Numbering Functions in BigQuery: An In-depth Review

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BigQuery, Google's robust data warehouse, changes the game in data analysis and reporting with its speed and scalability. This guide breaks down BigQuery's essential numbering functions, making complex data tasks more manageable and insightful.

These functions fall under the category of window functions in SQL, which allow you to perform calculations across sets of rows that are related to the current row in a way that goes beyond the capabilities of standard SQL functions. Whether you're looking to order your data, rank items without gaps, or assign unique identifiers to each row, BigQuery's numbering functions offer a versatile toolkit.

Decoding the Essence of Numbering Functions in BigQuery

Numbering functions like ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK() are important for advanced data analysis in BigQuery. They assign unique identifiers to rows based on specific criteria, helping tasks such as ranking and segmentation, which are important for organizing and extracting insights from large datasets efficiently. Moreover, these functions significantly enhance data analysis efficiency in BigQuery.

Mastering BigQuery's Numbering Functions: Syntax, Application, and Examples

BigQuery's numbering functions, like ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK(), are important for tasks such as data sorting and windowed analysis.Understanding their syntax and application is important for efficient query design.

For example, ROW_NUMBER() assigns a unique number to each row based on the order specified in the OVER() clause. We can grasp how these functions transform data analysis by examining real-world scenarios, such as ranking sales data or analyzing time series.


CUME_DIST calculates the cumulative distribution of a value within a group of values, essentially showing the relative standing of a specific value. The formula is the number of rows with values less than or equal to the current row's value divided by the total number of rows. The CUME_DIST function returns a decimal value between 0 and 1, inclusive.

It's beneficial for understanding the position or percentile rank of data points within a dataset, aiding in statistical analysis and decision-making processes. If the partition clause is not specified, the function treats the entire result set as a single partition, calculating the distribution across all rows.


  [PARTITION BY partition_expression, ...]
  ORDER BY sort_expression [ASC|DESC], ...
  • PARTITION BY partition_expression: This is optional and divides the data into subsets over which the cumulative distribution is calculated separately.
  • ORDER BY sort_expression [ASC|DESC]: Determines the order of the data points within each partition (or overall if no partition is specified) for the calculation.


Consider a dataset of exam scores for a class of students, where you want to find out the percentile ranking of each score.

The SQL query might look like this:

SELECT score, CUME_DIST() OVER (ORDER BY score) AS percentile_rank
FROM student_grades;


  • score: The column containing the exam scores.
  • CUME_DIST() OVER (ORDER BY score): Computes the cumulative distribution, ordering the scores in ascending order. Each score’s percentile_rank indicates the percentage of students with scores less than or equal to that score.

The output will consist of two columns: score and percentile_rank. The score column lists the exam scores, and percentile_rank shows the cumulative percentage of students with scores less than or equal to each score. The values in percentile_rank will vary depending on the distribution of exam scores in the dataset.


DENSE_RANK function is particularly beneficial when you need to understand the relative standing of items in a dataset, such as products in sales data or students in exam scores. DENSE_RANK is like RANK, but it fills in the gaps when there are ties. This makes it easier to see the exact ranking of items without any breaks.

Furthermore, in DENSE_RANK(), all rows with the same value receive the same rank, and the rank value for the next distinct value is incremented by just one. This approach ensures a continuous sequence of ranks without any gaps, regardless of ties. It's super useful for things like analyzing sales data or exam scores because you get a smooth sequence of ranks without any gaps, which is crucial for making accurate decisions based on the data.


    [PARTITION BY column_name(s)]
    ORDER BY column_name(s)
  • DENSE_RANK(): The function indicates the start of the ranking process.
  • OVER: Specifies that the function operates over a set of rows.
  • PARTITION BY column_name(s): Divides the result set into partitions to which the DENSE_RANK function is applied independently. This is optional.
  • ORDER BY column_name(s): Determines the order in which the ranks are assigned within each partition.


Imagine a scenario where we want to rank sales employees based on their total sales, without skipping ranks for ties.

The SQL query might look like this:

SELECT employee_name, total_sales,
       DENSE_RANK() OVER (ORDER BY total_sales DESC) as sales_rank
FROM sales_records
ORDER BY total_sales DESC;


  • employee_name, total_sales: Columns selected from the sales_records table.
  • DENSE_RANK() OVER (ORDER BY total_sales DESC): Applies DENSE_RANK, ranking employees based on total_sales in descending order.
  • sales_rank: The column showing the rank of each employee.

The output of the given SQL query will show a list of sales employees ranked by their total sales in descending order, using the DENSE_RANK() function. This function assigns a unique rank to each total sales amount, without skipping ranks for ties.


The NTILE function divides a sorted dataset into a specified number of groups of roughly equal size. For instance, NTILE(4) will create four groups representing quartiles.

Using NTILE helps in evenly distributing data, which is important for tasks like segmenting customers into groups based on spending or categorizing students based on grades. It offers a clear, ordered partitioning of data, which simplifies the analysis and helps in identifying trends or anomalies efficiently.

NTILE Syntax

NTILE(number_of_buckets) OVER ([PARTITION BY partition
_expression] ORDER BY sort_expression)
  • NTILE(number_of_buckets): Specifies the number of groups to divide the dataset into.
  • OVER(): Defines the window over which the function operates.
  • PARTITION BY partition_expression: Divides the dataset into parts to which NTILE is applied separately.
  • ORDER BY sort_expression: Determines the order of the data within each partition or window.

