2 Fundamentals of the PL/SQL Language

The previous chapter provided an overview of PL/SQL. This chapter focuses on the detailed aspects of the language. Like other programming languages, PL/SQL has a character set, reserved words, punctuation, datatypes, and fixed syntax rules.

This chapter contains these topics:

Character Sets and Lexical Units

PL/SQL programs are written as lines of text using a specific set of characters:

  • Upper- and lower-case letters A .. Z and a .. z

  • Numerals 0 .. 9

  • Symbols ( ) + - * / < > = ! ~ ^ ; : . ' @ % , " # $ & _ | { } ? [ ]

  • Tabs, spaces, and carriage returns

PL/SQL keywords are not case-sensitive, so lower-case letters are equivalent to corresponding upper-case letters except within string and character literals.

A line of PL/SQL text contains groups of characters known as lexical units:

  • Delimiters (simple and compound symbols)

  • Identifiers, which include reserved words

  • Literals

  • Comments

To improve readability, you can separate lexical units by spaces. In fact, you must separate adjacent identifiers by a space or punctuation. The following line is not allowed because the reserved words END and IF are joined:

IF x > y THEN high := x; ENDIF; -- not allowed, must be END IF

You cannot embed spaces inside lexical units except for string literals and comments. For example, the following line is not allowed because the compound symbol for assignment (:=) is split:

count : = count + 1; -- not allowed, must be :=

To show structure, you can split lines using carriage returns, and indent lines using spaces or tabs. This formatting makes the first IF statement more readable.

IF x>y THEN max:=x;ELSE max:=y;END IF;

The following is easier to read:

IF x > y THEN
  max := x;
  max := y;


A delimiter is a simple or compound symbol that has a special meaning to PL/SQL. For example, you use delimiters to represent arithmetic operations such as addition and subtraction. Table 2-1 contains a list of PL/SQL delimiters.

Table 2-1 PL/SQL Delimiters

Symbol Meaning
+ addition operator
% attribute indicator
' character string delimiter
. component selector
/ division operator
( expression or list delimiter
) expression or list delimiter
: host variable indicator
, item separator
* multiplication operator
" quoted identifier delimiter
= relational operator
< relational operator
> relational operator
@ remote access indicator
; statement terminator
- subtraction/negation operator
:= assignment operator
=> association operator
|| concatenation operator
** exponentiation operator
<< label delimiter (begin)
>> label delimiter (end)
/* multi-line comment delimiter (begin)
*/ multi-line comment delimiter (end)
.. range operator
<> relational operator
!= relational operator
~= relational operator
^= relational operator
<= relational operator
>= relational operator
-- single-line comment indicator


You use identifiers to name PL/SQL program items and units, which include constants, variables, exceptions, cursors, cursor variables, subprograms, and packages. Some examples of identifiers follow:


An identifier consists of a letter optionally followed by more letters, numerals, dollar signs, underscores, and number signs. Other characters such as hyphens, slashes, and spaces are not allowed, as the following examples show:

mine&yours is not allowed because of the ampersand
debit-amount is not allowed because of the hyphen
on/off is not allowed because of the slash
user id is not allowed because of the space

Adjoining and trailing dollar signs, underscores, and number signs are allowed:


You can use upper, lower, or mixed case to write identifiers. PL/SQL is not case sensitive except within string and character literals. If the only difference between identifiers is the case of corresponding letters, PL/SQL considers them the same:

LastName -- same as lastname
LASTNAME -- same as lastname and LastName

The size of an identifier cannot exceed 30 characters. Every character, including dollar signs, underscores, and number signs, is significant. For example, PL/SQL considers the following identifiers to be different:


Identifiers should be descriptive. Avoid obscure names such as cpm. Instead, use meaningful names such as cost_per_thousand.

Reserved Words

Some identifiers, called reserved words, have a special syntactic meaning to PL/SQL. For example, the words BEGIN and END are reserved. Often, reserved words are written in upper case for readability.

Trying to redefine a reserved word causes a compilation error. Instead, you can embed reserved words as part of a longer identifier. For example:

-- end BOOLEAN; the use of "end" is not allowed; causes compilation error
   end_of_game BOOLEAN;  -- allowed

In addition to reserved words, there are keywords that have special meaning in PL/SQL. PL/SQL keywords can be used for identifiers, but this is not recommended. For a list of PL/SQL reserved words and keywords, see Table D-1, "PL/SQL Reserved Words" and Table D-2, "PL/SQL Keywords".

Predefined Identifiers

Identifiers globally declared in package STANDARD, such as the exception INVALID_NUMBER, can be redeclared. However, redeclaring predefined identifiers is error prone because your local declaration overrides the global declaration.

Quoted Identifiers

For flexibility, PL/SQL lets you enclose identifiers within double quotes. Quoted identifiers are seldom needed, but occasionally they can be useful. They can contain any sequence of printable characters including spaces but excluding double quotes. Thus, the following identifiers are valid:

"last name"
"on/off switch"
"*** header info ***"

The maximum size of a quoted identifier is 30 characters not counting the double quotes. Though allowed, using PL/SQL reserved words as quoted identifiers is a poor programming practice.


A literal is an explicit numeric, character, string, or BOOLEAN value not represented by an identifier. The numeric literal 147 and the BOOLEAN literal FALSE are examples. For information on the PL/SQL datatypes, see "Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes".

Numeric Literals

Two kinds of numeric literals can be used in arithmetic expressions: integers and reals. An integer literal is an optionally signed whole number without a decimal point. Some examples follow:

030 6 -14 0 +32767

A real literal is an optionally signed whole or fractional number with a decimal point. Several examples follow:

6.6667 0.0 -12.0 3.14159 +8300.00 .5 25.

PL/SQL considers numbers such as 12.0 and 25. to be reals even though they have integral values.

A numeric literal value that is composed only of digits and falls in the range -2147483648 to 2147483647 has a PLS_INTEGER datatype; otherwise this literal has the NUMBER datatype. You can add the f of d suffix to a literal value that is composed only of digits to specify the BINARY_FLOAT or BINARY_TABLE respectively. For the properties of the datatypes, see "PL/SQL Number Types".

Numeric literals cannot contain dollar signs or commas, but can be written using scientific notation. Simply suffix the number with an E (or e) followed by an optionally signed integer. A few examples follow:

2E5 1.0E-7 3.14159e0 -1E38 -9.5e-3

E stands for times ten to the power of. As the next example shows, the number after E is the power of ten by which the number before E is multiplied (the double asterisk (**) is the exponentiation operator):

5E3 = 5 * 10**3 = 5 * 1000 = 5000

The number after E also corresponds to the number of places the decimal point shifts. In the last example, the implicit decimal point shifted three places to the right. In this example, it shifts three places to the left:

5E-3 = 5 * 10**-3 = 5 * 0.001 = 0.005

The absolute value of a NUMBER literal can be in the range 1.0E-130 up to (but not including) 1.0E126. The literal can also be 0. See Example 2-1. For information on results outside the valid range, see "NUMBER Datatype".

Example 2-1 NUMBER Literals

  n NUMBER; -- declare n of NUMBER datatype
  n :=  -9.999999E-130;  -- valid
  n := 9.999E125; -- valid
--  n := 10.0E125; -- invalid, "numeric overflow or underflow"

Real literals can also use the trailing letters f and d to specify the types BINARY_FLOAT and BINARY_DOUBLE, as shown in Example 2-2.


   x BINARY_FLOAT := sqrt(2.0f); -- single-precision floating-point number
   y BINARY_DOUBLE := sqrt(2.0d); -- double-precision floating-point number

Character Literals

A character literal is an individual character enclosed by single quotes (apostrophes). Character literals include all the printable characters in the PL/SQL character set: letters, numerals, spaces, and special symbols. Some examples follow:

'Z' '%' '7' ' ' 'z' '('

PL/SQL is case sensitive within character literals. For example, PL/SQL considers the literals 'Z' and 'z' to be different. Also, the character literals '0'..'9' are not equivalent to integer literals but can be used in arithmetic expressions because they are implicitly convertible to integers.

String Literals

A character value can be represented by an identifier or explicitly written as a string literal, which is a sequence of zero or more characters enclosed by single quotes. All string literals except the null string ('') have datatype CHAR.

The following are examples of string literals:

'Hello, world!'
'XYZ Corporation'
'He said "Life is like licking honey from a thorn."'

PL/SQL is case sensitive within string literals. For example, PL/SQL considers the following literals to be different:


To represent an apostrophe within a string, you can write two single quotes, which is not the same as writing a double quote:

'I''m a string, you''re a string.'

