3 Ways to Perform an Excel SQL Query

Excel SQL Query

3 Ways to Perform an Excel SQL Query

Howdee! Excel is a great tool for performing data analysis. However, sometimes getting the data we need into Excel can be cumbersome and take a lot of time when going through other systems. You’re also at the mercy of how a disparate system exports data, and may need an additional step between exporting and getting the data into the format you need. If you have access to the database where the data is housed, you can circumvent these steps and create your own custom Excel SQL query.

To follow along with my below demos, you’ll need to have an instance of SQL server installed on your desktop. If you don’t, you can download the trial version, developer version, or free express version here. I’ll be working with the free developer version in this article. I’m also using a sample database that you can download here. The easiest way to install this is using SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). That download is available here. Once you open SSMS, it should automatically detect your local server instance. You must ensure your SQL Server User is running as the “Local Client” and then you can create a blank database, and restore that database from the backup file. If you have issues accomplishing this, let me know in the comments and I’ll elaborate on how this is done.

If you are familiar enough with SQL and have access to your own data, you can skip these steps and use your data. Otherwise, I recommend downloading these tools before getting started. If you’re new to SQL, I highly recommend the SQL Essential Training courses on Lynda.com. Now, on to why you’re all here…

Excel SQL Query Using Get Data

This option is the most straight forward approach to creating an Excel SQL query. However, it is important to note that this approach is only available in Excel 2013 and later and will not currently work on Mac OSX. To get started, select “Get Data” à “From Database” à “From SQL Server Database” as shown in the screen grab. At this point it will pop-up a prompt to enter your server name and the target database you’re wanting to query (you can get this information from SSMS). You can enter this information and then select “OK”. This will allow you to browse available tables from that database to import. You can remove columns and filter tables before importing. If you do not know how to write SQL queries yet, this is one approach you can take.

However, if you select the “Advanced” dropdown arrow, you can create your own custom Excel SQL query. I usually create my query in SSMS or Visual Studio and then just paste the final query in this window. That is because there is no intellisense in this window and it can be difficult to spot errors in your query. Once you select OK, it will ask you to confirm credentials and you may get an error about encryption. This is common when connecting to databases in this manner and nothing to worry about. The next screen will provide an example of your data and you can select “Load” to import it.

Excel SQL Query

This will create a table on a new tab and you’ll also notice a new pane on the right titled “Connections & Queries”. It will display the name of your query (defaults to “Query1”, “Query2”, etc.) and you can rename the query by right-clicking and selecting “Rename”. You can also edit the query from this location as well. It will open up an interface with a sample of your data and you can add/remove columns, filter your data, or edit your source query from here.

Excel SQL Query

Now that you’ve set up this Excel SQL query, you can simply refresh the data set with fresh data anytime by clicking “Refresh All” on the “Data” ribbon. A quick side note here. If you pivot this data, “Refresh All” will refresh pivot tables first and then the query. To update your pivot table, you’ll need to refresh all twice or update your pivot table manually. To me, one of the downsides of this approach is the results are always returned in a table. I personally do not like working with tables in Excel. That’s where using VBA for your SQL query can come in handy.

Excel SQL Query Using VBA

Using VBA to create your Excel SQL query is not as straight forward as the previous approach, but can still be an extremely useful method depending on your situation. I particularly like that the data is not returned to a table unless you designate it to be so. This technique will work on older versions of Microsoft Excel but will not work on Mac OSX versions of Excel since it uses and ADO connection.

To get started, open up the VBA editor by pressing alt+F11. Before beginning to write your code, you’ll need to ensure that the “Microsoft ActiveX Data Objects 2.0 Library” is referenced from the VBA Project. To do this, click on “Tools” in the ribbon menu at the top of the VBA editor. In the popup, ensure the library is checked as shown below. This allows the project to use the ADO connectors to create the connection to your database. Next, let’s dimension a few variables.

Excel SQL Query


Dim Conn As New ADODB.Connection
Dim recset As New ADODB.Recordset
Dim sqlQry As String, sConnect As String

The Conn variable is will be used to represent the connection between our VBA project and the SQL database. The receset variable will represent a new record set through which we will give the command to perform our Excel SQL query using the connection we’ve established. Finally, the sqlQry variable will represent a string variable that is our SQL query command, and the sConnect variable will be a string representing the connection string the database requires. Let’s look at how to use these variables to perform a SQL query.


sqlQry = "select top 1000 si.InvoiceID, si.InvoiceDate, sc.CustomerName from Sales.Invoices si" & _
             " left join sales.Customers sc on sc.CustomerID = si.CustomerID"

sConnect = "Driver={SQL Server};Server=[Your Server Name Here]; Database=[Your Database Here];Trusted_Connection=yes;"

Conn.Open sConnect

Set recset = New ADODB.Recordset

    recset.Open sqlQry, Conn
    Sheet2.Cells(2, 1).CopyFromRecordset recset
    recset.Close

Conn.Close

Set recset = Nothing

While this may look complex, each step is relatively simple. Firstly, we set our sqlQry variable equal to a string that represents the syntax of our SQL query. We then create a connection string we can use in our next command to connect to the database. So, “Conn.Open” is the command to open the connection and “sConnect” is the string it uses to do so. “Trusted_Connection=yes” means that the connection will attempt to be established using your Microsoft credentials for the account you’re logged in as.

