So, you have just written a query, hit execute and you have encountered an error: Invalid column name ‘[column name]‘.
The column you’ve used in your WHERE clause cannot be identified by its alias. You’ve defined it at the top of the query and used it fine previously as your ORDER BY condition, so why can’t the engine recognise it?
If you’ve ever written a SQL query, this should look familiar:
- GROUP BY
- ORDER BY
It makes sense that we read the query from top to bottom / left to right (especially for those in the West), but contrary to how it may look, this isn’t how the query is executed. The order of execution is:
- FROM / JOIN
- WHERE / ON
- GROUP BY
- ORDER BY
When you stop and think about what is happening, logically, this order makes sense.
FROM / JOIN – First and foremost, we need to determine the location of the data set that we are querying.
WHERE / ON – We need to narrow that data set down with predicates to keep only the records we care about.
GROUP BY – If you need to aggregate the results, this is done next to give us an even more concise result set.
HAVING – WHERE 2.0! This is a predicate over the aggregated result set.
SELECT – Okay, now we have our final result set, containing ONLY our required rows. Now, finally, we can select which columns we want from that dataset.
DISTINCT – Now we know which columns we want from the result set, we can strip out any duplicates.
ORDER BY – Finally, we have whittled the result set down to only the rows and columns we need, so we can order it however we want.
What is the value in knowing this?
It’s important to understand the difference between the logical and lexical order of a query. Knowing this will help you troubleshoot any syntax errors you may encounter.
Going back to our original issue of using an alias in a WHERE clause, you can now see why you get an error about an invalid column.
Look back at the order of execution, aliases are assigned to columns during the SELECT stage, WHERE comes before SELECT. The engine is trying to process the column by its alias before it’s been assigned. ORDER BY comes after SELECT so the same issue doesn’t arise here
It also explains why Intellisense doesn’t autocomplete or suggest column names until you’ve added the FROM statement. Until you tell the engine where the data is coming FROM, it doesn’t know which columns it can SELECT.