DISTINCT can be deceiving

By Barry Harmsen

DISTINCT can be deceiving

Never think you know it all! Today I have for you a little ‘gotcha!’ about the LOAD DISTINCT statement that I picked up from Oleg Troyansky at the Masters Summit for QlikView.

Common knowledge about LOAD DISTINCT is that it will remove duplicate records from the input table, similar to how the DISTINCT clause works in SQL. For example:


However, when used in combination with the JOIN or CONCATENATE statement, the results can be surprising, and even counterintuitive.

The spoiler

When combined with the JOIN or CONCATENATE statement, LOAD DISTINCT will not only remove all duplicates from the input table, but also from the resulting target table.

The case

Consider the following two tables; Sales and Customers:

Sales and Customers tables

You will notice that both tables contain duplicate records, the Sales table contains identical records for ID’s 2 and 3, and the Customers table contains two records for Mickey Mouse. If we JOIN these two tables together using the following script:

Regular LOAD script joining Sales and Customers.

Then the result is the following table:

Sales and Customer tables joined without the DISTINCT clause.

There are no surprises here. There are 4 rows for Mickey Mouse with a Sales Amount of 300, as both tables contained two duplicate rows and 2 x 2, the number of ways in which both records can be joined, equals 4. There are also 2 rows for Donald Duck with a Sales Amount of 400, as the Sales table contained duplicate rows for ID 3.


Now we add one small change to the script, we use LOAD DISTINCT to load the second table:


Since I already revealed the spoiler at the start of this post, that using LOAD DISTINCT with the JOIN or CONCATENATE statements will also remove all duplicates from the target table, you have probably guessed that the previous piece of script results in the following table:

DISTINCT LOAD resulting table

The twist

Now that we’ve seen how LOAD DISTINCT impacts the resulting table, let’s make one small change to the script; instead of using LOAD DISTINCT on the second table we’ll use it on the first table:

LOAD DISTINCT on the first table.

Can you guess what the resulting table is going to look like? Think about it for a second before scrolling down further. When deduplicating the first table and then joining the second table (which also contains duplicates), the result must be something like the one shown below, right?

Using a LOAD DISTINCT on the first table.


Once loaded DISTINCT a table stays distinct.

Oh, and by the way, you’re actually a ghost.

In an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist (ok, so not really), the result is actually exactly the same as when we used LOAD DISTINCT on the second table:

DISTINCT LOAD resulting table

The conclusion

Whenever the DISTINCT clause is used on a table, the table’s records will stay distinct, no matter what you JOIN or CONCATENATE to the table. This can have all sorts of unwelcome consequences, such as duplicate-but-correct facts disappearing from your fact table. Of course, it can also have positive effects; this behavior is very useful when you need your link table to only contain distinct combinations

The advice

Be aware of this behavior in QlikView, if you need to do a DISTINCT LOAD combined with a JOIN or CONCATENATE statement consider if you might be losing duplicate rows, and if this is something that is desirable. If it’s not, then you should probably load the data into a temporary, resident table before joining it to your other data.

The example app

The example application for this post lets you load the example tables in a number of ways and displays the associated script and resulting table.

Download the example application.
Download the example application

Got any other QlikView gotchas? I’d be very interested to hear about them, so please feel free to leave a comment.