What is a cursor in SQL Server?

watch_later 7/15/2023

This article provides an explanation of how you can use and set up a basic cursor in SQL Server. many developers/programmers/people who work with Microsoft SQL Server will have at least heard talk about the cursors. Even if any developers/programmers/people know on a basic level what SQL Server cursors do, they are not always certain when to use cursors and how to write the code to use cursors.

So, In this article, I gonna show you how to use cursors, the Life Cycle of the cursor, when to use a cursor, how to declare a cursor, the limitations of the cursor in SQL Server well as also provide a basic example so you can understand this concept clearly.

Table of Contents

  • Explain What is a cursor in SQL Server?
  • Explain the Use of the cursors.
  • Explain the Life Cycle of the cursor.
  • Explain the cursor With an Example.

Requirement of Example

  • Create a Temporary table for students.
  • Insert some dummy records into the created table for demonstrations.
  • Generate/Update student enrollment numbers based on the branch, year, and student roll no using the cursor.

What is a cursor in SQL Server?

A Cursor is a SQL Server database object that is used to manipulate data in a result set on a row-by-row basis. It acts as a loop just like the looping mechanism found in any other programming language like C#, VB.Net, C, C++, Java and etc. We can use cursors when we want to do data manipulation operations like update, delete and etc on a SQL Server database table in a singleton fashion in other words row by row.

Use of the cursors

You know that In relational databases, operations are made on a set of rows called result sets. let's take an example, In an SQL Server database SELECT statement returns a set of rows called a result set. Sometimes the application logic needs to work in a singleton fashion on a short row-by-row basis with one row at a time rather than the entire result set at once. This can be done using cursors in SQL Server.

In any programming language, we use a loop like FOREACH, FOR, WHILE, DO WHILE to iterate through one item at a time, the cursor follows the same approach, hence it might be preferred because it follows the same logic as the looping mechanism in the programming language.

Life Cycle of the cursor

Here we will split the life cycle of the cursor into the following 5 different sections.

1. Declare Cursor

Before using a cursor, you first must declare the cursor. So, In this section, we will declare variables and restore an arrangement of values.

2. Open

This is the second section of the life cycle and Once a cursor has been declared, you can open it and fetch from it

3. Fetch

This is the third section of the life cycle and this is used to recover the information push by push from a cursor, in short, you can fetch row by row and make multiple operations like insert, update, delete and etc on the currently active row in the cursor.

4. Close

This is the fourth section of the life cycle When you have finished working with a cursor, you should close the cursor. This leaves some portion of the cursor and is used to close a cursor.

5. Deallocate

This is the fifth and final section of the life cycle and in this section, we erase the cursor definition and discharge all the resources related to the cursor.

Implementation of Example

So, Let's start to Implement an example of the cursor in the SQL server, as per our requirement we will consider an example of a student database where we need to generate the enrollment no of the student based on his/her branch, the year roll number of the student.

Before starting with the cursor I will show you the syntax of the cursor in an SQL server and how you can declare a cursor in an SQL server.

Syntex of Cursor

DECLARE @YourVariables  nvarchar(50)  -- Declare All Required Variables
DECLARE MyCursor_Name CURSOR --- Declare The Name of Your Cursor
 [LOCAL | GLOBAL]--- Define Scope of Your Cursor
 [FORWARD_ONLY | SCROLL] --Define Movement Direction of Your Cursor
 [ KEYSET | DYNAMIC |STATIC | FAST_FORWARD]--Define The Basic Type of Your Cursor
 [  SCROLL_LOCKS | OPTIMISTIC |READ_ONLY ]--Define Locks for Your Cursor
 OPEN MyCursor_Name --Open Your Cursor
 FETCH NEXT FROM MyCursor_Name --Fetch data From Your Cursor
-- Application Logic, Implement SQL QUery Insert, Update, Delete etc.
 CLOSE MyCursor_Name --Close Your Cursor

Now, We will start with our example for demonstration. So, Let's create a table for students and insert some dummy records in the student table as per our requirement.