Doubling the quotation marks within a complicated literal, particularly one that represents a SQL statement, can be tricky. You can also use the following notation to define your own delimiter characters for the literal. You choose a character that is not present in the string, and then do not need to escape other single quotation marks inside the literal:

-- q'!...!' notation allows the of use single quotes
-- inside the literal
string_var := q'!I'm a string, you're a string.!';

You can use delimiters [, {, <, and (, pair them with ], }, >, and ), pass a string literal representing a SQL statement to a subprogram, without doubling the quotation marks around 'INVALID' as follows:

func_call(q'[select index_name from user_indexes where status =

For NCHAR and NVARCHAR2 literals, use the prefix nq instead of q:

where_clause := nq'#where col_value like '%é'#';

For more information about the NCHAR datatype and unicode strings, see Oracle Database Globalization Support Guide.

BOOLEAN Literals

BOOLEAN literals are the predefined values TRUE, FALSE, and NULL. NULL stands for a missing, unknown, or inapplicable value. Remember, BOOLEAN literals are values, not strings. For example, TRUE is no less a value than the number 25.

Datetime Literals

Datetime literals have various formats depending on the datatype. For example:

Example 2-3 Using DateTime Literals

   d1 DATE := DATE '1998-12-25';
   t1 TIMESTAMP := TIMESTAMP '1997-10-22 13:01:01';
   t2 TIMESTAMP WITH TIME ZONE := TIMESTAMP '1997-01-31 09:26:56.66 +02:00';
-- Three years and two months
-- For greater precision, we would use the day-to-second interval
-- Five days, four hours, three minutes, two and 1/100 seconds

You can also specify whether a given interval value is YEAR TO MONTH or DAY TO SECOND. For example, current_timestamp - current_timestamp produces a value of type INTERVAL DAY TO SECOND by default. You can specify the type of the interval using the formats:

  • (interval_expression) DAY TO SECOND

  • (interval_expression) YEAR TO MONTH

For details on the syntax for the date and time types, see the Oracle Database SQL Reference. For examples of performing date and time arithmetic, see Oracle Database Application Developer's Guide - Fundamentals.


The PL/SQL compiler ignores comments, but you should not. Adding comments to your program promotes readability and aids understanding. Generally, you use comments to describe the purpose and use of each code segment. PL/SQL supports two comment styles: single-line and multi-line.

Single-Line Comments

Single-line comments begin with a double hyphen (--) anywhere on a line and extend to the end of the line. A few examples follow:

Example 2-4 Using Single-Line Comments

   howmany    NUMBER;
   num_tables NUMBER;
-- begin processing
      WHERE OBJECT_TYPE = 'TABLE'; -- Check number of tables
   num_tables := howmany;          -- Compute some other value

Notice that comments can appear within a statement at the end of a line.

While testing or debugging a program, you might want to disable a line of code. The following example shows how you can disable a line by making it a comment:

-- DELETE FROM employees WHERE comm_pct IS NULL;

Multi-line Comments

Multi-line comments begin with a slash-asterisk (/*), end with an asterisk-slash (*/), and can span multiple lines, as shown in Example 2-5. You can use multi-line comment delimiters to comment-out whole sections of code.

Example 2-5 Using Multi-Line Comments

   some_condition BOOLEAN;
   pi NUMBER := 3.1415926; 
   radius NUMBER := 15; 
   area NUMBER;
  /* Perform some simple tests and assignments */
  IF 2 + 2 = 4 THEN
    some_condition := TRUE; /* We expect this THEN to always be performed */
  /* The following line computes the area of a circle using pi, which is the
     ratio between the circumference and diameter. After the area is computed,
     the result is displayed. */
  area := pi * radius**2;
  DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('The area is: ' || TO_CHAR(area));

Restrictions on Comments

You cannot nest comments. You cannot use single-line comments in a PL/SQL block that will be processed by an Oracle Precompiler program because end-of-line characters are ignored. As a result, single-line comments extend to the end of the block, not just to the end of a line. In this case, use the /* */ notation instead.


Your program stores values in variables and constants. As the program executes, the values of variables can change, but the values of constants cannot.

You can declare variables and constants in the declarative part of any PL/SQL block, subprogram, or package. Declarations allocate storage space for a value, specify its datatype, and name the storage location so that you can reference it.

Some examples follow:

   birthday  DATE;
   emp_count SMALLINT := 0;

The first declaration names a variable of type DATE. The second declaration names a variable of type SMALLINT and uses the assignment operator to assign an initial value of zero to the variable.

The next examples show that the expression following the assignment operator can be arbitrarily complex and can refer to previously initialized variables:

   pi     REAL := 3.14159;
   radius REAL := 1;
   area   REAL := pi * radius**2;

By default, variables are initialized to NULL, so it is redundant to include ":= NULL" in a variable declaration.


To declare a constant, put the keyword CONSTANT before the type specifier. The following declaration names a constant of type REAL and assigns an unchangeable value of 5000 to the constant. A constant must be initialized in its declaration. Otherwise, a compilation error occurs.

   credit_limit CONSTANT REAL := 5000.00;
   max_days_in_year CONSTANT INTEGER := 366;
   urban_legend CONSTANT BOOLEAN := FALSE;


You can use the keyword DEFAULT instead of the assignment operator to initialize variables. For example, the declaration

blood_type CHAR := 'O';

can be rewritten as follows:

blood_type CHAR DEFAULT 'O';

Use DEFAULT for variables that have a typical value. Use the assignment operator for variables (such as counters and accumulators) that have no typical value. For example:

hours_worked INTEGER DEFAULT 40;
employee_count INTEGER := 0;

You can also use DEFAULT to initialize subprogram parameters, cursor parameters, and fields in a user-defined record.


Besides assigning an initial value, declarations can impose the NOT NULL constraint:

  acct_id INTEGER(4) NOT NULL := 9999;

You cannot assign nulls to a variable defined as NOT NULL. If you try, PL/SQL raises the predefined exception VALUE_ERROR.

The NOT NULL constraint must be followed by an initialization clause.

PL/SQL provide subtypes NATURALN and POSITIVEN that are predefined as NOT NULL. You can omit the NOT NULL constraint when declaring variables of these types, and you must include an initialization clause.

Using the %TYPE Attribute

The %TYPE attribute provides the datatype of a variable or database column. As shown in Example 2-6, variables declared with %TYPE inherit the datatype of a variable, plus default values and constraints.

Example 2-6 Using %TYPE With the Datatype of a Variable

  credit PLS_INTEGER RANGE 1000..25000;
  debit  credit%TYPE;
  v_name VARCHAR2(20);
  name VARCHAR2(20) NOT NULL := 'JoHn SmItH';
-- If we increase the length of NAME, the other variables become longer also
  upper_name name%TYPE := UPPER(name);
  lower_name name%TYPE := LOWER(name);
  init_name name%TYPE := INITCAP(name);
-- display inherited default values
  DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('name: ' || name || ' upper_name: ' || upper_name 
          || ' lower_name: ' || lower_name || ' init_name: ' || init_name);
-- lower_name := 'jonathan henry smithson'; invalid, character string is too long
-- lower_name := NULL; invalid, NOT NULL CONSTRAINT
-- debit := 50000; invalid, value out of range

Note that variables declared using %TYPE are treated like those declared using a datatype specifier. For example, given the previous declarations, PL/SQL treats debit like a PLS_INTEGER variable. A %TYPE declaration can also include an initialization clause.

The %TYPE attribute is particularly useful when declaring variables that refer to database columns. You can reference a table and column, or you can reference an owner, table, and column, as in:

-- If the length of the column ever changes, this code
-- will use the new length automatically.
   the_trigger user_triggers.trigger_name%TYPE;

When you use table_name.column_name.%TYPE to declare a variable, you do not need to know the actual datatype, and attributes such as precision, scale, and length. If the database definition of the column changes, the datatype of the variable changes accordingly at run time. However, %TYPE variables do not inherit column constraints, such as the NOT NULL or check constraint, or default values. For example, even though the database column empid is defined as NOT NULL in Example 2-7, you can assign a NULL to the variable v_empid.

Example 2-7 Using %TYPE With Table Columns

 deptid NUMBER(6) CONSTRAINT check_deptid CHECK (deptid BETWEEN 100 AND 200),
 deptname VARCHAR2(30) DEFAULT 'Sales');

   v_empid    employees_temp.empid%TYPE;
   v_deptid   employees_temp.deptid%TYPE;
   v_deptname employees_temp.deptname%TYPE;
   v_empid := NULL;  -- this works, null constraint is not inherited
-- v_empid := 10000002; -- invalid, number precision too large 
   v_deptid := 50; -- this works, check constraint is not inherited
-- the default value is not inherited in the following
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('v_deptname: ' || v_deptname);

See "Constraints and Default Values With Subtypes" for information on column constraints that are inherited by subtypes declared using %TYPE.

