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Posted 24 Jan 2006

Web control to generate database design documents in HTML

, 24 Jan 2006
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Just 200 lines of VB.NET to document your SQL Server databases.


This code is a server control to publish your database structure (tables, columns, views, triggers, and stored procedures) on the web. It is written in VB.NET but could easily be written in any other language. The control can be nested in any ASPX page, to provide a nicely formatted database design document that is always up-to-date and available online.

DBreporter screenshot


SQL Server stores all database object definitions in its system tables; therefore, it is easy to query it like any other set of database tables. In my example, the relevant dictionary tables are:

  • sysobjects (contains names of tables, views, stored procedures, and triggers).
  • syscolumns (contains column and stored procedure parameter names).
  • systypes (contains column types as displayed in Enterprise Manager).
  • syscomments (contains SQL scripts of views, stored procedures, and triggers).

Partial diagram of SQL Server dictionary:

SQL Server dictionary

Another web control doing the same thing (in C# and XSLT instead of VB.NET) was published by Jose A. Gonzalvo. Because I'm using a different algorithm, and also because I am documenting stored procedures and trigger SQL scripts, I will offer my code to the community.

Using the code

This web control must be nested in an ASPX page like any other web control. It has a property called SqlConnection that specifies the database connection string. The user must be granted read permission to the system tables.

The sample project which comes with it includes a style sheet (with classes RowHeader, RowOdd, RowEven, and SQL) as well as a few pictures to make it look sexy. Do not forget to include them in your project.

The code

My code is divided in three parts:

  • Querying the dictionary
  • Organizing the dataset in a hierarchy
  • Rendering the HTML

The dictionary can be queried in different ways. Using SQL Server 2000, I wrote the following SQL:

'### Objects (Tables, Views, Stored Procedures, Triggers) ###

sql = "SELECT id, name, rtrim(xtype) as xtype " & _
      "FROM sysobjects SO " & _
      "WHERE SO.status>-1 AND SO.xtype in ('U','V','P','TR') " & _
      "ORDER BY name;"

'### Columns or Parameters ###

sql &= "SELECT,, SC.isnullable, AS typename, " & _
       "CASE WHEN SC.xtype = 231 THEN SC.length/2" & _ 
       " ELSE SC.length END AS length " & _
       "FROM systypes ST, syscolumns SC, sysobjects SO " & _
       "WHERE SC.xtype=ST.xtype " & _
         " AND" & _
         " AND SO.status>-1 AND SO.xtype in ('U','V','P') " & _
         " AND ST.length<>256 " & _
       "ORDER BY, SC.colid;"

'### SQL Scripts ###

sql &= "SELECT, SC.text AS sql " & _
       "FROM syscomments SC, sysobjects SO " & _
       "WHERE" & _
         " AND SO.status>-1 AND SO.xtype in ('TR','V','P'); "

To handle data more efficiently, I submit my three queries at once and retrieve the result into a single DataSet.

Building the hierarchy and transforming the DataSet into XML is done as follows:

ds.DataSetName = "dbreport"
ds.Tables(0).TableName = "entity"
ds.Tables(1).TableName = "column"
ds.Tables(2).TableName = "definition"
MaxLoop = ds.Tables.Count - 1
For i = 0 To MaxLoop
    With ds.Tables(i)
        For j = 0 To .Columns.Count - 1
            .Columns(j).ColumnName = LCase(.Columns(j).ColumnName)
            .Columns(j).ColumnMapping = MappingType.Attribute
        .Columns("id").ColumnMapping = MappingType.Hidden
    End With
With ds
    Dim rel1 As DataRelation = .Relations.Add("entity-column", _
        ds.Tables("entity").Columns("id"), _
    rel1.Nested = True
    Dim rel2 As DataRelation = .Relations.Add("entity-definition", _
        ds.Tables("entity").Columns("id"), _
    rel2.Nested = True
End With

The resulting XML will be as follows:

  <entity name="Alphabetical list of products" xtype="V">
    <column name="ProductID" isnullable="0" 

               typename="int" length="4" />
    <column name="ProductName" isnullable="0" 

               typename="nvarchar" length="40" />
    <column name="SupplierID" isnullable="1" 

               typename="int" length="4" />
    <column name="CategoryID" isnullable="1" 

               typename="int" length="4" />
    <definition sql="create view "Alphabetical list of products" 

            AS SELECT Products.*, 

            Categories.CategoryName FROM Categories 

            INNER JOIN Products ON Categories.CategoryID = 

            WHERE (((Products.Discontinued)=0))" />

From this XML document, it is now easy to generate HTML. I do it, using System.Text.StringBuilder, to do string concatenations of HTML tags with the elements and attributes of my XML document. This last transformation could have been done using XSLT as well.


To get column lengths, instead of querying syscolumns.length, I use the following SQL:

CASE WHEN SC.xtype = 231 THEN SC.length/2 ELSE SC.length END AS length

in order to be consistent with Enterprise manager which displays nvarchar as the string length rather than the space it takes to store it.

For more information, a detailed description of SQL Server system tables is available on the MSDN web site.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The MIT License


About the Author

United States United States
I'm a UI engineer for a startup in California. What I really enjoy is to build tools to describe UI in metadata, store that metadata (outside of the code) in a database, XML or JSON, and then dynamically generate the UI at run-time based on that metadata... which I do with my open source project Evolutility.

My articles on the topic:

My GitHub is Evoluteur.

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Comments and Discussions

QuestionMy 5 Pin
MarkDaniel5-Jan-12 13:00
memberMarkDaniel5-Jan-12 13:00 
AnswerRe: My 5 Pin
Olivier Giulieri5-Jan-12 14:00
memberOlivier Giulieri5-Jan-12 14:00 

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