NTILE Example:

Suppose, a teacher wants to divide a class of students into 4 performance groups based on their scores in order to allocate different levels of additional support and resources.

  NTILE(4) OVER (ORDER BY score DESC) AS performance_group


  • NTILE(4): This divides the students into 4 groups (tiles) based on their scores. The highest scoring students are placed in the first tile, and the lowest in the fourth.
  • OVER (ORDER BY score DESC): Orders the students by their scores in descending order before applying NTILE(), ensuring that higher scores correspond to lower group numbers (higher performance groups).

The query generates a list of students along with their scores and assigns them to one of four performance groups. Higher scores will be in Group 1, indicating top performers, and lower scores will be in Group 4, indicating those who may need the most additional support.


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PERCENT_RANK is a window function that assigns a relative rank to each row in a dataset as a percentage from 0 to 1, with 0 representing the first row and 1 the last. It's used to understand the standing of a particular value within a dataset, such as determining a product's sales performance compared to others.

This function is beneficial for identifying outliers, evaluating relative performance, and conducting percentile-based analysis.


PERCENT_RANK() OVER ([PARTITION BY partition_expression] ORDER BY sort_expression)
  • PERCENT_RANK(): Computes the percentage rank of each row within a partition.
  • OVER(): Indicates the window over which the function is applied.
  • PARTITION BY partition_expression: (Optional) Divides the data into distinct groups, where PERCENT_RANK is calculated separately.
  • ORDER BY sort_expression: Determines the order of the data points within each partition or across the entire dataset.


Assume we have sales data for different sales agents and want to find out the percentage rank of their sales amounts.

The SQL query will look like this:

SELECT sales_agent, sales_amount, PERCENT_RANK() OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount DESC) AS sales_percent_rank
FROM sales_agent_data;


  • sales_agent and sales_amount: Columns in the sales_data table.
  • PERCENT_RANK(): Calculates the percentage rank for each sales agent.
  • OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount DESC): Orders the agents by sales amount in descending order, ensuring the highest sales amount gets the top rank.

The output would display each sales agent's name, their sales amount, and their percentage rank, where the percentage rank is calculated based on their sales amount compared to other agents. The ranking is done in descending order of sales amounts, with the highest sales figure getting the lowest percentage rank.


The RANK function assigns a rank to each row in a dataset based on the specified ordering, with equal values getting the same rank and creating gaps for subsequent ranks. It is used extensively in leaderboard creation, sales performance analysis, and anywhere relative standings are needed.

The benefit of using RANK is its ability to show the relative position of items within a set, accommodating ties naturally. This is important for accurately reflecting performance or standings in competitive contexts, enabling clear comparisons and facilitating strategic decision-making.

RANK Syntax

RANK() OVER ([PARTITION BY partition_expression] ORDER BY sort_expression)
  • RANK(): Determines the rank of each row within the partition.
  • OVER(): Specifies the window over which the function operates.
  • PARTITION BY partition_expression: Divides the result set into partitions to which the RANK is applied independently.
  • ORDER BY sort_expression: Orders the rows within each partition; the ranking is based on this order.

RANK Example

Suppose we have a sales dataset and want to rank salespersons based on their sales amounts.

The SQL query will look like this:

SELECT salesperson, sales_amount, RANK() OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount DESC) AS sales_rank
FROM salesData


  • salesperson and sales_amount: Columns in the sales table.
  • RANK() OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount DESC): Assigns a rank to each salesperson, with the highest sales amount getting the first rank.

The output of the query will list the salesperson names, their sales_amount, and their sales_rank, where the rank is determined by the sales_amount in descending order. Salespersons with the same sales amount will have the same rank, and the ranking will skip the next number(s) accordingly to reflect ties.

For example, if two salespersons are tied for second place, the next rank will be fourth, not third. This method effectively illustrates the hierarchical structure of sales performance.


ROW_NUMBER provides a straightforward method to assign a unique identifier to each row in a result set, based on the order specified. This function is incredibly useful for tasks that require row-level differentiation, such as generating rankings or identifying the sequence of events.

It is often used in data analysis for creating top-N or bottom-N reports, pagination to display results, or simply to count rows within partitions.


ROW_NUMBER() OVER ([PARTITION BY partition_expression] ORDER BY sort_expression)
  • ROW_NUMBER(): This function generates a sequence of numbers starting from 1.
  • OVER(): Defines the window over which the ROW_NUMBER function operates.
  • PARTITION BY partition_expression: Optional. Divides the result set into partitions to which the ROW_NUMBER is applied independently.
  • ORDER BY sort_expression: Determines the order in which the sequential numbers are assigned to the rows.


Suppose, we are generating a list of individuals from the people table, sorted by their age. Each person is assigned a unique rank based on their age, with the youngest person receiving a rank of 1. This ranking helps in quickly identifying the order of individuals from youngest to oldest, useful for scenarios where age-related prioritization is needed, such as targeting specific age groups for marketing or organizing age-appropriate activities.

The SQL query will look like this:

  ROW_NUMBER() OVER (ORDER BY age) AS age_rank


  • name: This selects the name column from the people table. It will show the names of the individuals in the result.
  • age: This selects the age column from the people table. It will show the ages of the individuals in the result.
  • ROW_NUMBER(): A window function that assigns a unique sequential integer to each row, starting at 1 for the first row in each partition.
  • OVER (ORDER BY age): Defines the window over which the ROW_NUMBER() function operates. Here, it orders the rows by the age column in ascending order.
  • AS age_rank: Assigns the alias age_rank to the new column generated by the ROW_NUMBER() function. This alias is used in the result set to represent the ranking based on age.