Using the %ROWTYPE Attribute

The %ROWTYPE attribute provides a record type that represents a row in a table or view. Columns in a row and corresponding fields in a record have the same names and datatypes. However, fields in a %ROWTYPE record do not inherit constraints, such as the NOT NULL or check constraint, or default values, as shown in Example 2-8. See also Example 3-11.

Example 2-8 Using %ROWTYPE With Table Rows

   emprec    employees_temp%ROWTYPE;
   emprec.empid := NULL;  -- this works, null constraint is not inherited
-- emprec.empid := 10000002; -- invalid, number precision too large
   emprec.deptid := 50; -- this works, check constraint is not inherited
-- the default value is not inherited in the following
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('emprec.deptname: ' || emprec.deptname); 

The record can store an entire row of data selected from the table, or fetched from a cursor or strongly typed cursor variable as shown in Example 2-9.

Example 2-9 Using the %ROWTYPE Attribute

-- %ROWTYPE can include all the columns in a table...
   emp_rec employees%ROWTYPE;
-- ...or a subset of the columns, based on a cursor.
      SELECT department_id, department_name FROM departments;
   dept_rec c1%ROWTYPE;
-- Could even make a %ROWTYPE with columns from multiple tables.
      SELECT employee_id, email, employees.manager_id, location_id
      FROM employees, departments
      WHERE employees.department_id = departments.department_id;
   join_rec c2%ROWTYPE;
-- We know EMP_REC can hold a row from the EMPLOYEES table.
   SELECT * INTO emp_rec FROM employees WHERE ROWNUM < 2;
-- We can refer to the fields of EMP_REC using column names
-- from the EMPLOYEES table.
   IF emp_rec.department_id = 20 AND emp_rec.last_name = 'JOHNSON' THEN
      emp_rec.salary := emp_rec.salary * 1.15;
   END IF;

Aggregate Assignment

Although a %ROWTYPE declaration cannot include an initialization clause, there are ways to assign values to all fields in a record at once. You can assign one record to another if their declarations refer to the same table or cursor. Example 2-10 shows record assignments that are allowed.

Example 2-10 Assigning Values to a Record With a %ROWTYPE Declaration

   dept_rec1 departments%ROWTYPE;
   dept_rec2 departments%ROWTYPE;
   CURSOR c1 IS SELECT department_id, location_id FROM departments;
   dept_rec3 c1%ROWTYPE;
   dept_rec1 := dept_rec2;  -- allowed
-- dept_rec2 refers to a table, dept_rec3 refers to a cursor
-- dept_rec2 := dept_rec3;  -- not allowed

You can assign a list of column values to a record by using the SELECT or FETCH statement, as the following example shows. The column names must appear in the order in which they were defined by the CREATE TABLE or CREATE VIEW statement.

   dept_rec departments%ROWTYPE;
   SELECT * INTO dept_rec FROM departments
      WHERE department_id = 30 and ROWNUM < 2;

However, there is no constructor for a record type, so you cannot assign a list of column values to a record by using an assignment statement.

Using Aliases

Select-list items fetched from a cursor associated with %ROWTYPE must have simple names or, if they are expressions, must have aliases. Example 2-11 uses an alias called complete_name to represent the concatenation of two columns:

Example 2-11 Using an Alias for Column Names

-- We assign an alias (complete_name) to the expression value, because
-- it has no column name.
   FOR item IN
   (  SELECT first_name || ' ' || last_name complete_name
      FROM employees WHERE ROWNUM < 11  )
-- Now we can refer to the field in the record using this alias.
     DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Employee name: ' || item.complete_name);

Restrictions on Declarations

PL/SQL does not allow forward references. You must declare a variable or constant before referencing it in other statements, including other declarative statements.

PL/SQL does allow the forward declaration of subprograms. For more information, see "Declaring Nested PL/SQL Subprograms".

Some languages allow you to declare a list of variables that have the same datatype. PL/SQL does not allow this. You must declare each variable separately:

-- Multiple declarations not allowed.
-- i, j, k, l SMALLINT;
-- Instead, declare each separately.
-- To save space, you can declare more than one on a line.

PL/SQL Naming Conventions

The same naming conventions apply to all PL/SQL program items and units including constants, variables, cursors, cursor variables, exceptions, procedures, functions, and packages. Names can be simple, qualified, remote, or both qualified and remote. For example, you might use the procedure name raise_salary in any of the following ways:

raise_salary(...); -- simple
emp_actions.raise_salary(...); -- qualified
raise_salary@newyork(...); -- remote
emp_actions.raise_salary@newyork(...); -- qualified and remote

In the first case, you simply use the procedure name. In the second case, you must qualify the name using dot notation because the procedure is stored in a package called emp_actions. In the third case, using the remote access indicator (@), you reference the database link newyork because the procedure is stored in a remote database. In the fourth case, you qualify the procedure name and reference a database link.


You can create synonyms to provide location transparency for remote schema objects such as tables, sequences, views, standalone subprograms, packages, and object types. However, you cannot create synonyms for items declared within subprograms or packages. That includes constants, variables, cursors, cursor variables, exceptions, and packaged subprograms.


Within the same scope, all declared identifiers must be unique; even if their datatypes differ, variables and parameters cannot share the same name. In Example 2-12, the second declaration is not allowed.

Example 2-12 Errors With Duplicate Identifiers in Same Scope

   valid_id BOOLEAN;
   valid_id VARCHAR2(5);  -- not allowed, duplicate identifier
-- The error occurs when the identifier is referenced,
-- not in the declaration part.
   valid_id := FALSE; -- raises an error here

For the scoping rules that apply to identifiers, see "Scope and Visibility of PL/SQL Identifiers".

Case Sensitivity

Like all identifiers, the names of constants, variables, and parameters are not case sensitive. For instance, PL/SQL considers the following names to be the same:

Example 2-13 Case Sensitivity of Identifiers

   zip_code INTEGER;
   Zip_Code INTEGER;  -- duplicate identifier, despite Z/z case difference
   zip_code := 90120; -- raises error here because of duplicate identifiers

Name Resolution

In potentially ambiguous SQL statements, the names of database columns take precedence over the names of local variables and formal parameters. For example, if a variable and a column with the same name are both used in a WHERE clause, SQL considers that both cases refer to the column.

To avoid ambiguity, add a prefix to the names of local variables and formal parameters, or use a block label to qualify references as shown in Example 2-14.

Example 2-14 Using a Block Label for Name Resolution

CREATE TABLE employees2 AS SELECT last_name FROM employees;
   last_name VARCHAR2(10) := 'King';
   v_last_name VARCHAR2(10) := 'King';
-- deletes everyone, because both LAST_NAMEs refer to the column
   DELETE FROM employees2 WHERE last_name = last_name;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Deleted ' || SQL%ROWCOUNT || ' rows.');
-- OK, column and variable have different names
   DELETE FROM employees2 WHERE last_name = v_last_name;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Deleted ' || SQL%ROWCOUNT || ' rows.');
-- OK, block name specifies that 2nd last_name is a variable
   DELETE FROM employees2 WHERE last_name = main.last_name;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Deleted ' || SQL%ROWCOUNT || ' rows.');

Example 2-15 shows that you can use a subprogram name to qualify references to local variables and formal parameters.

Example 2-15 Using a Subprogram Name for Name Resolution

   FUNCTION dept_name (department_id IN NUMBER)
      RETURN departments.department_name%TYPE
      department_name departments.department_name%TYPE;
-- DEPT_NAME.department_name specifies the local variable
-- instead of the table column
      SELECT department_name INTO dept_name.department_name
         FROM departments
         WHERE department_id = dept_name.department_id;
      RETURN department_name;
   FOR item IN (SELECT department_id FROM departments)
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Department: ' || dept_name(item.department_id));

For a full discussion of name resolution, see Appendix B, "How PL/SQL Resolves Identifier Names".

Scope and Visibility of PL/SQL Identifiers

References to an identifier are resolved according to its scope and visibility. The scope of an identifier is that region of a program unit (block, subprogram, or package) from which you can reference the identifier. An identifier is visible only in the regions from which you can reference the identifier using an unqualified name. Figure 2-1 shows the scope and visibility of a variable named x, which is declared in an enclosing block, then redeclared in a sub-block.

Identifiers declared in a PL/SQL block are considered local to that block and global to all its sub-blocks. If a global identifier is redeclared in a sub-block, both identifiers remain in scope. Within the sub-block, however, only the local identifier is visible because you must use a qualified name to reference the global identifier.

Although you cannot declare an identifier twice in the same block, you can declare the same identifier in two different blocks. The two items represented by the identifier are distinct, and any change in one does not affect the other. However, a block cannot reference identifiers declared in other blocks at the same level because those identifiers are neither local nor global to the block.