Now that the connection is open, we can open a new record set and pass it the sql command using the sqlQry variable, and tell it which connection to use by passing it the Conn variable. We can then use the VBA command “CopyFromRecordset” to paste the recordset anywhere in our workbook. It’s important to close both the record set and connection at this point. You also want to set your recset variable equal to nothing so it does not eat up valuable resources.

One of the downsides to using this method is that you must explicitly tell Excel some things that the previous approach did automatically. For example, this SQL query will not return any column headers. Therefore, you must explicitly tell Excel what to label your columns. Secondly, the data is not automatically cleared and the new query imported. You must also explicitly tell Excel to do this as well. Here is the final code with those commands added.


Sub SQL_Example()
Dim Conn As New ADODB.Connection
Dim recset As New ADODB.Recordset
Dim sqlQry As String, sConnect As String

Sheet2.Cells.ClearContents

sqlQry = "select top 1000 si.InvoiceID, si.InvoiceDate, sc.CustomerName from Sales.Invoices si" & _
            " left join sales.Customers sc on sc.CustomerID = si.CustomerID"

sConnect = "Driver={SQL Server};Server=[Your Server Name Here]; Database=[Your Database Name Here];Trusted_Connection=yes;"

Conn.Open sConnect
Set recset = New ADODB.Recordset

    recset.Open sqlQry, Conn
    Sheet2.Cells(2, 1).CopyFromRecordset recset
    recset.Close

Conn.Close
Set recset = Nothing

Sheet2.Cells(1, 1) = "Invoice ID"
Sheet2.Cells(1, 2) = "Invoice Date"
Sheet2.Cells(1, 3) = "Customer Name"

End Sub

My preference for using this approach is when I want the user to be able to pass parameters to my Excel SQL query. For example, I might have a dropdown of customer names the user could select. By using this tactic, I can easily add a dropdown of customer names the user can select, and pass that value to my SQL query in a where clause.

As you can see, both the built in Excel SQL query and the VBA method have pros and cons. I employ both in my everyday work depending on what situation I find myself in.

Excel SQL Query Using Microsoft Query

This option is likely the most complex option, but it has the added advantage of being compatible with some versions of Mac OSX. I won’t pretend to be an expert at creating Mac OSX compatible tools for Excel, but I have successfully used this implementation to create an embedded Excel SQL query for Macs in the past.

I also like this method because you can create popup style parameters. For example, you can prompt the user to input date range parameters at the time the SQL query is ran. Like the first example, running this query is as easy as clicking “Refresh All” on the Data ribbon. Let’s dive in to the details.

To get started here, click “Get Data” on the Data ribbon. In the menu that dropdowns select “From Other Sources” and, finally “From Microsoft Query”.

Excel SQL Query

This will open a wizard for you to choose your data source. Double click “<New Data Source>” and you’ll be prompted to enter some information about your data source. Option 1 can be anything you wish that describes your data source. Option 2 should be “SQL Server”. Click “Connect” and it will pop up a third window where you can enter information about the server and login information. Be sure you select the “Options>>” dropdown so you can select the database you’re wanting to connect to.

Excel SQL Query

You’ll now have a new data source in the original window. Double click the data source to bring up a table import wizard. If you want to import an entire table, you can do so here and even filter and sort the data using the import wizard. However, if you want to use your own custom query as we have been, just select any field and go through the wizard and import the data. When you come to screen that asks you if you want to return the data to Excel or edit in a query, return the data to Excel. It will then prompt you to select where you want the data returned in your workbook.

The query will return the data in a table format. To change it to your own custom SQL query, let’s follow these steps:

  • Click anywhere in the data table.
  • On the Excel Data Ribbon, in the “Queries & Connections” group, properties will no longer be grayed out like it normally is. Click this.
  • In the popup – you’ll see another properties icon. Click this.
  • In this popup, select the “Definition” tab and paste your SQL query in the “Command Text” input box.

 

Excel SQL Query

Now you’ve built an Excel SQL Query that can be refreshed anytime the workbook is refreshed. In my screengrab, the “Parameters” button is greyed out. If you want to add parameters to your query, you do so by adding “?” in your command text. That looks like this.

This creates a parameter the end user can interact with. You can have the user be prompted to enter an input when the workbook is refreshed, select a default value, or have it linked to a cell in the workbook. Even though this option is cumbersome to set up, I really enjoy using it. It allows me a lot of flexibility to have the user interact with the data. As I touched on in the beginning, I’ve had success using this option on Microsoft Office for Mac OSX. I don’t want to say this will work 100% of the time on a Mac because I’ve also had it fail. If anyone has any input on this, I’d love to hear from you.

Let me know your thoughts on these approaches in the comments! What other ways do you creatively get data into Excel from SQL data sources?

Cheers!

R

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