Left Join in Entity Framework

If you need a left join in Entity Framework, you have a couple options. First, if you’re using a real foreign key that just happens to be nullable, then you can use the regular navigation properties. But if you’re doing a left join manually, or with other factors, then you need to do things just a little differently:

Suppose we have the following database:

create table dbo.Foods (
  FoodID int not null identity primary key
 ,FoodName varchar(100) not null
insert dbo.Foods (FoodName) values ('Pizza'), ('Chicken'), ('Potatoes'), ('Broccoli');
create table dbo.People (
 PersonID int not null identity primary key
 ,FirstName varchar(100) not null
 ,FavoriteFoodID int null
 ,constraint FK_Person_FavoriteFoodID
  foreign key (FavoriteFoodID) references dbo.Foods (FoodID)
insert dbo.People (FirstName, FavoriteFoodID)
values ('John', 1), ('Mary', 2), ('Pat', null);
We can build our Entity Framework tables as follows:

public class Food {
    [Key, DatabaseGenerated(DatabaseGeneratedOption.Identity)]
    public int FoodID { get; set; }
    public string FoodName { get; set; } = "";
public class Person {
    [Key, DatabaseGenerated(DatabaseGeneratedOption.Identity)]
    public int PersonID { get; set; }
    public string FirstName { get; set; } = "";
    public int? FavoriteFoodID { get; set; }
    public Food? FavoriteFood { get; set; }
public class MyContext : DbContext {
    protected override void OnConfiguring(DbContextOptionsBuilder optionsBuilder) {
        optionsBuilder.UseSqlServer(@"server=(localdb)\MSSQLLocalDB;database=sandbox20200409;integrated security=true;");
    public DbSet<Food>? Foods { get; set; }
    public DbSet<Person>? People { get; set; }
The navigation property FavoriteFood gives us the ability to harness Entity Framework’s intelligence to build a query:

using var context = new MyContext();
var firstQuery = (from p in context.People
                  select new
The generated SQL looks as we’d expect:

SELECT [p].[PersonID], [p].[FirstName], [f].[FoodID], [f].[FoodName]
FROM [People] AS [p]
LEFT JOIN [Foods] AS [f] ON [p].[FavoriteFoodID] = [f].[FoodID]
But if that navigation property wasn’t there, then we have an alternative way of doing a left join:

var secondQuery = (from p in context.People
                   from f in context.Foods.Where(f => f.FoodID == p.FavoriteFoodID).DefaultIfEmpty()
                   select new
This generates identical SQL to the first one. Note the DefaultIfEmpty call.

There are other ways, but I find this to be very easy to read and understand.


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