Figure 2-1 Scope and Visibility

Description of lnpls007.gif follows
Description of the illustration lnpls007.gif

Example 2-16 illustrates the scope rules. Notice that the identifiers declared in one sub-block cannot be referenced in the other sub-block. That is because a block cannot reference identifiers declared in other blocks nested at the same level.

Example 2-16 Scope Rules

   a CHAR;
   b REAL;
   -- identifiers available here: a (CHAR), b
      a INTEGER;
      c REAL;
     NULL; -- identifiers available here: a (INTEGER), b, c
      d REAL;
     NULL; -- identifiers available here: a (CHAR), b, d
   -- identifiers available here: a (CHAR), b

Recall that global identifiers can be redeclared in a sub-block, in which case the local declaration prevails and the sub-block cannot reference the global identifier unless you use a qualified name. The qualifier can be the label of an enclosing block as shown in Example 2-17.

Example 2-17 Using a Label Qualifier With Identifiers

   birthdate DATE := '09-AUG-70';
      birthdate DATE;
      birthdate := '29-SEP-70';
      IF birthdate = outer.birthdate THEN
         DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE ('Same Birthday');
         DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE ('Different Birthday');
      END IF;

As Example 2-18 shows, the qualifier can also be the name of an enclosing subprogram:

Example 2-18 Using Subprogram Qualifier With Identifiers

   rating NUMBER := 3;
      rating        NUMBER := 1;
      over_limit    BOOLEAN;
     IF check_credit.rating <= limit THEN
       over_limit := FALSE;
       rating := limit;
       over_limit := TRUE;
     END IF;
     RETURN over_limit;
   END check_rating;
   IF check_rating THEN
     DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE( 'Credit rating over limit (' || TO_CHAR(limit) 
                           || ').' || ' Rating: ' || TO_CHAR(rating));
     DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE( 'Credit rating OK. ' || 'Rating: ' 
                           || TO_CHAR(rating) );
   END IF;

CALL check_credit(1);

However, within the same scope, a label and a subprogram cannot have the same name. The use of duplicate labels, illustrated in Example 2-19, should be avoided.

Example 2-19 PL/SQL Block Using Multiple and Duplicate Labels

   numerator   NUMBER := 22;
   denominator NUMBER := 7;
   the_ratio   NUMBER;
      denominator NUMBER := 0;
      -- first use the denominator value = 7 from global DECLARE 
      -- to compute a rough value of pi
      the_ratio := numerator/compute_ratio.denominator;
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Ratio = ' || the_ratio);
      -- now use the local denominator value = 0 to raise an exception
      -- inner_label is not needed but used for clarification
      the_ratio := numerator/inner_label.denominator;
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Ratio = ' || the_ratio);
      -- if you use a duplicate label, you might get errors 
      -- or unpredictable results
      the_ratio := numerator/another_label.denominator;
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Ratio = ' || the_ratio);
        DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Divide-by-zero error: can''t divide ' 
         || numerator || ' by ' || denominator);
        DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Unexpected error.');
  END inner_label;
END compute_ratio;

Assigning Values to Variables

You can use assignment statements to assign values to variables. For example, the following statement assigns a new value to the variable bonus, overwriting its old value:

bonus := salary * 0.15;

Variables and constants are initialized every time a block or subprogram is entered. By default, variables are initialized to NULL. Unless you expressly initialize a variable, its value is undefined (NULL) as shown in Example 2-20.

Example 2-20 Initialization of Variables and Constants

   counter INTEGER;
-- COUNTER is initially NULL, so 'COUNTER + 1' is also null.
   counter := counter + 1;
   IF counter IS NULL THEN
   END IF;

To avoid unexpected results, never reference a variable before you assign it a value. The expression following the assignment operator can be arbitrarily complex, but it must yield a datatype that is the same as or convertible to the datatype of the variable.

Assigning BOOLEAN Values

Only the values TRUE, FALSE, and NULL can be assigned to a BOOLEAN variable as shown in Example 2-21. You can assign these literal values, or expressions such as comparisons using relational operators.

Example 2-21 Assigning BOOLEAN Values

   done BOOLEAN; -- DONE is initially NULL
   counter NUMBER := 0;
   done := FALSE; -- Assign a literal value
   WHILE done != TRUE -- Compare to a literal value
      counter := counter + 1;
      done := (counter > 500); -- If counter > 500, DONE = TRUE

Assigning a SQL Query Result to a PL/SQL Variable

You can use the SELECT statement to have Oracle assign values to a variable. For each item in the select list, there must be a corresponding, type-compatible variable in the INTO list as shown in Example 2-22.

Example 2-22 Assigning a Query Result to a Variable

   emp_id   employees.employee_id%TYPE := 100;
   emp_name employees.last_name%TYPE;
   wages    NUMBER(7,2);
   SELECT last_name, salary + (salary * nvl(commission_pct,0))
      INTO emp_name, wages FROM employees
      WHERE employee_id = emp_id;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Employee ' || emp_name || ' might make ' || wages);

Because SQL does not have a BOOLEAN type, you cannot select column values into a BOOLEAN variable. For additional information on assigning variables with the DML statements, including situations when the value of a variable is undefined, see "Data Manipulation".

PL/SQL Expressions and Comparisons

Expressions are constructed using operands and operators. An operand is a variable, constant, literal, or function call that contributes a value to an expression. An example of a simple arithmetic expression follows:

-X / 2 + 3

Unary operators such as the negation operator (-) operate on one operand; binary operators such as the division operator (/) operate on two operands. PL/SQL has no ternary operators.

The simplest expressions consist of a single variable, which yields a value directly. PL/SQL evaluates an expression by combining the values of the operands in ways specified by the operators. An expression always returns a single value. PL/SQL determines the datatype of this value by examining the expression and the context in which it appears.

Operator Precedence

The operations within an expression are done in a particular order depending on their precedence (priority). Table 2-2 shows the default order of operations from first to last (top to bottom).

Table 2-2 Order of Operations

Operator Operation
** exponentiation
+, - identity, negation
*, / multiplication, division
+, -, || addition, subtraction, concatenation
=, <, >, <=, >=, <>, !=, ~=, ^=, IS NULL, LIKE, BETWEEN, IN comparison
NOT logical negation
AND conjunction
OR inclusion

Operators with higher precedence are applied first. In the following example, both expressions yield 8 because division has a higher precedence than addition. Operators with the same precedence are applied in no particular order.

5 + 12 / 4
12 / 4 + 5

You can use parentheses to control the order of evaluation. For example, the following expression yields 7, not 11, because parentheses override the default operator precedence:

(8 + 6) / 2

In the next example, the subtraction is done before the division because the most deeply nested subexpression is always evaluated first:

100 + (20 / 5 + (7 - 3))

The following example shows that you can always use parentheses to improve readability, even when they are not needed:

(salary * 0.05) + (commission * 0.25)

Logical Operators

The logical operators AND, OR, and NOT follow the tri-state logic shown in Table 2-3. AND and OR are binary operators; NOT is a unary operator.

Table 2-3 Logic Truth Table

x y x AND y x OR y NOT x

As the truth table shows, AND returns TRUE only if both its operands are true. On the other hand, OR returns TRUE if either of its operands is true. NOT returns the opposite value (logical negation) of its operand. For example, NOT TRUE returns FALSE.

NOT NULL returns NULL, because nulls are indeterminate. Be careful to avoid unexpected results in expressions involving nulls; see "Handling Null Values in Comparisons and Conditional Statements".

Order of Evaluation

When you do not use parentheses to specify the order of evaluation, operator precedence determines the order. Compare the following expressions:

NOT (valid AND done)  |  NOT valid AND done

If the BOOLEAN variables valid and done have the value FALSE, the first expression yields TRUE. However, the second expression yields FALSE because NOT has a higher precedence than AND. Therefore, the second expression is equivalent to:

(NOT valid) AND done

In the following example, notice that when valid has the value FALSE, the whole expression yields FALSE regardless of the value of done:

valid AND done

Likewise, in the next example, when valid has the value TRUE, the whole expression yields TRUE regardless of the value of done:

valid OR done

Short-Circuit Evaluation

When evaluating a logical expression, PL/SQL uses short-circuit evaluation. That is, PL/SQL stops evaluating the expression as soon as the result can be determined. This lets you write expressions that might otherwise cause an error. Consider the OR expression in Example 2-23.

Example 2-23 Short-Circuit Evaluation

   on_hand  INTEGER := 0;
   on_order INTEGER := 100;
-- Does not cause divide-by-zero error; evaluation stops after first expression
   IF (on_hand = 0) OR ((on_order / on_hand) < 5) THEN
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('On hand quantity is zero.');
   END IF;

When the value of on_hand is zero, the left operand yields TRUE, so PL/SQL does not evaluate the right operand. If PL/SQL evaluated both operands before applying the OR operator, the right operand would cause a division by zero error.

