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Hackernoon logoIntroduction to Recursive CTE by@cyr1l

Introduction to Recursive CTE

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French Developer

This article will introduce the concept of SQL recursive. Recursive CTE is a really cool. We will see that it can often simplify our code, and avoid a cascade of SQL queries!

Why use a recursive CTE ?

The recursive queries are used to query hierarchical data. It avoids a cascade of SQL queries, you can only do one query to retrieve the hierarchical data.

What is recursive CTE ?

First, what is a CTE? A CTE (Common Table Expression) is a temporary named result set that you can reference within a SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE statement. For example, you can use CTE when, in a query, you will use the same subquery more than once.

A recursive CTE is one having a subquery that refers to its own name!

Recursive CTE is defined in the SQL standard.

How to make a recursive CTE?

A recursive CTE has this structure:

  • The WITH clause must begin with "WITH RECURSIVE"
  • The recursive CTE subquery has two parts, separated by "UNION [ALL]" or "UNION DISTINCT":
  • The first part produces the initial row(s) for the CTE. This SELECT does not refer to the CTE name.
  • The second part recurses by referring to the CTE name in its FROM clause.

Practice / Example

In this example, we use hierarchical data. Each row can have zero or one parent. And it parent can also have a parent etc.

Create table test (id integer, parent_id integer);

insert into test (id, parent_id) values (1, null);
insert into test (id, parent_id) values (11, 1);
insert into test (id, parent_id) values (111, 11);
insert into test (id, parent_id) values (112, 11);
insert into test (id, parent_id) values (12, 1);
insert into test (id, parent_id) values (121, 12);

For example, the row with id 111 has as ancestors: 11 and 1.

Before knowing the recursive CTE, I was doing several queries to get all the ancestors of a row.

For example, to retrieve all the ancestors of the row with id 111.

While (has parent)

Select id, parent_id from test where id = X

With recursive CTE, we can retrieve all ancestors of a row with only one SQL query :)

SELECT id, parent_id FROM test WHERE id = 111
SELECT, test.parent_id FROM test JOIN cte_test ON = test.parent_id
) SELECT * FROM cte_test



It indicates we will make recursive

  • "SELECT id, parent_id FROM test WHERE id = 111":

It is the initial query.

  • "UNION ... JOIN cte_test" :

It is the recursive expression! We make a jointure with the current CTE!

Replay this example here

More information here


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