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SPDiscover - Testing Large Systems Built on Stored Procedures Rolled into a Simple to Use Program

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4 Sep 2020MIT5 min read 3.9K   1  
Testing large systems built on stored procedures can quickly become unyielding. Here are some thoughts on managing the complexity which have been rolled into a simple to use program
In this article, we look at some background (my absolute go to system stored procedure is sp_helptext), when procedures can be grouped by functionality, and using the program.


As a consultant, I am put in the position getting up and running fast. One of the challenges I repeatedly come across is understanding business logic in the database.

A consistent pattern I find is building subsystems to do work (think calculate commissions or do a daily balance) utilizing stored procedures which in turn are built on more stored procedures.

Using Microsoft SQL Server management studio, you can typically manage viewing the objects (Stored Procedures, Views, Tables, Triggers and dependencies) by right mouse clicking on an object and bringing up a context menu allowing actions on the object. Typically each action is either placed in a new window or a clipboard to copy elsewhere.

Another option is to use built in system stored procedures to do many of the same things. I typically have a set of scripts that I can use to help me be more efficient, I can run multiple statements in a window or copy replace depending on the situation.


My absolute go to system stored procedure is sp_helptext, using this, we can generate the internal code stored which describes the following types:

  • Stored Procedures
  • Views
  • Triggers
  • Functions

sp_helptext will not return the schema for user or system tables. Typically, this would be used in this fashion:

sp_helptext uspprinterror

Which would generate a single column (text) table with rows for each row in the definition.

-- uspPrintError prints error information about the error that caused
-- execution to jump to the CATCH block of a TRY...CATCH construct.
-- Should be executed from within the scope of a CATCH block otherwise
-- it will return without printing any error information.
CREATE PROCEDURE [dbo].[uspPrintError]

    -- Print error information.
    PRINT 'Error ' + CONVERT(varchar(50), ERROR_NUMBER()) +
          ', Severity ' + CONVERT(varchar(5), ERROR_SEVERITY()) +
          ', State ' + CONVERT(varchar(5), ERROR_STATE()) +
          ', Procedure ' + ISNULL(ERROR_PROCEDURE(), '-') +
          ', Line ' + CONVERT(varchar(5), ERROR_LINE());

When I want to see the table schema, I use dynamic SQL which I found at this link.

This will return the table definition in a similar fashion.

Finally, you might want to determine dependent objects of a stored procedure so that you could more easily identify items of interest. This is also dynamically created using a union of the sys.object where {0} is the object name and {1} is the schema name.

 select + '.' + as Name, do.type as Type,1
  from sys.objects as o
  join sys.objects as do on do.object_id = o.object_id
  join sys.schemas as sch_o on sch_o.schema_id = o.schema_id
  join sys.schemas as sch_do on sch_do.schema_id = do.schema_id
where = '{0}' and = '{1}'
  and = '{0}' and = '{1}'
select + '.' + as Name, do.type as Type,2
from sys.objects as o
  join sys.sql_expression_dependencies as d on d.referencing_id = o.object_id
  join sys.objects as do on = d.referenced_entity_name
  join sys.schemas as sch_o on sch_o.schema_id = o.schema_id
  join sys.schemas as sch_do on sch_do.schema_id = do.schema_id
  ( = '{0}' and = '{1}') and( != '{0}' or != '{1}')
select + '.' + as Name, do.type as Type,3
from sys.objects as o
  join sys.triggers as d on d.parent_id = o.object_id
  join sys.objects as do on do.object_id = d.object_id
  join sys.schemas as sch_o on sch_o.schema_id = o.schema_id
  join sys.schemas as sch_do on sch_do.schema_id = do.schema_id
  ( = '{0}' and = '{1}') and( != '{0}' _
   or != '{1}') order by 3", tableName, schemaName);

In the above code, sys.sql_expression_dependencies is used to also find unbound schema entities. This is useful if you create a stored procedure which calls a procedure which hasn't been created yet.