Short-circuit evaluation applies to IF statements, CASE statements, and CASE expressions in PL/SQL.

Comparison Operators

Comparison operators compare one expression to another. The result is always true, false, or null. Typically, you use comparison operators in conditional control statements and in the WHERE clause of SQL data manipulation statements. Example 2-24 provides some examples of comparisons for different types.

Example 2-24 Using Comparison Operators

   PROCEDURE assert(assertion VARCHAR2, truth BOOLEAN)
      IF truth IS NULL THEN
         DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Assertion ' || assertion || ' is unknown (NULL)');
      ELSIF truth = TRUE THEN
         DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Assertion ' || assertion || ' is TRUE');
         DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Assertion ' || assertion || ' is FALSE');
      END IF;
   assert('2 + 2 = 4', 2 + 2 = 4);
   assert('10 > 1', 10 > 1);
   assert('10 <= 1', 10 <= 1);
   assert('5 BETWEEN 1 AND 10', 5 BETWEEN 1 AND 10);
   assert('NULL != 0', NULL != 0);
   assert('3 IN (1,3,5)', 3 IN (1,3,5));
   assert('''A'' < ''Z''', 'A' < 'Z');
   assert('''baseball'' LIKE ''%all%''', 'baseball' LIKE '%all%');
   assert('''suit'' || ''case'' = ''suitcase''', 'suit' || 'case' = 'suitcase');

Relational Operators

The following table lists the relational operators with their meanings.

Operator Meaning
= equal to
<>, !=, ~=, ^= not equal to
< less than
> greater than
<= less than or equal to
>= greater than or equal to

IS NULL Operator

The IS NULL operator returns the BOOLEAN value TRUE if its operand is null or FALSE if it is not null. Comparisons involving nulls always yield NULL. Test whether a value is null as follows:

IF variable IS NULL THEN ...

LIKE Operator

You use the LIKE operator to compare a character, string, or CLOB value to a pattern. Case is significant. LIKE returns the BOOLEAN value TRUE if the patterns match or FALSE if they do not match.

The patterns matched by LIKE can include two special-purpose characters called wildcards. An underscore (_) matches exactly one character; a percent sign (%) matches zero or more characters. For example, if the value of last_name is 'JOHNSON', the following expression is true:

last_name LIKE 'J%S_N'

To search for the percent sign and underscore characters, you define an escape character and put that character before the percent sign or underscore. The following example uses the backslash as the escape character, so that the percent sign in the string does not act as a wildcard:

IF sale_sign LIKE '50\% off!' ESCAPE '\' THEN...

BETWEEN Operator

The BETWEEN operator tests whether a value lies in a specified range. It means "greater than or equal to low value and less than or equal to high value." For example, the following expression is false:

45 BETWEEN 38 AND 44

IN Operator

The IN operator tests set membership. It means "equal to any member of." The set can contain nulls, but they are ignored. For example, the following expression tests whether a value is part of a set of values:

letter IN ('a','b','c')

Be careful when inverting this condition. Expressions of the form:

value NOT IN set

yield FALSE if the set contains a null.

Concatenation Operator

Double vertical bars (||) serve as the concatenation operator, which appends one string (CHAR, VARCHAR2, CLOB, or the equivalent Unicode-enabled type) to another. For example, the expression

'suit' || 'case'

returns the following value:


If both operands have datatype CHAR, the concatenation operator returns a CHAR value. If either operand is a CLOB value, the operator returns a temporary CLOB. Otherwise, it returns a VARCHAR2 value.

BOOLEAN Expressions

PL/SQL lets you compare variables and constants in both SQL and procedural statements. These comparisons, called BOOLEAN expressions, consist of simple or complex expressions separated by relational operators. Often, BOOLEAN expressions are connected by the logical operators AND, OR, and NOT. A BOOLEAN expression always yields TRUE, FALSE, or NULL.

In a SQL statement, BOOLEAN expressions let you specify the rows in a table that are affected by the statement. In a procedural statement, BOOLEAN expressions are the basis for conditional control. There are three kinds of BOOLEAN expressions: arithmetic, character, and date.

BOOLEAN Arithmetic Expressions

You can use the relational operators to compare numbers for equality or inequality. Comparisons are quantitative; that is, one number is greater than another if it represents a larger quantity. For example, given the assignments

number1 := 75;
number2 := 70;

the following expression is true:

number1 > number2

BOOLEAN Character Expressions

You can compare character values for equality or inequality. By default, comparisons are based on the binary values of each byte in the string. For example, given the assignments

string1 := 'Kathy';
string2 := 'Kathleen';

the following expression is true:

string1 > string2

By setting the initialization parameter NLS_COMP=ANSI, you can make comparisons use the collating sequence identified by the NLS_SORT initialization parameter. A collating sequence is an internal ordering of the character set in which a range of numeric codes represents the individual characters. One character value is greater than another if its internal numeric value is larger. Each language might have different rules about where such characters occur in the collating sequence. For example, an accented letter might be sorted differently depending on the database character set, even though the binary value is the same in each case.

Depending on the value of the NLS_SORT parameter, you can perform comparisons that are case-insensitive and even accent-insensitive. A case-insensitive comparison still returns true if the letters of the operands are different in terms of uppercase and lowercase. An accent-insensitive comparison is case-insensitive, and also returns true if the operands differ in accents or punctuation characters. For example, the character values 'True' and 'TRUE' are considered identical by a case-insensitive comparison; the character values 'Cooperate', 'Co-Operate', and 'coöperate' are all considered the same. To make comparisons case-insensitive, add _CI to the end of your usual value for the NLS_SORT parameter. To make comparisons accent-insensitive, add _AI to the end of the NLS_SORT value.

There are semantic differences between the CHAR and VARCHAR2 base types that come into play when you compare character values. For more information, see "Differences between the CHAR and VARCHAR2 Datatypes".

Many types can be converted to character types. For example, you can compare, assign, and do other character operations using CLOB variables. For details on the possible conversions, see "PL/SQL Character and String Types".

BOOLEAN Date Expressions

You can also compare dates. Comparisons are chronological; that is, one date is greater than another if it is more recent. For example, given the assignments

date1 := '01-JAN-91';
date2 := '31-DEC-90';

the following expression is true:

date1 > date2

Guidelines for PL/SQL BOOLEAN Expressions

In general, do not compare real numbers for exact equality or inequality. Real numbers are stored as approximate values. For example, the following IF condition might not yield TRUE:

   fraction BINARY_FLOAT := 1/3;
   IF fraction = 11/33 THEN
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Fractions are equal (luckily!)');
   END IF;

It is a good idea to use parentheses when doing comparisons. For example, the following expression is not allowed because 100 < tax yields a BOOLEAN value, which cannot be compared with the number 500:

100 < tax < 500 -- not allowed

The debugged version follows:

(100 < tax) AND (tax < 500)

A BOOLEAN variable is itself either true or false. You can just use the variable in a conditional test, rather than comparing it to the literal values TRUE and FALSE. In Example 2-25 the loops are all equivalent.

Example 2-25 Using BOOLEAN Variables in Conditional Tests

   done BOOLEAN ;
-- Each WHILE loop is equivalent
   done := FALSE;
   WHILE done = FALSE
      done := TRUE;
   done := FALSE;
   WHILE NOT (done = TRUE)
      done := TRUE;
   done := FALSE;
   WHILE NOT done
      done := TRUE;

Using CLOB values with comparison operators, or functions such as LIKE and BETWEEN, can create temporary LOBs. You might need to make sure your temporary tablespace is large enough to handle these temporary LOBs.

CASE Expressions

There are two types of expressions used in CASE statements: simple and searched. These expressions correspond to the type of CASE statement in which they are used. See "Using CASE Statements".

Simple CASE expression

A simple CASE expression selects a result from one or more alternatives, and returns the result. Although it contains a block that might stretch over several lines, it really is an expression that forms part of a larger statement, such as an assignment or a procedure call. The CASE expression uses a selector, an expression whose value determines which alternative to return.

A CASE expression has the form illustrated in Example 2-26. The selector (grade) is followed by one or more WHEN clauses, which are checked sequentially. The value of the selector determines which clause is evaluated. The first WHEN clause that matches the value of the selector determines the result value, and subsequent WHEN clauses are not evaluated. If there are no matches, then the optional ELSE clause is performed.

