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Oracle® Database SecureFiles and Large Objects Developer's Guide
11g Release 1 (11.1)

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10 SQL Semantics and LOBs

This chapter describes SQL semantics that are supported for LOBs. These techniques allow you to use LOBs directly in SQL code and provide an alternative to using LOB-specific APIs for some operations.

This chapter contains these topics:

Using LOBs in SQL

You can access CLOB and NCLOB datatypes using SQL VARCHAR2 semantics, such as SQL string operators and functions. (LENGTH functions can be used with BLOB datatypes as well as CLOB and NCLOBs.) These techniques are beneficial in the following situations:

SQL semantics are not recommended in the following situations:

SQL Functions and Operators Supported for Use with LOBs

Many SQL operators and functions that take VARCHAR2 columns as arguments also accept LOB columns. The following list summarizes which categories of SQL functions and operators are supported for use with LOBs. Details on individual functions and operators are given in Table 10-1.

The following categories of SQL functions and operators are supported for use with LOBs:

The following categories of functions are not supported for use with LOBs:

Details on individual functions and operators are given in Table 10-1. This table lists SQL operators and functions that take VARCHAR2 types as operands or arguments, or return a VARCHAR2 value, and indicates in the "SQL" column which functions and operators are supported for CLOB and NCLOB datatypes. (The LENGTH function is also supported for the BLOB datatype.)

The DBMS_LOB PL/SQL package supplied with Oracle Database supports using LOBs with most of the functions listed in Table 10-1 as indicated in the "PL/SQL" column.

Note:

Operators and functions with "No" indicated in the SQL column of Table 10-1 do not work in SQL queries used in PL/SQL blocks - even though some of these operators and functions are supported for use directly in PL/SQL code.

Implicit Conversion of CLOB to CHAR Types

Functions designated as "CNV" in the SQL or PL/SQL column of Table 10-1 are performed by converting the CLOB to a character datatype, such as VARCHAR2. In the SQL environment, only the first 4K bytes of the CLOB are converted and used in the operation; in the PL/SQL environment, only the first 32K bytes of the CLOB are converted and used in the operation.

Table 10-1 SQL VARCHAR2 Functions and Operators on LOBs

Category Operator / Function SQL Example / Comments SQL PL/SQL

Concatenation

||, CONCAT()

Select clobCol || clobCol2 from tab;

Yes

Yes

Comparison

= , !=, >, >=, <, <=, <>, ^=

if clobCol=clobCol2 then...

No

Yes

Comparison

IN, NOT IN

if clobCol NOT IN (clob1, clob2, clob3) then...

No

Yes

Comparison

SOME, ANY, ALL

if clobCol < SOME (select clobCol2 from...) then...

No

N/A

Comparison

BETWEEN

if clobCol BETWEEN clobCol2 and clobCol3 then...

No

Yes

Comparison

LIKE [ESCAPE]

if clobCol LIKE '%pattern%' then...

Yes

Yes

Comparison

IS [NOT] NULL

where clobCol IS NOT NULL

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

INITCAP, NLS_INITCAP

select INITCAP(clobCol) from...

CNV

CNV

Character Functions

LOWER, NLS_LOWER, UPPER, NLS_UPPER

...where LOWER(clobCol1) = LOWER(clobCol2)

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

LPAD, RPAD

select RPAD(clobCol, 20, ' La') from...

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

TRIM, LTRIM, RTRIM

...where RTRIM(LTRIM(clobCol,'ab'), 'xy') = 'cd'

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

REPLACE

select REPLACE(clobCol, 'orig','new') from...

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

SOUNDEX

...where SOUNDEX(clobCOl) = SOUNDEX('SMYTHE')

CNV

CNV

Character Functions

SUBSTR

...where substr(clobCol, 1,4) = 'THIS'

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

TRANSLATE

select TRANSLATE(clobCol, '123abc','NC') from...

CNV

CNV

Character Functions

ASCII

select ASCII(clobCol) from...

