SQL Server XQuery: .modify() method

Continuing with XQuery, today’s post addresses the .modify() method against the xml data type; this method is used to update XML documents by applying one of three XML DML statements (insert, delete, or replace) via the use of a SQL SET statement.  Again, the idea is hand off the work between the XML engine and the SQL engine.  For example, given the following example:

SET @x = '<root><id>1</id></root>'

SET  @x.modify('insert <splat>hello world </splat>
                into /root[1]')


the output of this SQL is the following XML:

  <splat>hello world </splat>

So what happened?  We took a very simple XML document, and passed XML DML into the .modify() method which stated that we should:

  1. insert a new node “<splat>hello world </splat>” into the XML document
  2. into the first instance of the root node (/root[1]).

That’s it; welcome to the world of XML DML (Data Manipulation Language).  The syntax pattern for insert is pretty simple; action (insert) followed by an XML expression (<splat>hello world </splat> followed by the location of a second XML expression (into /root[1])With some minor variation in pattern, these elements hold true for the other two XML DDL statements (delete; replace value of):

action XML expression (1) XML expression (2) Sample
insert node {as first | as last}

into | after | before


SET @x.modify(‘insert <splat>hello world!</splat>

                before (/root/id)[1]’)

delete node **not used** SET @x.modify(‘delete /root/splat[1]’)
replace value of node/value with value SET @x.modify(‘replace value of (/root/id/text())[1] with "2"’)


Of course, the variation in the pattern is what makes this set of commands a challenge to keep straight, so I’ll try to briefly explain the patterns in order of increasing complexity:

  • the delete pattern requires that a node singleton be identified for deletion.  The XML expression must evaluate to a node in the XML document that is being updated.
  • the insert pattern identifies a node to be added either into, before, or after a specific location path.  If an instance of that node already exists, you should specify as first or as last in order to place the new node in the correct sequence.
  • the replace value of requires two XML expressions; the first must evaluate to an existing value (as either an attribute or a text() value of an element).  The second must evaluate to a specific value; a later blog post will show how to use XQuery to dynamically set that value.

One more thing; these examples all use a single XML variable, and issue the SET command against it.  If you’re dealing with a table of XML documents, you can use the SQL UPDATE command to SET the XML column using this XQuery method and XML DML like so:

VALUES ('<id>1</id>'), ('<id>2</id>')

SET x.modify('insert <new>sample</new>
                into /id[1]')


will return a result set like so:



To sum up:

  1. the .modify() method may be used either against an XML variable or an XML column in a table by using the SET statement (alone or in an UPDATE command, respectively), and
  2. there are three basic patterns for XML DML that are passed to the .modify() method, and
  3. the syntax can be confusing but allows for a great deal of fine-grained manipulation of the XML document when needed.

October 3, 2013 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: SQL, SQL Server, SQLServerPedia Syndication, XML

Leave a Reply