Tying It Together

After finding myself using the preceding techniques over and over, I decided to encapsulate these into a small program which I use to help me.

The program included uses these to generate a single file per object in either text or HTML format for which I have included source code. Each file has an extra section added to the bottom which is that object's dependencies. In HTML mode, they are hyper linked to each other.

In addition, the program illustrates other techniques including recursion, and using a T4 template to embed and create a dynamic HTML file.

A Quick Note on T4

Typically, T4 templates are used at design time rather than at runtime. When picking the T4 templates, there will be one for a Text Template and one for the Runtime Text Template. The differences in the TT files are minor, Text Template adding a default output extension and a debugging directive. Additionally, the Text Template will have its Custom Tool property set to 'TextTemplatingFileGenerator' The Runtime Text Template will have a value of 'TextTemplatingFilePreprocessor'.

Finally, the runtime generation is accomplished with the following code:

Helpers.CurrProcText = DBText.ToString();

PageHTM template = new PageHTM();
string pageContent = template.TransformText();

File.WriteAllText(string.Format("{0}.htm", spName), pageContent);

In my case, I simply replaced the default TT file with an HTML template and renamed with the extension .tt. In the template, I use the following to replace at runtime.

<#= Helpers.CurrProcText #>

Where Helpers is a static class holding the text to insert.

When Procedures Can Be Grouped by Functionality

Up until now, I have described how to inspect individual objects, the issue still exist that the process is not able to bring clarity to the connection between database objects.

In my experience, many large companies which depend on stored procedures to drive their business will group functionality together, some procedures may be shared across domains (maybe a proc that sends emails). They may have a series of procedures which runs on a schedule to update information about customer updates and maybe another grouping of inventory.

The enclosed application starts with a seed object (in this case, dbo.uspGetManagerEmployee in the adventureworks database) and will expand all related objects, creating individual files for each referenced object.

File Example

Each htm file contains a single object with dependency links to open the other files. Using browser navigation, you can easily traverse each file. The files are colorized using highlight.js with the CSS set to Visual Studio 2015 dark mode.

Procedure Example

Table Example

You can create a folder for each type of grouping and add the application to your PATH variable. Doing this allows you to group files under the folder.

To make it easier, you may also want to create a batch file to supply consistent parameters in each folder, allowing you to version files over time. Example:

start spdiscover.exe procedure=%1 server=(LocalDB)\MSSQLLocalDB; 
AttachDbFilename=c:\testdatabase\SPDiscoverDB.mdf; Integrated_Security=true; 

Using the Program

In its most basic form, you would simply start the program with parameters. The program expects its parameters to be key value pairs separated with an equal (=) sign. The order of the parameters does not matter. Special parameters are as defined:

  • procedure


  • outputtype

    outputtype=txt (optional, normally HTM)

  • launchwindow

    launchwindow=true (optional, will open new window on navigation)

  • help

    Will display internal keywords

  • ShowConnectionString

    for debugging purposes to see what connection string is being generated.

The program uses the SqlConnectionStringbuilder to create a valid string from parameters passed in. Each parameter is compared to the collection of keys which the builder is aware of and generate a valid connection string.

Keywords which contain a space will need to replace the space with an underscore. Example: Data Source becomes Data_source.

For example, if the following were passed in:


would generate:

Data Source=localhost;Initial Catalog=AdventureWorks;Integrated Security=True
This article was originally posted at


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

Written By
Software Developer (Senior)
United States United States
Steven Contos

Working in varied settings from small entrepreneurial companies to Fortune 500 companies. Skilled in analyzing client needs and developing solutions that are sound and effective.

Strong analytic capabilities with proven accomplishments in developing programs that exceed or meet stated goals, consistently work well, are easily maintained and fully documented. Versed in a number of SDLC technologies including Agile and Scrum, dedicated to deliver high quality software on time and on budget.

Experienced in helping companies and teams change their culture. Providing clear vision, asking tough questions of both developers and business, leading by example and building trust among all concerned.

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