Temporary Tables vs Common Table Expressions in SQL Server


Common Table Expressions (CTEs) and temporary tables are two effective tools in SQL Server for handling and modifying data inside of queries. Nonetheless, they have unique qualities and fulfil diverse functions. In this article, we will discuss the distinctions between CTEs and temporary tables and provide real-world examples that show how to use each.

Temporary Tables

  • Physical tables created and kept in the tempdb database for the duration of a session or batch are known as temporary tables.
  • They are frequently used to store temporary data or temporary outcomes within a defined scope, like a stored procedure, user-defined function, or session.
  • With the CREATE TABLE statement, temporary tables can be clearly created. Local temporary tables are prefixed with #, whereas global temporary tables are prefixed with ##.
  • They remain active until the end of the time frame or batch, or until they are explicitly dropped.
    ID INT,
    Name VARCHAR(50)

INSERT INTO #TempTable (ID, Name)
VALUES (1, 'Ishika'), (2, 'Mishra');

SELECT * FROM #TempTable;

CTEs (common table expressions)

  • With a WITH clause, CTEs offer a means of defining temporary result sets inside of a query.
  • By dividing large queries into smaller, more manageable components, they are mostly used to increase their readability and maintainability.
  • CTEs are only present while the query is being executed; they are not permanent.
  • Their ability to recursively reference themselves makes them very helpful for recursive or hierarchical inquiries.
    SELECT ID, Name FROM Products WHERE ID > 100

Differences Between Temporary Tables and Common Table Expressions

  • Scope: CTEs are scoped to the particular query in which they are declared, whereas temporary tables are scoped to the session or batch in which they are produced.
  • Persistence: CTEs are not persistent and only exist while the query is being executed, although temporary tables do persist until they are explicitly destroyed.
  • Use: CTEs are used to define temporary result sets within a single query, whereas temporary tables are used to store and handle intermediate results or temporary data.
  • Storage: CTEs are virtual tables that live only in memory, whereas temporary tables are actual tables kept in the tempdb database.


SQL Server's temporary tables and common table expressions (CTEs) are both useful tools for handling and modifying data. CTEs are virtual result sets that are defined within a query, whereas temporary tables are actual tables used to store temporary data within a session or batch. Knowing the differences between them helps developers to select the best tool for their particular needs, resulting in SQL queries that are more effective and manageable.


Q 1. What is the scope of temporary tables in SQL Server?

Ans. Temporary tables are scoped to the session or batch in which they are created. They are visible only within the session or batch and persist until the session ends or until explicitly dropped.

Q 2. How are Common Table Expressions (CTEs) different from temporary tables?

Ans. CTEs are virtual result sets defined within a query, existing only for the duration of the query execution. They are not stored in the database and do not persist beyond the query execution. Temporary tables, on the other hand, are physical tables stored in the tempdb database and persist until explicitly dropped.

Q 3. When should I use temporary tables vs. Common Table Expressions (CTEs)?

Ans. Use temporary tables when you need to store and manipulate intermediate results or temporary data within a session or batch. Use CTEs when you want to improve the readability and maintainability of complex queries by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts.

Q 4. Can I use CTEs recursively in SQL Server?

Ans. Yes, CTEs can be used recursively in SQL Server. This feature allows CTEs to reference themselves within the definition, making them particularly useful for hierarchical or recursive queries.

Q 5. Are there any performance differences between temporary tables and CTEs?

Ans. The performance differences between temporary tables and CTEs can vary depending on the specific use case and the size of the data involved. In general, temporary tables may incur slightly more overhead due to their physical storage, while CTEs are typically more lightweight since they exist only in memory. However, the impact on performance is often negligible for most applications.

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