CNV

CNV

Character Functions

INSTR

...where instr(clobCol, 'book') = 11

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

LENGTH

...where length(clobCol) != 7;

Yes

Yes

Character Functions

NLSSORT

...where NLSSORT (clobCol,'NLS_SORT = German') > NLSSORT ('S','NLS_SORT = German')

CNV

CNV

Character Functions

INSTRB, SUBSTRB, LENGTHB

These functions are supported only for CLOBs that use single-byte character sets. (LENGTHB is supported for BLOBs as well as CLOBs.)

Yes

Yes

Character Functions - Regular Expressions

REGEXP_LIKE

This function searches a character column for a pattern. Use this function in the WHERE clause of a query to return rows matching the regular expression you specify.

See the Oracle Database SQL Language Reference for syntax details on SQL functions for regular expressions. See the Oracle Database Advanced Application Developer's Guide for information on using regular expressions with the database.

Yes

Yes

Character Functions - Regular Expressions

REGEXP_REPLACE

This function searches for a pattern in a character column and replaces each occurrence of that pattern with the pattern you specify.

Yes

Yes

Character Functions - Regular Expressions

REGEXP_INSTR

This function searches a string for a given occurrence of a regular expression pattern. You specify which occurrence you want to find and the start position to search from. This function returns an integer indicating the position in the string where the match is found.

Yes

Yes

Character Functions - Regular Expressions

REGEXP_SUBSTR

This function returns the actual substring matching the regular expression pattern you specify.

Yes

Yes

Conversion

CHARTOROWID

CHARTOROWID(clobCol)

CNV

CNV

Conversion

COMPOSE

COMPOSE('string')

Returns a Unicode string given a string in the datatype CHAR, VARCHAR2,CLOB, NCHAR, NVARCHAR2, NCLOB. An o code point qualified by an umlaut code point will be returned as the o-umlaut code point.

CNV

CNV

Conversion

DECOMPOSE

DECOMPOSE('str' [CANONICAL | COMPATIBILITY] )

Valid for Unicode character arguments. Returns a Unicode string after decomposition in the same character set as the input. o-umlaut code point will be returned as the o code point followed by the umlaut code point.

CNV

CNV

Conversion

HEXTORAW

HEXTORAW(CLOB)

No

CNV

Conversion

CONVERT

select CONVERT(clobCol,'WE8DEC','WE8HP') from...

Yes

CNV

Conversion

TO_DATE

TO_DATE(clobCol)

CNV

CNV

Conversion

TO_NUMBER

TO_NUMBER(clobCol)

CNV

CNV

Conversion

TO_TIMESTAMP

TO_TIMESTAMP(clobCol)

No

CNV

Conversion

TO_MULTI_BYTE

TO_SINGLE_BYTE

TO_MULTI_BYTE(clobCol)

TO_SINGLE_BYTE(clobCol)

CNV

CNV

Conversion

TO_CHAR

TO_CHAR(clobCol)

Yes

Yes

Conversion

TO_NCHAR

TO_NCHAR(clobCol)

Yes

Yes

Conversion

TO_LOB

INSERT INTO... SELECT TO_LOB(longCol)...

Note that TO_LOB can only be used to create or insert into a table with LOB columns as SELECT FROM a table with a LONG column.

N/A

N/A

Conversion

TO_CLOB

TO_CLOB(varchar2Col)

Yes

Yes

Conversion

TO_NCLOB

TO_NCLOB(varchar2Clob)

Yes

Yes

Aggregate Functions

COUNT

select count(clobCol) from...

No

N/A

Aggregate Functions

MAX, MIN

select MAX(clobCol) from...

No

N/A

Aggregate Functions

GROUPING

select grouping(clobCol) from... group by cube (clobCol);

No

N/A

Other Functions

GREATEST, LEAST

select GREATEST (clobCol1, clobCol2) from...

No

CNV

Other Functions

DECODE

select DECODE(clobCol, condition1, value1, defaultValue) from...

CNV

CNV

Other Functions

NVL

select NVL(clobCol,'NULL') from...

Yes

Yes

Other Functions

DUMP

select DUMP(clobCol) from...

No

N/A

Other Functions

VSIZE

select VSIZE(clobCol) from...