The query ranks each person by age from youngest to oldest in the entire dataset. It assigns a rank with no gaps, meaning that even if two people have the same age, they will receive consecutive numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, not 1, 1, 3), and the person with the next distinct age will receive the next sequential number.


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Advanced Data Manipulation Techniques with Numbering Functions

Numbering functions in BigQuery facilitate complex data manipulations, enabling analysts to perform tasks like partitioning datasets, calculating running totals, or creating histograms. Advanced techniques involve nesting functions, using partitions wisely, and understanding the impact of ordering on function results.

Creating Dynamic Rankings with ROW_NUMBER

The ROW_NUMBER() function in BigQuery assigns each row a unique number based on the order you specify. When you use it with partitions, it can automatically update these rankings whenever your data changes. This is especially useful in situations where you need to keep track of rankings over time or among different groups, like in competitive rankings or time-series data analysis.

Unlike simpler uses of ROW_NUMBER() that just count rows, using it with partitions allows for more targeted and dynamic analyses that adapt as new data comes in.


ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY column_name ORDER BY column_name [ASC|DESC])
  • PARTITION BY column_name: Optional, but it segments the data into groups, within which each row is ranked separately.
  • ORDER BY column_name [ASC|DESC]: Determines the order of ranking within each partition, with the highest or lowest value depending on the chosen sort direction.


    Consider a dataset sales_data with monthly sales figures per salesperson across different regions.

    To rank these salespersons within each region by their sales amounts, you would use the following syntax.

    SELECT salesperson, region, sales_amount,
    ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY region ORDER BY sales_amount DESC) AS sales_rank
    FROM sales_region;


    • salesperson, region, and sales_amount: Columns in sales_data.
    • PARTITION BY region: Applies ROW_NUMBER() within each region, ensuring salespersons are ranked within their specific region.
    • ORDER BY sales_amount DESC: Assigns rank 1 to the top-selling salesperson in each region, with ranks updating as new sales data comes in.

      This approach enables dynamic and contextual ranking, making ROW_NUMBER() a vital tool for analyzing trends and performances across different segments of your data.

      Segmenting Data with NTILE

      NTILE is a window function in BigQuery that divides ordered dataset rows into a specified number of roughly equal groups or 'tiles'. For standard applications, NTILE simply segments the entire dataset into equal parts, which is ideal for straightforward statistical analyzes and examining overall data distributions.

      In more advanced scenarios, NTILE can be used with the PARTITION BY clause to perform more complex segmentations. This approach allows for the analysis of data distribution within specific subsets or categories of the data, enhancing its utility for detailed, context-specific analytical tasks.


      NTILE(n) OVER (ORDER BY column [PARTITION BY column])
      • n: Specifies how many groups to split the data into.
      • OVER(): Defines the window for the function's operation.
      • PARTITION BY column: Optionally segments the data before applying NTILE.
      • ORDER BY column: Orders the data within each segment.


      A business analyst at a retail company wants to segment monthly sales data into quartiles across different regions to analyze regional performance variations and identify underperforming areas.

        NTILE(4) OVER (PARTITION BY region ORDER BY sales_amount DESC) AS sales_quartile


      • NTILE(4): Divides the sales data into four quartiles within each region.
      • PARTITION BY region: Applies the NTILE() function separately to each region, allowing the analyst to compare regions on a more equivalent basis.
      • ORDER BY sales_amount DESC: Within each region, the sales are ordered from highest to lowest before dividing into quartiles.

      The query outputs a list that includes regions, months, sales amounts, and quartile rankings for each region. Each region’s sales are categorized into four quartiles; the top 25% of the highest sales are in Quartile 1, and the lowest 25% are in Quartile 4. This helps in identifying both high-performing and underperforming months within each region.

      This advanced use of NTILE() is dynamic and multifaceted, considering both geographical (region) and quantitative (sales) dimensions, which offers a nuanced view of performance and helps in targeted decision-making.

      Comparing Records with RANK, ROW_NUMBER and DENSE_RANK

      RANK() and DENSE_RANK() are BigQuery functions used for ranking records. They differ in how they handle ties within the data.

      RANK() assigns a unique rank to each record, skipping ranks after ties (e.g., a tie for first results in the next rank being third). DENSE_RANK() also ranks uniquely but without gaps, ensuring a continuous sequence even after ties. Both functions are useful for comparing data points where duplicates may occur, like in sales or academic grading.

      ROW_NUMBER() assigns a distinct sequential integer to rows within a partition of a result set, starting at 1 for the first row in each partition. Unlike RANK() and DENSE_RANK(), ROW_NUMBER() does not consider the values in the columns when assigning ranks. This means that even if two rows have the same value in the ordered column, they will still receive different row numbers based on their order in the result set.