Example 2-26 Using the WHEN Clause With a CASE Statement

   grade CHAR(1) := 'B';
   appraisal VARCHAR2(20);
   appraisal :=
      CASE grade
         WHEN 'A' THEN 'Excellent'
         WHEN 'B' THEN 'Very Good'
         WHEN 'C' THEN 'Good'
         WHEN 'D' THEN 'Fair'
         WHEN 'F' THEN 'Poor'
         ELSE 'No such grade'
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Grade ' || grade || ' is ' || appraisal);

The optional ELSE clause works similarly to the ELSE clause in an IF statement. If the value of the selector is not one of the choices covered by a WHEN clause, the ELSE clause is executed. If no ELSE clause is provided and none of the WHEN clauses are matched, the expression returns NULL.

Searched CASE Expression

A searched CASE expression lets you test different conditions instead of comparing a single expression to various values. It has the form shown in Example 2-27.

A searched CASE expression has no selector. Each WHEN clause contains a search condition that yields a BOOLEAN value, so you can test different variables or multiple conditions in a single WHEN clause.

Example 2-27 Using a Search Condition With a CASE Statement

   grade CHAR(1) := 'B';
   appraisal VARCHAR2(120);
   id NUMBER := 8429862;
   attendance NUMBER := 150;
   min_days CONSTANT NUMBER := 200;
   appraisal :=
         WHEN attends_this_school(id) = FALSE THEN 'N/A - Student not enrolled'
-- Have to test this condition early to detect good students with bad attendance
         WHEN grade = 'F' OR attendance < min_days 
            THEN 'Poor (poor performance or bad attendance)'
         WHEN grade = 'A' THEN 'Excellent'
         WHEN grade = 'B' THEN 'Very Good'
         WHEN grade = 'C' THEN 'Good'
         WHEN grade = 'D' THEN 'Fair'
         ELSE 'No such grade'
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Result for student ' || id || ' is ' || appraisal);

The search conditions are evaluated sequentially. The BOOLEAN value of each search condition determines which WHEN clause is executed. If a search condition yields TRUE, its WHEN clause is executed. After any WHEN clause is executed, subsequent search conditions are not evaluated. If none of the search conditions yields TRUE, the optional ELSE clause is executed. If no WHEN clause is executed and no ELSE clause is supplied, the value of the expression is NULL.

Handling Null Values in Comparisons and Conditional Statements

When working with nulls, you can avoid some common mistakes by keeping in mind the following rules:

  • Comparisons involving nulls always yield NULL

  • Applying the logical operator NOT to a null yields NULL

  • In conditional control statements, if the condition yields NULL, its associated sequence of statements is not executed

  • If the expression in a simple CASE statement or CASE expression yields NULL, it cannot be matched by using WHEN NULL. In this case, you would need to use the searched case syntax and test WHEN expression IS NULL.

In Example 2-28, you might expect the sequence of statements to execute because x and y seem unequal. But, nulls are indeterminate. Whether or not x is equal to y is unknown. Therefore, the IF condition yields NULL and the sequence of statements is bypassed.

Example 2-28 Using NULLs in Comparisons

   x NUMBER := 5;
   y NUMBER := NULL;
   IF x != y THEN  -- yields NULL, not TRUE
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('x != y');  -- not executed
   ELSIF x = y THEN -- also yields NULL
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('x = y');
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Can''t tell if x and y are equal or not.');
   END IF;

In the following example, you might expect the sequence of statements to execute because a and b seem equal. But, again, that is unknown, so the IF condition yields NULL and the sequence of statements is bypassed.

   a NUMBER := NULL;
   b NUMBER := NULL;
   IF a = b THEN  -- yields NULL, not TRUE
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('a = b');  -- not executed
   ELSIF a != b THEN  -- yields NULL, not TRUE
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('a != b');  -- not executed
      DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Can''t tell if two NULLs are equal');
   END IF;

NULLs and the NOT Operator

Recall that applying the logical operator NOT to a null yields NULL. Thus, the following two IF statements are not always equivalent:

IF x > y THEN high := x; ELSE high := y; END IF;
IF NOT x > y THEN high := y; ELSE high := x; END IF;

The sequence of statements in the ELSE clause is executed when the IF condition yields FALSE or NULL. If neither x nor y is null, both IF statements assign the same value to high. However, if either x or y is null, the first IF statement assigns the value of y to high, but the second IF statement assigns the value of x to high.

NULLs and Zero-Length Strings

PL/SQL treats any zero-length string like a null. This includes values returned by character functions and BOOLEAN expressions. For example, the following statements assign nulls to the target variables:

   null_string VARCHAR2(80) := TO_CHAR('');
   address VARCHAR2(80);
   zip_code VARCHAR2(80) := SUBSTR(address, 25, 0);
   name VARCHAR2(80);
   valid BOOLEAN := (name != '');

Use the IS NULL operator to test for null strings, as follows:

IF v_string IS NULL THEN ...

NULLs and the Concatenation Operator

The concatenation operator ignores null operands. For example, the expression

'apple' || NULL || NULL || 'sauce'

returns the following value:


NULLs as Arguments to Built-In Functions

If a null argument is passed to a built-in function, a null is returned except in the following cases.

The function DECODE compares its first argument to one or more search expressions, which are paired with result expressions. Any search or result expression can be null. If a search is successful, the corresponding result is returned. In Example 2-29, if the column manager_id is null, DECODE returns the value 'nobody':

Example 2-29 Using the Function DECODE

   the_manager VARCHAR2(40);
   name employees.last_name%TYPE;
-- NULL is a valid argument to DECODE. In this case, manager_id is null
-- and the DECODE function returns 'nobody'.
   SELECT DECODE(manager_id, NULL, 'nobody', 'somebody'), last_name
      INTO the_manager, name FROM employees WHERE employee_id = 100;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE(name || ' is managed by ' || the_manager);

The function NVL returns the value of its second argument if its first argument is null. In Example 2-30, if the column specified in the query is null, the function returns the value -1 to signify a non-existent employee in the output:

Example 2-30 Using the Function NVL

   the_manager employees.manager_id%TYPE;
   name employees.last_name%TYPE;
-- NULL is a valid argument to NVL. In this case, manager_id is null
-- and the NVL function returns -1.
   SELECT NVL(manager_id, -1), last_name
      INTO the_manager, name FROM employees WHERE employee_id = 100;
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE(name || ' is managed by employee Id: ' || the_manager);

The function REPLACE returns the value of its first argument if its second argument is null, whether the optional third argument is present or not. For example, the call to REPLACE in Example 2-31 does not make any change to the value of OLD_STRING:

Example 2-31 Using the Function REPLACE

   string_type VARCHAR2(60);
   old_string string_type%TYPE := 'Apples and oranges';
   v_string  string_type%TYPE := 'more apples';
-- NULL is a valid argument to REPLACE, but does not match
-- anything so no replacement is done.
   new_string string_type%TYPE := REPLACE(old_string, NULL, v_string);
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Old string = ' || old_string);
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('New string = ' || new_string);

If its third argument is null, REPLACE returns its first argument with every occurrence of its second argument removed. For example, the following call to REPLACE removes all the dashes from DASHED_STRING, instead of changing them to another character:

   string_type VARCHAR2(60);
   dashed string_type%TYPE := 'Gold-i-locks';
-- When the substitution text for REPLACE is NULL,
-- the text being replaced is deleted.
   name   string_type%TYPE := REPLACE(dashed, '-', NULL);
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Dashed name    = ' || dashed);
   DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Dashes removed = ' || name);

If its second and third arguments are null, REPLACE just returns its first argument.

Conditional Compilation

Using conditional compilation, you can customize the functionality in a PL/SQL application without having to remove any source code. For example, using conditional compilation you can customize a PL/SQL application to:

  • Utilize the latest functionality with the latest database release and disable the new features to run the application against an older release of the database

  • Activate debugging or tracing functionality in the development environment and hide that functionality in the application while it runs at a production site

See the discussion of new features in "Conditional Compilation". For business use scenarios and best practices information, visit the Oracle Technology Web site at http://www.oracle.com/technology/tech/pl_sql/.

How Does Conditional Compilation Work?

Conditional compilation uses selection directives, inquiry directives, and error directives to specify source text for compilation. Inquiry directives access values set up through name-value pairs in the PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter. Selection directives can test inquiry directives or static package constants.

The DBMS_DB_VERSION package provides database version and release constants that can be used for conditional compilation. The DBMS_PREPROCESSOR package provides subprograms for accessing the post-processed source text that is selected by conditional compilation directives in a PL/SQL unit.


The conditional compilation feature and related PL/SQL packages are available for Oracle release and later releases.

Conditional Compilation Control Tokens

The conditional compilation trigger character is $ and is used to identify code that is processed before the application is compiled. A conditional compilation control token is of the form:

preprocessor_control_token ::= $plsql_identifier

The $ must be at the beginning of the identifier name and there cannot be a space between the $ and the name. The $ can also be embedded in the identifier name, but it has no special meaning. The reserved preprocessor control tokens are $IF, $THEN, $ELSE, $ELSIF, $END, and $ERROR. For an example of the use of the conditional compilation control tokens, see Example 2-34.

