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WARNING: The quoted string currently being processed has become more than 262 characters long…

20th June 2007

This is a SAS error that can be seen from time to time:

WARNING: The quoted string currently being processed has become more than 262 characters long. You may have unbalanced quotation marks.

In the days prior to SAS version 8, this was something that needed to be immediately corrected. In these days of SAS character variables extending beyond 200 characters in length, it becomes a potential millstone around a SAS programmer’s neck. If you run a piece of code like this:

data _null_;
x="[string with more than 262 characters (putting in an actual string wrecks the appearance of the website)]";
run;

What you get back is the warning message at the heart of the matter. The code is legitimate and works fine but the spurious error is returned because SAS hasn’t found a closing quote by the required position and the 262 character limit is a hard constraint that cannot be extended. There is another way though: the new QUOTELENMAX option in SAS9. Setting it as follows removes the messages in most situations (yes, I did find one where it didn’t play ball):

options noquotelenmax;

This does however beg the question as to how you check for unbalanced quotes in SAS logs these days; clearly, looking for a closing quote is an outmoded approach. Thanks to code highlighting, it is far easier to pick them out before the code gets submitted. The other question that arises is why you would cause this to happen anyway but there are occasions where you assign the value of a macro variable to a data set one and the string is longer than the limit set by SAS. Here’s some example code:

data _null_;
length y $400;
y=repeat("f",400);
call symput("y",y)
run;

data _null_;
x="&y";
run;

My own weakness is where I use PROC SQL to combine strings into a macro variable, a lazy man’s method of combining all distinct values for a variable into a delimited list like this:

proc sql noprint;
select distinct compress(string_var) into :vals separated by " " from dataset;
quit;

Of course, creating a long delimited string using the CATX (new to SAS9) function avoids the whole situation and there are other means but there may be occasions, like the use of system macro variables, where it is unavoidable and NOQUOTELENMAX makes a much better impression when these arise.

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