      SELECT column_name,
      RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY partition_column ORDER BY order_column ASC|DESC) AS rank
      DENSE_RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY partition_column ORDER BY order_column ASC|DESC) AS dense_rank
      ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY partition_column ORDER BY order_column ASC|DESC) AS row_number
      FROM table_name
      • SELECT column_name: Refers to the columns selected from the table. These columns are included in the output of the query for reference or additional context.
      • FUNCTION_NAME(): This could be RANK(), DENSE_RANK(), or ROW_NUMBER(), depending on which ranking function you are using.
      • OVER (...): Specifies how the ranking function will be applied, including partitioning and ordering.
      • AS alias_name: This assigns an alias to the result of the ranking function, which is how it will appear in the output columns.
      • PARTITION BY: This clause is optional but often used to divide the data into partitions or segments, where the ranking function resets for each partition. It's like grouping within groups.
      • partition_column: The column by which the data is partitioned. Each distinct value in this column starts a new group for ranking.
      • ORDER BY: This clause determines the order in which the ranks will be assigned within each partition.
      • order_column: The column used to define the order.
      • ASC|DESC: Specifies whether the ordering should be ascending (ASC) or descending (DESC). Ascending means lower values get lower ranks.
      • FROM table_name: The name of the table from which the data is selected


        To illustrate, consider ranking employees by sales within their departments:

        SELECT employee_id, department, sales,
         RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY department ORDER BY sales DESC) AS rank,
         DENSE_RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY department ORDER BY sales DESC) AS dense_rank,
         ROW_NUMBER() OVER (PARTITION BY department ORDER BY sales DESC) AS dense_rank,
        FROM employee_sales;


        • employee_id: Selects the identifier of each employee from the employee_sales table.
        • department: Selects the department to which each employee belongs.
        • sales: Selects the sales amount for each employee.
        • RANK(): This window function assigns a rank to each row within a partition. The ranking has gaps if there are ties.
        • PARTITION BY department: This part of the OVER clause divides the data into partitions based on the department. The RANK() function is applied within each of these partitions.
        • ORDER BY sales DESC: Orders the rows in each partition by the sales column in descending order. The highest sales in each department get the lowest rank number (i.e., rank 1).
        • AS rank: Assigns the alias rank to the new column created by the RANK() function.
        • DENSE_RANK(): Similar to RANK(), but it assigns ranks without gaps, ensuring a continuous sequence of ranks even in the event of ties.
        • PARTITION BY department, ORDER BY sales DESC, and AS dense_rank: Functions similarly to the RANK() clause, but with continuous ranking.
        • FROM employee_sales: Specifies the employee_sales table as the source of the data from which to select records.

          The rank and dense_rank columns display each employee's rank within their department, with RANK() showing gaps for ties and DENSE_RANK() providing a consecutive ranking.

          This method reveals the comparative performance of employees in each department, highlighting the ranking even when there are ties in sales figures.

          Optimizing BigQuery Performance with Strategic Numbering Function Use

          Optimal use of numbering functions in BigQuery can significantly enhance query performance. Strategies like minimizing the window frame, using approximate functions, and ensuring efficient partitioning and ordering can reduce computation time and resource usage. Performance can be further optimized by understanding the trade-offs between different numbering functions and their impact on execution plans, particularly in large-scale data environments.

          Use Partition Wisely

          Partitioning data effectively is important when utilizing Numbering functions in BigQuery to enhance query performance and manageability. By segmenting data into relevant groups, such as by time periods or geographic areas, BigQuery can process and analyze the data more efficiently.

          • Reduces Scan Amount: Partitioning helps limit the amount of data scanned during a query. By dividing a large table into smaller, manageable segments (partitions) based on specific column values (like date, timestamp, or even integers), BigQuery only scans the partitions that are relevant to the query. This significantly speeds up query execution times, especially in large datasets.
          • Cost Control: In BigQuery, you are charged based on the amount of data processed by your queries. By reducing the data scanned through partitioning, you also reduce the cost associated with running queries.
          • Targeted Data Exploration: Instead of querying the entire dataset, you can focus on partitions that are relevant to your analysis, preventing unnecessary data processing and associated costs.
          • Incremental Updates: You can update or backfill data in specific partitions without affecting the entire table. This is especially useful in scenarios where data arrives in increments (like daily logs or transaction records).
          • Handling Large Datasets: As datasets grow, performance can degrade if the entire dataset needs to be processed for queries. Partitioning scales effortlessly by maintaining consistent performance as data grows, since queries continue to process only relevant partitions.


          If you frequently analyze sales data by quarter, partitioning the data by time frame enables BigQuery to scan only the relevant subset of data for each query.

          For example, partitioning a sales table by quarter would make queries filtering on a specific quarter much faster as BigQuery would only process the data for that quarter, rather than scanning the entire dataset.

          In the previous section, we discussed the same with ROW_NUMBER, and NTILE function. Those are some real examples of how partitioning can be used for efficiency.

          Apply Ordering for Meaningful Sequences

          In BigQuery, the ordering of data within numbering functions like RANK(), DENSE_RANK(), and ROW_NUMBER() is important. The sequence defined by the ORDER BY clause directly influences the analytical significance of the resulting numbers and can affect query performance.

          Ordering can also prioritize data based on business rules or analytical needs. For example, in a sales dataset, ordering by the sales amount before applying a ranking function helps identify top-performing products or sales regions.


