function evaluates the value it is passed. For text fields, it returns "" if it's null or "". For numeric and dates fields, it returns zero if it's null. This makes it easy to handle nulls in either case.

Zero Length Strings Not Allowed

If the Spouse field does not allow zero length strings, blank values are always null. In this situation, we can avoid using a user-defined/built-in function to test for null. The concatenation of a string value and a null value will return a null value. Thus, you eliminate the extra processing needed:

SELECT PersonID, FirstName & (" and " + Spouse) & " " & LastName AS Person
FROM tblPerson

By using the "+" command to combine the " and " and [Spouse] fields, the result is nothing if the Spouse field is null. This is a difference from using the "&" command which concatenates fields and would leave the " and " if Spouse is null.

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