Using Conditional Compilation Selection Directives

The conditional compilation selection directive evaluates static expressions to determine which text should be included in the compilation. The selection directive is of the form:

$IF boolean_static_expression $THEN text
  [ $ELSIF boolean_static_expression $THEN text ]
  [ $ELSE text ]

boolean_static_expression must be a BOOLEAN static expression. For a description of BOOLEAN static expressions, see "Using Static Expressions with Conditional Compilation". For information on PL/SQL IF .. THEN control structures, see "Testing Conditions: IF and CASE Statements".

Using Conditional Compilation Error Directives

The error directive $ERROR raises a user-defined error and is of the form:

$ERROR varchar2_static_expression $END

varchar2_static_expression must be a VARCHAR2 static expression. For a description of VARCHAR2 static expressions, see "Using Static Expressions with Conditional Compilation". See Example 2-33.

Using Conditional Compilation Inquiry Directives

The inquiry directive is used to check the compilation environment. The inquiry directive is of the form:

inquiry_directive ::= $$id

An inquiry directive can be predefined as described in "Using Predefined Inquiry Directives With Conditional Compilation" or be user-defined. The following describes the order of the processing flow when conditional compilation attempts to resolve an inquiry directive:

  1. The id is used as an inquiry directive in the form $$id for the search key.

  2. The two-pass algorithm proceeds as follows:

    The string in the PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter is scanned from right to left, searching with id for a matching name (case insensitive); done if found.

    The predefined inquiry directives are searched; done if found.

  3. If the $$id cannot be resolved to a value, then the PLW-6003 warning message is reported if the source text is not wrapped. The literal NULL is substituted as the value for undefined inquiry directives. Note that if the PL/SQL code is wrapped, then the warning message is disabled so that the undefined inquiry directive is not revealed.

For example, given the following session setting:

   PLSQL_CCFLAGS = 'plsql_ccflags:true, debug:true, debug:0';

The value of $$debug is 0 and the value of $$plsql_ccflags is TRUE. Note that the value of $$plsql_ccflags resolves to the user-defined plsql_ccflags inside the value of the PLSQL_CCFLAGS compiler parameter. This occurs because a user-defined directive overrides the predefined one.

Given this session setting:


Now the value of $$debug is TRUE, the value of $$plsql_ccflags is 'debug:true', the value of $$my_id is the literal NULL, and the use of $$my_id raises PLW-6003 if the source text is not wrapped.

For an example of the use of an inquiry directive, see Example 2-34.

Using Predefined Inquiry Directives With Conditional Compilation

This section describes the inquiry directive names that are predefined and can be used in conditional expressions. These include:

  • The Oracle initialization parameters for PL/SQL compilation, such as PLSQL_CCFLAGS, PLSQL_DEBUG, PLSQL_OPTIMIZE_LEVEL, PLSQL_CODE_TYPE, PLSQL_WARNINGS, and NLS_LENGTH_SEMANTICS. See "Initialization Parameters for PL/SQL Compilation". For an example, see Example 2-34.

    Note that recompiling a PL/SQL unit with the REUSE SETTINGS clause of the SQL ALTER statement can protect against changes made to initialization parameter values in the current PL/SQL compilation environment. See Example 2-35.

  • PLSQL_LINE which is a PLS_INTEGER literal value indicating the line number reference to $$PLSQL_LINE in the current unit. For example:

    $IF $$PLSQL_LINE = 32 $THEN ...

    Note that the value of PLSQL_LINE can be defined explicitly with PLSQL_CCFLAGS.

  • PLSQL_UNIT which is a VARCHAR2 literal value indicating the current source unit. For a named compilation unit, $$PLSQL_UNIT contains, but might not be limited to, the unit name. For an anonymous block, $$PLSQL_UNIT contains the empty string. For example:


    Note that the value of PLSQL_UNIT can be defined explicitly with PLSQL_CCFLAGS. Also note that the previous example shows the use of PLSQL_UNIT in regular PL/SQL. Because $$PLSQL_UNIT = 'AWARD_BONUS' is a VARCHAR2 comparison, not a static expression, it is not supported with $IF. One valid use of $IF with PLSQL_UNIT is to determine an anonymous block:


Using Static Expressions with Conditional Compilation

Only static expressions which can be fully evaluated by the compiler are allowed during conditional compilation processing. Any expression that contains references to variables or functions that require the execution of the PL/SQL are not available during compilation and cannot be evaluated. For information on PL/SQL datatypes, see "Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes".

A static expression is either a BOOLEAN, PLS_INTEGER, or VARCHAR2 static expression. Static constants declared in packages are also static expressions.

Boolean Static Expressions

BOOLEAN static expressions include:

  • TRUE, FALSE, and the literal NULL

  • x > y, x < y, x >= y, x <= y, x = y, and x <> y where x and y are PLS_INTEGER static expressions

  • NOT x, x AND y, x OR y, x > y, x >= y, x = y, x <= y, x <> y where x and y are BOOLEAN static expressions

  • x IS NULL and x IS NOT NULL where x is a static expression

PLS_INTEGER Static Expressions

PLS_INTEGER static expressions include:

  • -2147483648 to 2147483647, and the literal NULL

VARCHAR2 Static Expressions

VARCHAR2 static expressions include:

  • 'abcdef' and 'abc' || 'def'

  • literal NULL

  • TO_CHAR(x), where x is a PLS_INTEGER static expression

  • TO_CHAR(x f, n) where x is a PLS_INTEGER static expression andf and n are VARCHAR2 static expressions

  • x || y where x and y are VARCHAR2 or PLS_INTEGER static expressions

Static Constants

Static constants are declared in a package specification as follows:

static_constant CONSTANT datatype := static_expression;

This is a valid declaration of a static constant if:

  • The declared datatype and the type of static_expression are the same

  • static_expression is a static expression

  • datatype is either BOOLEAN or PLS_INTEGER

The static constant must be declared in the package specification and referred to as package_name.constant_name, even in the body of the package_name package.

If a static package constant is used as the BOOLEAN expression in a valid selection directive in a PL/SQL unit, then the conditional compilation mechanism automatically places a dependency on the package referred to. If the package is altered, then the dependent unit becomes invalid and needs to be recompiled to pick up any changes. Note that only valid static expressions can create dependencies.

If you choose to use a package with static constants for controlling conditional compilation in multiple PL/SQL units, then create only the package specification and dedicate it exclusively for controlling conditional compilation because of the multiple dependencies. Note that for control of conditional compilation in an individual unit, you can set a specific flag in PLSQL_CCFLAGS.

In Example 2-32 the my_debug package defines constants for controlling debugging and tracing in multiple PL/SQL units. In the example, the constants debug and trace are used in static expressions in procedures my_proc1 and my_proc2, which places a dependency from the procedures to my_debug.

Example 2-32 Using Static Constants

END my_debug;
  $IF my_debug.debug $THEN DBMS_OUTPUT.put_line('Debugging ON'); 
  $ELSE DBMS_OUTPUT.put_line('Debugging OFF'); $END
END my_proc1;
  $IF my_debug.trace $THEN DBMS_OUTPUT.put_line('Tracing ON'); 
  $ELSE DBMS_OUTPUT.put_line('Tracing OFF'); $END
END my_proc2;

Changing the value of one of the constants forces all the dependent units of the package to recompile with the new value. For example, changing the value of debug to FALSE would cause my_proc1 to be recompiled without the debugging code. my_proc2 would also be recompiled, but my_proc2 would be unchanged because the value of trace did not change.

Setting the PLSQL_CCFLAGS Initialization Parameter

You can set the dynamic PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter to flag names with associated values to control conditional compilation on PL/SQL units. For example, the PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter could be set dynamically with ALTER SESSION to turn on debugging and tracing functionality in PL/SQL units as shown in Example 2-34.

You can also set the PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter to independently control conditional compilation on a specific PL/SQL unit with as shown in Example 2-35 with the SQL ALTER PROCEDURE statement.

The flag names can be set to any unquoted PL/SQL identifier, including reserved words and keywords. If a flag value is explicitly set, it must be set to a TRUE, FALSE, PLS_INTEGER, or NULL. The flag names and values are not case sensitive. For detailed information, including restrictions, on the PLSQL_CCFLAGS initialization parameter, see Oracle Database Reference.