          SELECT ticket_id, received_time, priority, 
                 RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY priority ORDER BY received_time) AS rank
          FROM support_tickets;


          • ticket_id: Selects the identifier of each support ticket from the support_tickets table. This is likely a unique identifier for each ticket.
          • received_time: Selects the timestamp or date-time when each ticket was received. This information is used to order the tickets within each priority group.
          • priority: Selects the priority level of each ticket. This field is used to partition the data, so that tickets are ranked within each priority group.
          • RANK(): A window function that assigns a rank to each row within a partition of the result set, with ties receiving the same rank and a gap in the subsequent ranks.
          • PARTITION BY priority: This part of the OVER clause specifies that the ranking should be reset and applied separately within each group of tickets that have the same priority.
          • ORDER BY received_time: This specifies that within each priority group, tickets should be ordered by the time they were received. The earliest ticket within each priority group gets the rank 1.
          • AS rank: This assigns the alias rank to the new column created by the RANK() function. This alias is used in the result set to represent the ranking of tickets based on the received time within their respective priority groups.

          This approach illustrates how careful ordering can provide meaningful sequences that enhance the understanding of data trends, prioritize actions, and facilitate detailed performance analysis.

          Choose Your Operators Carefully

          Selecting the right operators in SQL queries, especially when using numbering functions in BigQuery, can greatly enhance query performance. Efficient operators reduce the amount of work BigQuery must do, indirectly speeding up the execution of numbering functions.


          In BigQuery, JOIN and INTERSECT are used to structure and refine datasets that can then be processed with numbering functions such as ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK(). Although these set operations and join techniques are not embedded within numbering functions themselves, they play a crucial role in preparing the data.

          For instance, a JOIN can be used to combine data from different tables, allowing a comprehensive dataset to be formed which is then subject to ranking or ordering through numbering functions. This is particularly useful for creating rankings within specific groups or partitions that are defined by the joined tables.

          Conversely, INTERSECT might be employed in more complex queries to filter datasets to only include records common to multiple data sources or conditions, upon which numbering functions can then be applied to assign ranks or sequence numbers based on specified criteria.

          Apply Limit on the Maximum Number of Resources

          When working with BigQuery, especially with numbering functions, it's important to keep an eye on the resources your queries use. BigQuery allows a maximum of 1000 unique resources like tables, views, and functions in a single query after it's fully expanded. Staying within this limit ensures your queries are optimized for better performance.

          To maintain efficiency, focus on minimizing the number of tables and functions referenced in your queries. This reduction can lead to less complex queries, which are faster to execute and easier to maintain.

          Instead of querying many small tables, consider consolidating data into fewer, larger tables where appropriate. This approach can reduce the number of resources accessed during query execution.


          Instead of querying multiple tables like this:

          SELECT RANK() OVER (ORDER BY total_sales DESC) AS rank
          FROM (
              SELECT * FROM sales_region1
              UNION ALL
              SELECT * FROM sales_region2
              UNION ALL
              SELECT * FROM sales_region3

          Consolidate data beforehand and query a single, comprehensive table:

          SELECT RANK() OVER (ORDER BY total_sales DESC) AS rank
          FROM consolidated_sales_data;

          In the initial approach using Multiple Tables:

          • SELECT RANK() OVER (ORDER BY total_sales DESC) AS rank: This part of the query calculates the rank of each record based on total_sales in descending order.
          • FROM (...): The FROM clause here indicates that the data source is a subquery.
          • SELECT * FROM sales_region1 UNION ALL SELECT * FROM sales_region2 UNION ALL SELECT * FROM sales_region3 ...: Inside the subquery, data is being combined from multiple tables (like sales_region1, sales_region2, sales_region3, etc.) using the UNION ALL operator. This suggests that the query is aggregating data from different regional sales tables.

          The optimized approach uses a Consolidated Table “consolidated_sales_data” and directly accesses a single table. This implies that the data from various regions has been pre-consolidated into this table, simplifying and potentially speeding up the query process.

          Avoid Cross Joins

          Cross joins create a combination of every row from two datasets, often leading to a massive increase in data volume. This can negatively impact the performance of Numbering functions by forcing them to operate on much larger datasets than necessary.

          To ensure that numbering functions like ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK() are efficient and resource-friendly, it's important to avoid unnecessary cross joins. Instead, use more selective joins, such as inner or left joins, based on relevant keys or conditions. This approach helps focus on the most relevant data, reducing the computational load and improving query performance.


          Consider you have two tables, employees and departments, and you want to rank employees within their departments. Instead of using a cross join, which would pair every employee with every department, use an inner join to combine records only where department IDs match:


          SELECT, as department, RANK() OVER (PARTITION BY e.department_id ORDER BY e.salary DESC) as rank
          FROM employees e
          INNER JOIN departments d ON e.department_id = d.department_id;
          • RANK() OVER (...): The RANK() function is used to provide a ranking of employees based on the criteria specified within the OVER clause.
          • PARTITION BY e.department_id: This part of the window function divides the result set into partitions based on the department ID. The ranking will restart for each department.
          • ORDER BY e.salary DESC: This orders the employees in each department partition by their salary in descending order, so the employee with the highest salary in each department gets the rank 1.

          This SQL query efficiently ranks employees within their respective departments, limiting the operation to relevant data pairs and avoiding the performance hit associated with cross joins.

          💡If combining datasets manually is causing you trouble, leverage SQL functions like JOIN and UNION to streamline your data merging tasks. For a detailed understanding of these powerful SQL functions, check out our complete guide on JOIN and UNION in SQL.

