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How to Include Zero in a COUNT() Aggregate

Explaining how to include zero (0) counts in your SQL query result.

Here’s the problem: you want to count something that doesn’t exist, and you want to show your result as zero. How do you do that in SQL?

Using the COUNT() aggregate function is a reasonable first step. It will count all the data it finds and return the number of occurrences. But what if there are no occurrences of certain data? It will not show up in the result. However, suppose you want to create a report that will also show data that has zero occurrences. How do you achieve that?

Does this problem seem too vague? I’ll show you a concrete example and a solution so you can see what I mean by including zero counts in SQL results. First, you should understand how aggregate functions work; if you’re not familiar with them, check out our Overview of SQL Aggregate Functions before continuing.

Example Tables

There are two tables I’ll use for my example: car_buyers and service_appointment.

The table car_buyers contains this data:


It’s a simple list of car buyers for a fictional car sale and repair shop.

The service_appointment table contains this data on various car service appointments:

12021-01-03Regular checkup3
22021-01-14Oil change3
32021-01-14Regular checkup5
42021-01-15Regular checkup1
52021-03-08Lights change1
62021-03-12Battery replacement5
72021-03-12AC repair3
82021-03-12Windshield repair1
92021-06-22Clutch repair1
102021-08-16Gearbox change3
112021-11-12Regular checkup1

What Do I Want?

Using these tables, I want to get a list of my car buyers along with the number of service appointments they had up until now. I also want that list to include those car buyers who haven’t had a service appointment yet, and I want to see a zero by their names. Those with zero appointments could be buyers that just bought a new car, so there hasn’t been enough time to need a service appointment.

If I do that, it means I’ve succeeded in including zero (0) in the COUNT() aggregate.

Not Much of a Solution

Intuitively, I might write this code in an attempt to solve the problem:

		COUNT( AS no_of_appointments
FROM car_buyers cb
JOIN service_appointment sa
ON = sa.car_buyer_id
GROUP BY, cb.first_name, cb.last_name;

What did I do here? I’ve included id, first_name, and last_name from the table car_buyers in the SELECT list and in GROUP BY. To count the number of appointments, I’ve used the COUNT() function on the column id from the table service_appointment.

Do you want to see what result this code returns? I’m sure you do. Take a look:


The result shows three buyers with a number of appointments. OK, that’s good. However, scroll up a little and you’ll see there are five records in the table car_buyers. I can conclude that the two buyers missing are those who have had zero service appointments up until now. However, I want my code to include them in this result table and I want to see explicitly that they’ve made zero appointments.

Here’s how a little tweaking of the above code can help.

The Real Solution - LEFT JOIN or RIGHT JOIN

Here’s the solution that will include zero counts in the result:

		COUNT( AS no_of_appointments
FROM car_buyers cb 
LEFT JOIN service_appointment sa 
ON = sa.car_buyer_id
GROUP BY, cb.first_name, cb.last_name;

This is the same code as the previous one, but this time I’ve joined tables using the LEFT JOIN. Here’s what it returns:


That’s a nice surprise! There are all five car buyers, and the table also shows that Susan Santana and Dolores Raich haven’t had any car service appointments.

How does this work? It’s all about the JOIN type. Using the suitable JOIN is crucial when you want to include zeros in the COUNT() aggregate.

If you know how the LEFT JOIN works, it’s easy for you to understand why this code returns the result with zeros. LEFT JOIN will return all the buyers from the table car_buyers. For those who can be found in that table but couldn’t be found in the table service_appointments (i.e. they had zero appointments) there will be NULL values in the result. For example, here’s how it looks if you just join tables using the LEFT JOIN but don’t count the number of appointments:

3MikeRubens2021-01-03Regular checkup
3MikeRubens2021-01-14Oil change
5RalfConnery2021-01-14Regular checkup
1SteveRich2021-01-15Regular checkup
1SteveRich2021-03-08Lights change
5RalfConnery2021-03-12Battery replacement
3MikeRubens2021-03-12AC repair
1SteveRich2021-03-12Windshield repair
1SteveRich2021-06-22Clutch repair
3MikeRubens2021-08-16Gearbox change
1SteveRich2021-11-12Regular checkup

If you now use the aggregate function COUNT(), like in the code above, it will not count the NULL values and the result will be zero. So, it’s also important that you know how COUNT() works in various circumstances.

You can get the same result using the RIGHT JOIN, too. It’s very like the LEFT JOIN query shown above, only the table order is reversed:

		COUNT( AS no_of_appointments
FROM  service_appointment sa
RIGHT JOIN car_buyers cb 
ON = sa.car_buyer_id
GROUP BY, cb.first_name, cb.last_name;

Everything else can stay the same. If you’re not familiar with using JOINs, I recommend this article explaining all the SQL JOIN types.

Now You Know How to Get Zeros in Your SQL Result

You see that the main point here is not so much using the aggregate function COUNT(). The game changer is the kind of JOIN you use when you write the query. A simple JOIN will not return the desired result; it will show only those buyers that have one or more service appointments. To include zeros resulting from COUNT(), you’ll have to use LEFT JOIN or RIGHT JOIN.

You can learn all about JOINs and their differences in our SQL JOINs course, which is a part of the SQL from A to Z track. This will not only allow you to show zero counts, but also help you to become a master at joining tables in SQL.