Create Table

      Id INT ,
      RollNo INT ,
      EnrollmentNo NVARCHAR(15) ,
      Name NVARCHAR(50) ,
      Branch NVARCHAR(50) ,
      University NVARCHAR(50)

Insert Records on Tabel

INSERT  INTO @Students
        ( Id, RollNo, EnrollmentNo, Name, Branch, University )
VALUES  ( 1, 1, N'', N'Nikunj Satasiya', N'CE', N'RK University' ),
        ( 2, 2, N'', N'Hiren Dobariya', N'CE', N'RK University' ),
        ( 3, 3, N'', N'Sapna Patel', N'IT', N'RK University' ),
        ( 4, 4, N'', N'Vivek Ghadiya', N'CE', N'RK University' ),
        ( 5, 5, N'', N'Pritesh Dudhat', N'CE', N'RK University' ),
        ( 5, 5, N'', N'Hardik Goriya', N'EC', N'RK University' ),
        ( 6, 6, N'', N'Sneh Patel', N'ME', N'RK University' )

Create/ Declare Cursor

@RollNo INT,
@Branch NVARCHAR(50) ,
@Year AS INT
    SELECT  Id ,
    FROM    @Students
OPEN MY_data
FETCH NEXT FROM MY_data INTO @Id, @Branch, @RollNo,@Year
        DECLARE @EnrollmentNo NVARCHAR(15)
                SET @EnrollmentNo = 'SOE' + CAST(@Year AS VARCHAR(2)) + CAST(@Branch AS NVARCHAR(50)) + '000' + CAST(@RollNo AS NVARCHAR(10))
                UPDATE @Students SET EnrollmentNo =  @EnrollmentNo WHERE Id =  @Id
        FETCH NEXT FROM MY_data INTO  @Id, @Branch, @RollNo,@Year

Fetch Records from the Database

SELECT * FROM  @Students


If You analyzed the above example then first I have created a temporary table with the name @Students and inserted some dummy records in the table for performing data manipulation operations on data. Now if you retrieve the result set using a SELECT statement then you can see there is in the table the column with the name "EnrollmentNo" has a blank value.

Sql Server Update Student Enrollment No
SQL Server Update Student Enrollment No

Now, as per our requirement, I have declared a cursor to update/generate enrollment no of students one by one. Here I generated "EnrollmentNo" using the last two digits of the current year, the "Branch" of a student, and the roll no of the student.

First, I declared required variables @Id to retrieve the unique identity of the record to perform the update operation, @RollNo, @Branch  to get RollNo and Branch Name of Student to Generate "EnrollmentNo",

Now after variable declaration simply, I declared a cursor with the name "MY_data" and fetch the data row by row from the @Students table and create/ generate "EnrollmentNo" where "SOE" Indicates "School of Engineering", 19 Indicates the Last Two Digits of Current Year and Last Digits of EnrollmentNo Indicates the RollNo of Student and finally update the column "EnrollmentNo" in table @Students with New Generated EnrollmentNo based on unique Identity column @Id for each and every student in the table.

After Updating/Completing all the student's "EnrollmentNo" Finally I closed the created cursor and then Deallocate it to release all the resources related to the cursor.

SQL Server Update Record Using Cursor
SQL Server Update Record Using Cursor


This article provides an explanation about cursors in SQL servers such as when and how you can use the cursor, how to perform data manipulation operations on data of tables such as Insert, update, delete and etc.

Codingvila provides articles and blogs on web and software development for beginners as well as free Academic projects for final year students in Asp.Net, MVC, C#, Vb.Net, SQL Server, Angular Js, Android, PHP, Java, Python, Desktop Software Application and etc.

Thank you for your valuable time, to read this article, If you like this article, please share this article and post your valuable comments.

Once, you post your comment, we will review your posted comment and publish it. It may take a time around 24 business working hours.

Sometimes I not able to give detailed level explanation for your questions or comments, if you want detailed explanation, your can mansion your contact email id along with your question or you can do select given checkbox "Notify me" the time of write comment. So we can drop mail to you.

If you have any questions regarding this article/blog you can contact us on info.codingvila@gmail.com

sentiment_satisfied Emoticon