          Dive deeper with this read

          Understanding the Difference Between JOIN and UNION in BigQuery SQL

          Image for article: Understanding the Difference Between JOIN and UNION in BigQuery SQL

          Avoid Non-cacheable Results

          To enhance query performance in BigQuery, it's important to minimize the use of functions or operations that generate non-cacheable results.

          • Using functions that return a different result each time, such as NOW(), means that BigQuery has to execute the query afresh on each run, thereby not benefiting from cached results. This can lead to increased execution times and higher resource usage. Before running your main query, it's suggested to compute dynamic values such as NOW() or other timestamps and store these in a temporary or permanent table.
          • If your query uses numbering functions like RANK() and relies on dynamic values such as current timestamps, each execution is unique and cannot be cached. To improve caching, replace dynamic functions with static equivalents. For example, pass timestamps as parameters from your application or use fixed timestamps that update regularly, reducing the need for repeated computations.
          • To enhance query performance, minimize reliance on non-cacheable functions by using static or pre-computed values that enable BigQuery caching. Implement materialized views for data requiring frequent queries, such as computed results. These views store and periodically update computed data, making it cacheable and quick to access, particularly for timestamp-based data that doesn't require real-time precision. This approach streamlines processing and improves efficiency.

            Navigating Typical Challenges with BigQuery's Numbering Functions

            Common challenges with BigQuery's numbering functions include handling large data volumes, managing partition skew, and ensuring consistent performance across varying datasets. Addressing these challenges requires a deep understanding of how numbering functions operate and their interaction with BigQuery's architecture.

            Understanding and Resolving NTILE Function Errors

            Understanding and resolving errors with the NTILE function in BigQuery often involves ensuring that the number of tiles specified is a positive integer and does not exceed the number of rows in the partition.

            ⚠️ Error: 

            NTILE function error occurs when the number of tiles is NULL, zero, negative, or exceeds the row count in the partition.

            ✅ Solution:

            Make sure the integer used in the NTILE function is positive and does not exceed the number of rows. Use checks or the COALESCE function to prevent invalid values.


            NTILE(COALESCE(your_value, default_positive_value))
            • NTILE function: This function is used to divide the result set into a specified number of equally sized groups. The argument passed to NTILE specifies how many groups (or "tiles") the result set should be divided into. It must be a positive integer.
            • COALESCE function: This function is used to return the first non-NULL value in a list of arguments. In this context, it ensures that NTILE receives a valid, non-NULL argument. If your_value is NULL or not specified, COALESCE will return default_positive_value instead.
            • your_value: This is the variable or expression that you intend to pass to the NTILE function. It represents the number of groups you want to divide your result set into.
            • default_positive_value: This is a fallback value that COALESCE uses if your_value is NULL or invalid. It ensures that the NTILE function always receives a valid number of tiles to operate with. This value must be a positive integer and acts as a safety measure to prevent errors.

            The use of COALESCE in this syntax is a safeguard against potential issues such as your_value being NULL or not a positive integer, ensuring that NTILE always has a valid and appropriate number of groups to divide the data into.


            NTILE(COALESCE(your_value, 1))

            By using NTILE(COALESCE(your_value, 1)), we ensure that NTILE will not fail due to an invalid number of groups and will default to creating one single group if no valid number is provided, ensuring the stability and reliability of your SQL query.

            Addressing the "Resources Exceeded" Error with ROW_NUMBER and ARRAY_AGG

            The "Resources Exceeded" error in BigQuery typically occurs when processing very large datasets, especially when using the ROW_NUMBER function with an ORDER BY clause. This situation can overload the system's capacity to handle the data in a single go.

            ⚠️ Error:

            The "Resources Exceeded" error occurs in BigQuery when large datasets are processed with the ROW_NUMBER function alongside an ORDER BY clause, overwhelming the system's capacity. This error surfaces when BigQuery attempts to sort and assign row numbers to a vast number of records using the ROW_NUMBER() function with ORDER BY on large datasets.

            ✅ Solution:

            Employ the ARRAY_AGG() function combined with ORDER BY and LIMIT within the aggregation to minimize the data load. This technique selects a smaller, manageable subset of data, like the top-n records per group, which alleviates the system's resource strain.


            SELECT category, ARRAY_AGG(data ORDER BY some_metric DESC LIMIT 1)[OFFSET(0)] AS top_record FROM large_dataset GROUP BY category
            • ARRAY_AGG(data ORDER BY some_metric DESC LIMIT 1): Aggregates data within each group, sorts it by some_metric in descending order, and limits the output to the top record, thus reducing the data volume.
            • [OFFSET(0)]: Retrieves the first element from the aggregated array, yielding the top record per group.


              SELECT product_type, ARRAY_AGG(sales_data ORDER BY total_sales DESC LIMIT 1)[OFFSET(0)] AS top_selling_product FROM sales_records_table GROUP BY product_type


              • product_type: Specifies the category for grouping in the query.
              • sales_records: The table containing the dataset being queried.

                By using ARRAY_AGG with ORDER BY and LIMIT, BigQuery can efficiently process large datasets without exceeding resource limits.

                Resolving Data Skew in Partitioned Queries

                To address data skew in partitioned queries, first identify skew by analyzing partition size distribution, such as a region-based partition where one region's data significantly outweighs others. Skew often results from uneven distribution or partitioning on non-uniform columns, impacting query performance and resource utilization.

                ⚠️ Error:

                Data skew in BigQuery occurs when data distribution across partitions is imbalanced, notably with numbering functions like ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), or NTILE(), causing uneven workload distribution.

