Rules on a workbench

How to automatically format SQL files with Git and Poor Man's T-SQL Formatter

I believe we shouldn’t discuss formatting and linting during code reviews. That should be automated. With that in mind, these days, I learned how to automatically format SQL files with Git and Poor Man’s T-SQL Formatter for one of my client’s projects.

I already shared about two free tools to format SQL files. Poor Man’s T-SQL Formatter is one of the two. It’s free and open source.

1. Format SQL files on commits

I wanted to format my SQL files as part of my development workflow. I thought about a pre-commit Git hook for that. I was already familiar with Git hooks since I use one to put task numbers from branch names into commit messages.

After searching online, I found a Bash script to list all created, modified, and renamed files before committing them. I used Phind, “the AI search engine for developers.” These are the query I used:

Also, I found out that Poor Man’s T-SQL Formatter is available as a Node.js command utility.

Using these two pieces, this is the pre-commit file I came up with,


files=$(git diff --cached --name-only --diff-filter=ACMR)
[ -z "$files" ] && exit 0

for file in "${files[@]}"
    if [[ $file == *.sql ]]
        echo "Formatting: $file"

        # 1. Prettify it
        sqlformat -f "$file" -g "$file" --breakJoinOnSections --no-trailingCommas --spaceAfterExpandedComma

        # 2. Add it back to the staging area
        git add $file

exit 0

I used these three options: --breakJoinOnSections, --no-trailingCommas, and --spaceAfterExpandedComma to place ONs after JOINs and commas on a new line.

2. Test the pre-commit hook

To test this Git hook, I created an empty repository, saved the above Bash script into a pre-commit file inside the .git/hooks folder, and installed the poor-mans-t-sql-formatter-cli package version 1.6.10.

For the actual SQL file, I used the query to find StackOverflow posts with many “thank you” answers, Source,

select ParentId as [Post Link], count(id)
from posts
where posttypeid = 2 and len(body) <= 200
  and (body like '%hank%')
group by parentid
having count(id) > 1
order by count(id) desc;

This is where all the magic happened when committing the previous SQL file,

Sequence of Git commands to commit a file
Committing a ThankYou.sql file and seeing the magic happening

By the way, I use some Git alias as part of my development workflow.

And this is the formatted SQL file,

SELECT ParentId AS [Post Link]
	, count(id)
FROM posts
WHERE posttypeid = 2
	AND len(body) <= 200
	AND (body LIKE '%hank%')
GROUP BY parentid
HAVING count(id) > 1
ORDER BY count(id) DESC;

Voilà! That’s how to format SQL files automatically with Git. The command line version of Poor Man’s T-SQL Formatter is not that fast. But it’s still faster than copying a SQL file, firing a browser with an online linter, formatting it, and pasting it back.

Poor Man’s T-SQL Formatter might not be perfect, but with a simple change in our script, we can bring any other SQL formatter we can call from the command line.

After this trick, I don’t want to leave or read another comment like “please format this file” during code review.

For more content, check my guide to Code Reviews, my Visual Studio setup for C#, and the lessons I’ve learned as a code reviewer.

Happy coding!