Using DBMS_DB_VERSION Package Constants

The DBMS_DB_VERSION package provides constants that are useful when making simple selections for conditional compilation. The PLS_INTEGER constants VERSION and RELEASE identify the current Oracle version and release numbers. The BOOLEAN constants VER_LE_9, VER_LE_9_1, VER_LE_9_2, VER_LE_10, VER_LE_10_1, and VER_LE_10_2 evaluate to TRUE or FALSE on the basis of less than or equal to the version and the release. For example, the constants in Oracle 10g release 2 evaluate as follows:

  • VER_LE_10 represents the condition that the database version is less than or equal to 10; it is TRUE

  • VER_LE_10_2 represents the condition that database version is less than or equal to 10 and release is less than or equal to 2; it is TRUE

  • All constants representing Oracle 10g release 1 or earlier are FALSE

Example 2-33 illustrates the use of a DBMS_DB_VERSION constant with conditional compilation. Both the Oracle database version and release are checked. This example also shows the use of $ERROR.

Example 2-33 Using DBMS_DB_VERSION Constants

  $ERROR 'unsupported database release' $END
                        DBMS_DB_VERSION.RELEASE || ' is supported.');
  -- Note that this COMMIT syntax is newly supported in 10.2

For information on the DBMS_DB_VERSION package, see Oracle Database PL/SQL Packages and Types Reference.

Conditional Compilation Examples

This section provides examples using conditional compilation.

Using Conditional Compilation to Specify Code for Database Versions

In Example 2-34, conditional compilation is used to determine whether the BINARY_DOUBLE datatype can be utilized in the calculations for PL/SQL units in the database. The BINARY_DOUBLE datatype can only be used in a database version that is 10g or later. This example also shows the use of the PLSQL_CCFLAGS parameter.

Example 2-34 Using Conditional Compilation With Database Versions

-- set flags for displaying debugging code and tracing info

  SUBTYPE my_real IS
    $IF DBMS_DB_VERSION.VERSION < 10 $THEN NUMBER; -- check database version
      $ELSE                                BINARY_DOUBLE;
  my_pi my_real; my_e my_real;
END my_pkg;

BEGIN -- set up values for future calculations based on DB version
       my_pi := 3.14016408289008292431940027343666863227;
       my_e  := 2.71828182845904523536028747135266249775;
       my_pi := 3.14016408289008292431940027343666863227d;
       my_e  := 2.71828182845904523536028747135266249775d;
END my_pkg;

CREATE PROCEDURE circle_area(radius my_pkg.my_real) IS
  my_area my_pkg.my_real;
  my_datatype VARCHAR2(30);
  my_area := my_pkg.my_pi * radius;
  DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Radius: ' || TO_CHAR(radius) 
                       || ' Area: ' || TO_CHAR(my_area) );
  $IF $$my_debug $THEN -- if my_debug is TRUE, run some debugging code
     DBMS_OUTPUT.PUT_LINE('Datatype of the RADIUS argument is: ' || my_datatype);

If you want to set my_debug to TRUE, you can make this change only for procedure circle_area with the REUSE SETTINGS clause as shown in Example 2-35.



Using DBMS_PREPROCESSOR Procedures to Print or Retrieve Source Text

DBMS_PREPROCESSOR subprograms print or retrieve the post-processed source text of a PL/SQL unit after processing the conditional compilation directives. This post-processed text is the actual source used to compile a valid PL/SQL unit. Example 2-36 shows how to print the post-processed form of my_pkg in Example 2-34 with the PRINT_POST_PROCESSED_SOURCE procedure.

Example 2-36 Using PRINT_POST_PROCESSED_SOURCE to Display Source Code


When my_pkg in Example 2-34 is compiled on a 10g release or later database using the HR account, the output of Example 2-36 is similar to the following:

  SUBTYPE my_real IS
  my_pi my_real; my_e my_real;
END my_pkg;

PRINT_POST_PROCESSED_SOURCE replaces unselected text with whitespace. The lines of code in Example 2-34 that are not included in the post-processed text are represented as blank lines. For information on the DBMS_PREPROCESSOR package, see Oracle Database PL/SQL Packages and Types Reference.

Conditional Compilation Restrictions

A conditional compilation directive cannot be used in the specification of an object type or in the specification of a schema-level nested table or varray. The attribute structure of dependent types and the column structure of dependent tables is determined by the attribute structure specified in object type specifications. Any changes to the attribute structure of an object type must be done in a controlled manner to propagate the changes to dependent objects. The mechanism for propagating changes is the SQL ALTER TYPE ... ATTRIBUTE statement. Use of a preprocessor directive would allow changes to the attribute structure of the object type without the use of an ALTER TYPE ... ATTRIBUTE statement. As a consequence, dependent objects could go out of sync or dependent tables could become inaccessible.

The SQL parser imposes restrictions on the placement of directives when performing SQL operations such as the CREATE [OR REPLACE] statement or the execution of an anonymous block. When performing these SQL operations, the SQL parser imposes a restriction on the location of the first conditional compilation directive as follows:

  • A conditional compilation directive cannot be used in the specification of an object type or in the specification of a schema-level nested table or varray.

  • In a package specification, a package body, a type body, and in a schema-level function or procedure with no formal parameters, the first conditional compilation directive may occur immediately after the keyword IS/AS.

  • In a schema-level function or procedure with at least one formal parameter, the first conditional compilation directive may occur immediately after the opening parenthesis that follows the unit's name. For example:

     ) IS BEGIN NULL; END my_proc;
  • In a trigger or an anonymous block, the first conditional compilation directive may occur immediately after the keyword BEGIN or immediately after the keyword DECLARE when the trigger block has a DECLARE section.

  • If an anonymous block uses a placeholder, then this cannot occur within a conditional compilation directive. For example:

      :n := 1; -- valid use of placeholder
      $IF .... $THEN
        :n := 1; -- invalid use of placeholder

Using PL/SQL to Create Web Applications and Server Pages

You can use PL/SQL to develop Web applications or server pages. These are briefly described in this section. For detailed information on using PL/SQL to create Web applications, see "Developing Applications with the PL/SQL Web Toolkit" in Oracle Database Application Developer's Guide - Fundamentals. For detailed information on using PL/SQL to create Web Server Pages (PSPs), see "Developing PL/SQL Server Pages" in Oracle Database Application Developer's Guide - Fundamentals.

PL/SQL Web Applications

With PL/SQL you can create applications that generate Web pages directly from an Oracle database, allowing you to make your database available on the Web and make back-office data accessible on the intranet.The program flow of a PL/SQL Web application is similar to that in a CGI Perl script. Developers often use CGI scripts to produce Web pages dynamically, but such scripts are often not optimal for accessing Oracle Database. Delivering Web content with PL/SQL stored procedures provides the power and flexibility of database processing. For example, you can use DML, dynamic SQL, and cursors. You also eliminate the process overhead of forking a new CGI process to handle each HTTP request.You can implement a Web browser-based application entirely in PL/SQL with PL/SQL Gateway and the PL/SQL Web Toolkit.

  • PL/SQL gateway enables a Web browser to invoke a PL/SQL stored procedure through an HTTP listener. mod_plsql, one implementation of the PL/SQL gateway, is a plug-in of Oracle HTTP Server and enables Web browsers to invoke PL/SQL stored procedures.

  • PL/SQL Web Toolkit is a set of PL/SQL packages that provides a generic interface to use stored procedures called by mod_plsql at runtime.

PL/SQL Server Pages

PL/SQL Server Pages (PSPs) enable you to develop Web pages with dynamic content. They are an alternative to coding a stored procedure that writes out the HTML code for a web page, one line at a time.

Using special tags, you can embed PL/SQL scripts into HTML source code. The scripts are executed when the pages are requested by Web clients such as browsers. A script can accept parameters, query or update the database, then display a customized page showing the results.

During development, PSPs can act like templates with a static part for page layout and a dynamic part for content. You can design the layouts using your favorite HTML authoring tools, leaving placeholders for the dynamic content. Then, you can write the PL/SQL scripts that generate the content. When finished, you simply load the resulting PSP files into the database as stored procedures.

Summary of PL/SQL Built-In Functions

PL/SQL provides many powerful functions to help you manipulate data. These built-in functions fall into the following categories:

Error reporting
Datatype conversion
Object reference

Table 2-4 shows the functions in each category. For descriptions of the error-reporting functions, see "SQLCODE Function" and "SQLERRM Function". For descriptions of the other functions, see Oracle Database SQL Reference.

Except for the error-reporting functions SQLCODE and SQLERRM, you can use all the functions in SQL statements. Also, except for the object-reference functions DEREF, REF, and VALUE and the miscellaneous functions DECODE, DUMP, and VSIZE, you can use all the functions in procedural statements.

Although the SQL aggregate functions (such as AVG and COUNT) and the SQL analytic functions (such as CORR and LAG) are not built into PL/SQL, you can use them in SQL statements (but not in procedural statements).

Table 2-4 Built-In Functions

Error Number Character Conversion Date Obj Ref Misc