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NULL v. Zero Length String

What's the difference between a NULL value and a Zero Length String

Q: What is the difference between a NULL value and a Zero Length String?

NEW: Check out my new video: Zero Length Strings

A: The difference between a NULL and a Zero-Length String (ZLS) is that a NULL has no value, whereas a ZLS has been specifically given a value of blank. It's basically the difference between saying, "no value" or "no value YET."

Furthermore, this distinction usually only comes about in Access when you're dealing with VBA programming and you either set the ZLS value yourself, or return the value as part of a function call, such as:

   LastName = ""
   FirstName = NULL

When you're entering data in a table or form, you will usually either specify some data, or no data. Your fields will either have a value, or they will be NULL. Even if you type in a value and then come back later and delete it, it will still be NULL. Manually deleting data from a table sets it to NULL, so the average user will never really have to worry about what a ZLS is.

However, let's say you're creating a database where you need to know more specific information on people. Let's say you're tracking first, middle, and last names, and you NEED to know whether or not someone has a middle name. You could set their middle name equal to a ZLS to indicate that they have NO middle name, as opposed to not knowing what their middle name is. Statistically it could make a difference. You could make a button, for example, that just says:


You can check for ZLS by looking for "" - an empty string. You can check for NULL by using the IsNull function. In your VBA code this will often result in looking for both:

    If IsNull(LastName) or LastName="" Then
        ' Do some stuff
    End if

You can prevent ZLS in your table by changing the Allow Zero Length property of a text or memo field to No/False. This will prevent any ZLS values from getting in your table.

Do you need to worry about any of this? For the most part, no. The difference between NULL and ZLS is mostly theoretical, and unless you're specifically coding your database to CARE about the difference between the two, you shouldn't have to worry about it. However, because some functions might return a ZLS, you might want to check for both in your VBA comparisons. Usually this distinction only matters when you need to care about the difference between NO value and no value YET.

Also, Access will index NULL values and ZLS values differently, which is a whole different topic of discussion.



By Richard Rost   Richard Rost on LinkedIn Email Richard Rost
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