SQL coalesce vs isnull

In SQL(SQL Server database), both COALESCE and ISNULL are used to handle NULL values in expressions and queries, providing a way to return a non-NULL alternative if the original value is NULL. However, there are some differences between the two functions.

ISNULL Function

The ISNULL function is a built-in SQL Server function that replaces NULL with the specified replacement value. The syntax is as follows:

ISNULL(expression, replacement_value)

expression: The value to be checked for NULL.
replacement_value: The value to be returned if the expression is NULL.


ISNULL(column_name, 'DefaultValue') AS Result
FROM your_table;


The COALESCE function is a more versatile ANSI SQL standard function supported by SQL Server. It returns the first non-NULL expression in the list. The syntax is as follows:

COALESCE(expression1, expression2, ..., expression_n)

expression1, expression2, …, expression_n: A list of expressions to be evaluated in order, and the first non-NULL expression is returned.


COALESCE(column_name, 'Value1', 'Value2') AS Result
FROM your_table;


Number of Parameters:

ISNULL takes only two parameters: the expression to be checked and the replacement value.
COALESCE can take multiple parameters, and it returns the first non-NULL expression from the list.


ISNULL is specific to SQL Server.
COALESCE is an ANSI SQL standard function supported by many database systems, providing better portability across different database platforms.

Expression Evaluation:

COALESCE evaluates the expressions from left to right until it finds the first non-NULL value.
ISNULL only checks the first parameter for NULL and replaces it with the specified value.


If you are working in a SQL Server-specific environment and only need to handle NULL values for one expression, ISNULL may be more concise.
If you need to handle NULL values for multiple expressions or want to follow ANSI SQL standards for better portability, COALESCE is a more suitable choice.

In summary, both COALESCE and ISNULL serve similar purposes, but COALESCE is more versatile and adheres to ANSI SQL standards, making it a preferred choice for broader compatibility.