                ✅ Solution:

                To address data skew in BigQuery, especially with numbering functions, consider the following strategies:

                • Re-evaluate Partitioning Keys: Choose partitioning keys that ensure more even data distribution, aligned with the logic of the numbering functions.
                • Implement Clustering: Cluster tables on columns used in numbering functions to organize data within partitions better and reduce skew.
                • Dynamic Partitioning with NTILE(): Use NTILE() to dynamically create a number of partitions based on data volume or distribution, promoting even data distribution.
                • Adjust Numbering Function Logic: Modify the logic of numbering functions, like opting for DENSE_RANK() instead of ROW_NUMBER(), to lessen skew when duplicate values are prevalent.
                • Analyze and Optimize Query Performance: Regularly monitor and analyze query performance to detect and address data skew by refining partitioning and clustering strategies.

                  There is no specific SQL syntax for this strategy because it focuses on general data management practices rather than a particular query change.

                  Incorrect Determination of the Number of Groups

                  When using the NTILE function, one common mistake is incorrectly determining the number of groups.

                  ⚠️ Error:

                  If the number of rows in the set does not evenly divide into the number of groups, some groups may contain more rows than others. In this case, BigQuery will issue a warning, and the last group will have more rows than the others.

                  ✅ Solution:

                  Recalculate the number of rows or adjust the number of groups to ensure an even distribution.


                  SELECT value, NTILE(num_groups) OVER (ORDER BY value) AS group_number
                  FROM dataset
                  • SELECT: Selects the column value from the dataset.
                  • NTILE(num_groups) OVER (ORDER BY value): Divides the rows into specified number of groups ordered by the value column.This should be added carefully.
                  • AS group_number: Assigns the resulting group number to a new column called group_number.


                    SELECT full_name, 
                    NTILE(2) OVER (ORDER BY full_name) AS group_number_2,
                    NTILE(3) OVER (ORDER BY full_name) AS group_number_3
                    FROM scores_student


                    • NTILE(2) OVER (ORDER BY full_name): Divides the rows into 2 groups ordered by the value column for more even distribution.

                    If you have 10 rows and divide them into 3 groups, consider adjusting to 2 or 5 groups for a more even distribution.

                    Improper Data Sorting

                    Another common mistake with the NTILE function is related to improper data sorting.

                    ⚠️ Error:

                    If the data is not properly sorted before applying NTILE, the results can be unpredictable. For example, if the data is sorted in descending order, the first group will contain rows with the highest values, which may be unexpected.

                    ✅ Solution:

                    Ensure data is correctly sorted before applying NTILE to get the desired grouping.


                    SELECT column, NTILE(num_groups) OVER (ORDER BY column ASC) AS group_number
                    FROM table_name
                    • SELECT: Selects the appropriate column from the dataset.
                    • NTILE(num_groups) OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount ASC): Divides the rows into a specified number of groups ordered by the mentioned column under select in ascending order.
                    • AS group_number: Assigns the resulting group number to a new column called group_number.


                      Sort data in ascending order to distribute the rows evenly across groups based on the sorted values.

                      SELECT sales_agent, sales_amount, NTILE(4) OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount ASC) AS group_number
                      FROM sales_agent_data


                      • SELECT sales_amount: Selects the column sales_amount from the dataset.
                      • NTILE(4) OVER (ORDER BY sales_amount ASC): Divides the rows into 4 groups ordered by the sales_amount column in ascending order.

                        By sorting in ascending order, the rows are evenly distributed from the lowest to the highest sales amounts across the 4 groups.

                        Memory Issues with Large Datasets

                        The NTILE function can consume a significant amount of memory, especially when dealing with large datasets and dividing them into a large number of groups.

                        ⚠️ Error:

                        If the dataset you are working with is too large, the NTILE function can consume a large amount of memory, leading to an increase in query execution time or even its unsuccessful completion due to lack of memory.

                        ✅ Solution:

                        Use APPROX_QUANTILES instead. This function allows for more efficient query execution since it does not require a global ORDER BY for all rows in the table.


                        SELECT column, APPROX_QUANTILES(column, num_groups)
                        FROM table_name
                        • column: This is the first element in the SELECT clause and it represents the column from which you are selecting data. This could be any column in your table that you want to include in your output for reference.
                        • APPROX_QUANTILES(column, num_groups): This function is used to calculate approximate quantiles for the specified column.
                        • column: The column from which the quantiles are calculated. It should be a numeric or datetime column, depending on what quantiles you are interested in.
                        • num_groups: The number of quantiles you want to calculate. For instance, if you specify 100, it divides the data into 100 quantiles. This number effectively represents how many groups you want to split your data into.
                        • table_name: Specifies the name of the table from which the data is being selected. Replace table_name with the actual name of your database table.


