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User Tips: Using Return Values from a SQL Server Stored Procedure to Customize Error Messages

This tip comes from Pete Draigh

When I started developing web pages that interact with a SQL Server database, I probably started like everbody else: with inline SQL statements. I then progressed to using the connection object to call stored procedures and eventually started using the command object. I eventually realized how useful return values from stored procedures could be, since I could use them to return a value based on a potential error condition that I check for in the stored procedure.

Recently, I was developing an online catalog and had a situation to deal with:

  1. User enters data into a form
  2. Need to validate the entries (easy enough with client-side javascript)
  3. Need to insert the data into a SQL Server database after checking to make sure various conditions don't exist. For example, the user could enter a product, but only if the product doesn't already exist in the catalog. That's not something that's easily accomplished with client-side validation!

Initially I decided upon a fairly popular route: create a form in Page1.asp that submits to Page2.asp which attempts to insert the user-entered information into the database. If the product already exists, go back to Page1.asp, displaying a message and populating the fields with what the user entered. While this is a possible approach, trust me when I say that it's a pain to code if you have a lot of form fields! Ideally I wanted a pop-up message that I could customize based on the condition found in the stored procedure. (I like pop-ups because by their nature, they draw more attention than a message displayed on a page.) Also, I wanted the user taken back to Page1.asp with all of his/her entries already filled in.

Here is an example stored procedure that returns an error result if something goes awry:

Create Procedure [Proc_InsertProduct]
	@productname varchar(50) = null,
	@price money = null

if exists(select productname from tblProducts where productname = @productname)
   return 55555
   insert into tblproducts (productname, price)
   values (@productname, @price)

return @@error

A simple sample stored procedure that checks to see if the product already exists. If so, it returns 55555, otherwise it inserts the product and returns the error code (which will 0 if successful). Now, on the ASP side, I use the command object to send the form contents to the stored procedure. The stored procedure's return value is always the first item in the parameters collection of the command object (cmd.parameters(0)) after the command object's Execute method has been called in this case.

option explicit
response.buffer = true
response.exires = -1441

dim connect, cmd, returnvalue

set connect = server.createobject("adodb.connection")
set cmd = server.createobject("adodb.command") YourConnectionString
set cmd.activeconnection = connect
cmd.commandtype = 4 'sp  (I know, magic numbers, but add a comment and there you go)
cmd.commandtext = "Proc_InsertProduct"
cmd.parameters(1) = request.form("productname")
cmd.parameters(2) = request.form("price")

At this point the stored procedure has been executed and cmd.parameters(0) contains the return value. Now, if the return value is not 0, meaning some sort of error occurred, we wish to call the MyError subroutine, which will generate a JavaScript popup error message. Otherwise, if there is no error, send the user on to some other page, one that, perhaps, displays a confirmation message of the database action just performed.

returnvalue = cmd.parameters(0)

'Did an error occur?		
if returnvalue <> 0
  'Some sort of error occurred
  response.write MyError(returnvalue)
  'No errors...
  response.redirect ("Whereever.asp")
end if

set cmd = nothing
set connect = nothing

The MyError subroutine now needs to use some client-side Javascript code to send the user back a pop-up message; once this popup message is read and the OK button is clicked, it should take the user back to Page1.asp.

function MyError(errorcode)
  dim title, message

  select case errorcode
    case 55555
      title = "Error Adding Product"
      message = "The product is already in the catalog.  Please check your entry."
    case else
      title = "Error Adding Product"
      message = "There was an unspecified error while adding the product to the catalog.  Please try again."
  end select  

  MyError = "<html><head><title>" & title & "</title></head>" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "<body>" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "<script language=""javascript"" type=""text/javascript"">" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "<!--" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "alert('" & message & "')" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "history.back()" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "//-->" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "</script>" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "</body>" & chr(13) & chr(10)
  MyError = MyError & "</html>" & chr(13) & chr(10)
end function

MyError essentially sends back a small HTML page that pops a message and then goes back a page when the user clicks the 'OK' button on the pop-up. The users entries are left intact when going back to the previous page when using this method. Maybe the case is they mistakenly entered some value and now they can edit it instead of having to retype everything. Furthermore, you don't have to write any code to re-populate their form entries.

Some of the situations where I've used this are when trying to delete records that may be parent records to existing children (I don't like cascading deletes), when trying to edit records that have been flagged for deletion, etc. It's useful anytime your SQL statement should fail or be aborted and you want to notify the user and make it easy for them to go back to where they were. You can include this into all of your pages that run "action queries" and create your own set of custom messages. Just add a new case to your case statement for each possible return code.

If you have any feedback or questions about this technique, please email me at

Happy Programming!

  • By Michael B.
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  • Article Information
    Article Title: User Tips: Using Return Values from a SQL Server Stored Procedure to Customize Error Messages
    Article Author: Pete Draigh
    Article URL:

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