                          WITH random_values AS (
                              RAND() AS random_value
                          quantile_boundaries AS (
                              APPROX_QUANTILES(random_value, 100) AS quantiles
                                SELECT boundary
                                FROM UNNEST(quantiles) AS boundary
                                WHERE random_value >= boundary
                            ) + 1 AS group_number
                          ORDER BY


                          • WITH random_values AS: The random_values subquery generates a random value random_value for each transaction_id.
                          • quantile_boundaries: This subquery uses APPROX_QUANTILES to calculate quantile boundaries based on the random values.
                          • APPROX_QUANTILES: This is calculating the approximate quantiles for the data in the column.
                          • random_value: This is the column from the large_dataset on which the quantile calculation is being performed.
                          • 100: Indicates that the data is to be divided into 100 quantiles. This means the function will provide 100 cut points (including the maximum value) that divide the column data into 100 approximately equal-sized groups.
                          • Assigning groups to each record:
                            • The main query joins random_values and quantile_boundaries.
                            • For each record, the query counts how many quantile boundaries (from the quantiles array) are less than or equal to the random_value, thereby determining the group number for each order.
                            • ARRAY_LENGTH and the subquery with UNNEST are used to count the number of boundaries that are less than or equal to the random_value. Adding 1 gives us group numbers ranging from 1 to 100.

                              By using APPROX_QUANTILES, you can achieve a similar distribution of data without the heavy memory usage that NTILE might cause.

                              Expand Your Knowledge with These BigQuery Guides

                              If you aim to advance your skills in Google BigQuery, it's crucial to understand its more complex functions and capabilities:

                              • Date Functions: Master these functions to manipulate and analyze time-series data more effectively.
                              • Conversion Functions: Learn how to efficiently transform data types and formats within your BigQuery datasets.
                              • Array Functions: Explore these functions to handle and process arrays within your queries for dynamic data structuring.
                              • String Functions: Utilize these functions to manipulate and analyze textual data efficiently in your queries.
                              • DML (Data Manipulation Language): Gain proficiency in DML to perform updates, deletions, and insertions, efficiently modifying data stored in BigQuery.
                              • Aggregate Functions: Understand these functions to perform calculations over a range of values, crucial for summarizing data insights in your queries.
                              • Datetime Functions: Get skilled in datetime functions to handle, manipulate, and analyze date and time data, enhancing the precision of your time-related queries.

                              Optimize Your Data Analysis with OWOX BI BigQuery Reports Extension

                              The OWOX BI BigQuery Reports Extension enhances data analysis by offering seamless integration with BigQuery, allowing for the creation of detailed reports and dashboards directly from your datasets. This tool simplifies the data analysis process, making it more efficient and effective in driving decision-making.


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                              Expand all Close all
                              • How does using WINDOW functions with numbering functions like ROW_NUMBER() enhance data analysis in BigQuery compared to traditional methods?

                                Window functions allow for more complex calculations across a set of table rows related to the current row. Using ROW_NUMBER() with window functions enhances data analysis by:

                                • Providing more detailed and flexible analysis over partitions of data.
                                • Allowing for running totals, moving averages, and other cumulative metrics without the need for subqueries or complex joins.
                                • mproving performance and readability of queries compared to traditional methods.
                              • What strategies can I employ to resolve the "Resources Exceeded" error when using ROW_NUMBER() with large datasets in BigQuery?

                                To resolve this, consider:

                                • Filtering data before applying ROW_NUMBER().
                                • Breaking down large queries into smaller chunks.
                                • Increasing the BigQuery slot allocation if possible.
                              • Can CUME_DIST() be used to identify outliers in my dataset in BigQuery, and if so, how?

                                CUME_DIST() can be used to identify outliers in your dataset in BigQuery. The CUME_DIST() function computes the cumulative distribution of a value in a set of values. Here's how you can use it to identify outliers:

                                SELECT * FROM ( SELECT value, CUME_DIST() OVER (ORDER BY value) AS cume_dist FROM student_grades ) WHERE ROUND(cume_dist, 2) > 0.83 OR ROUND(cume_dist, 2) < 0.33

                                In this query, values significantly higher or lower than the majority can be considered outliers. We round the cumulative distribution to two decimal places and filter out values that fall in the top 17% or bottom 33% of the distribution.

                                However, it's important to note that we can use this function in the SELECT block but cannot use it in the WHERE or HAVING blocks directly. We can use it in WHERE or HAVING only after calculating the metric beforehand. Therefore, the query is structured with a subquery to calculate the cumulative distribution first and then apply the filtering condition.

                              • What are some common scenarios for using the PERCENT_RANK() function in business analytics within BigQuery?

                                PERCENT_RANK() calculates the relative rank of a row within a partition as a percentage. Common use cases include:

                                • Determining sales performance relative to peers.
                                • Ranking employees based on performance metrics.
                                • Analyzing customer behavior against the broader dataset.
                              • How can I use NTILE() function in BigQuery for data segmentation across different demographics?

                                The NTILE() function divides sorted rows into a specified number of approximately equal buckets. It's useful for data segmentation, such as:

                                SELECT NTILE(4) OVER (ORDER BY column_name) AS quartile, *FROM table_name_salesWHERE demographic_column = 'demographic_1'

                                This query segments the data into quartiles based on the specified column, which can be adjusted for different demographics.

                              • What are the key differences between ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK() functions in BigQuery?

                                • ROW_NUMBER(): Assigns a unique number to each row starting from 1, based on the order specified in the ORDER BY clause. If two rows are equal based on the ORDER BY criteria, they will still receive different row numbers, essentially making it a sequential numbering.
                                • RANK(): Assigns a rank to each row with the same rank for tie values, but the next rank will be incremented based on the total number of ties. For example, if two rows tie for rank 1, the next row will have rank 3.
                                • DENSE_RANK(): Similar to RANK(), but without gaps in the rank values. Following the previous example, if two rows tie for rank 1, the next row will have rank 2.

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