No

N/A

Unicode

INSTR2, SUBSTR2, LENGTH2, LIKE2

These functions use UCS2 code point semantics.

No

CNV

Unicode

INSTR4, SUBSTR4, LENGTH4, LIKE4

These functions use UCS4 code point semantics.

No

CNV

Unicode

INSTRC, SUBSTRC, LENGTHC, LIKEC

These functions use complete character semantics.

No

CNV


UNICODE Support

Variations on the INSTR, SUBSTR, LENGTH, and LIKE functions are provided for Unicode support. (These variations are indicated as "Unicode" in the "Category" column of Table 10-1.)

Codepoint Semantics

Codepoint semantics of the INSTR, SUBSTR, LENGTH, and LIKE functions, described in Table 10-1, differ depending on the datatype of the argument passed to the function. These functions use different codepoint semantics depending on whether the argument is a VARCHAR2 or a CLOB type as follows:

  • When the argument is a CLOB, UCS2 codepoint semantics are used for all character sets.

  • When the argument is a character type, such as VARCHAR2, the default codepoint semantics are used for the given character set:

    • UCS2 codepoint semantics are used for AL16UTF16 and UTF8 character sets.

    • UCS4 codepoint semantics are used for all other character sets, such as AL32UTF8.

  • If you are storing character data in a CLOB or NCLOB, then note that the amount and offset parameters for any APIs that read or write data to the CLOB or NCLOB are specified in UCS2 codepoints. In some character sets, a full character consists one or more UCS2 codepoints called a surrogate pair. In this scenario, you must ensure that the amount or offset you specify does not cut into a full character. This avoids reading or writing a partial character.

  • Starting from 10g, Oracle Database helps to detect half surrogate pair on read/write boundaries in such scenarios. In the case of read, the offset and amount will be adjusted accordingly to avoid returning a half character, in which case the amount returned could be less than what is asked for. In the case of write, an error is raised to prevent from corrupting the existing data caused by overwriting a partial character in the destination CLOB or NCLOB.

Return Values for SQL Semantics on LOBs

The return type of a function or operator that takes a LOB or VARCHAR2 is the same as the datatype of the argument passed to the function or operator.

Functions that take more than one argument, such as CONCAT, return a LOB datatype if one or more arguments is a LOB. For example, CONCAT(CLOB, VARCHAR2) returns a CLOB.

See Also:

Oracle Database SQL Language Reference for details on the CONCAT function and the concatenation operator (||).

A LOB instance is always accessed and manipulated through a LOB locator. This is also true for return values: SQL functions and operators return a LOB locator when the return value is a LOB instance.

Any LOB instance returned by a SQL function is a temporary LOB instance. LOB instances in tables (persistent LOBs) are not modified by SQL functions, even when the function is used in the SELECT list of a query.

LENGTH Return Value for LOBs

The return value of the LENGTH function differs depending on whether the argument passed is a LOB or a character string:

  • If the input is a character string of length zero, then LENGTH returns NULL.

  • For a CLOB of length zero, or an empty locator such as that returned by EMPTY_CLOB(), the LENGTH and DBMS_LOB.GETLENGTH functions return FALSE.

Implicit Conversion of LOB Datatypes in SQL

Some LOB datatypes support implicit conversion and can be used in operations such as cross-type assignment and parameter passing. These conversions are processed at the SQL layer and can be performed in all client interfaces that use LOB types.

Implicit Conversion Between CLOB and NCLOB Datatypes in SQL

The database enables you to perform operations such as cross-type assignment and cross-type parameter passing between CLOB and NCLOB datatypes. The database performs implicit conversions between these types when necessary to preserve properties such as character set formatting.

Note that, when implicit conversions occur, each character in the source LOB is changed to the character set of the destination LOB, if needed. In this situation, some degradation of performance may occur if the data size is large. When the character set of the destination and the source are the same, there is no degradation of performance.

After an implicit conversion between CLOB and NCLOB types, the destination LOB is implicitly created as a temporary LOB. This new temporary LOB is independent from the source LOB. If the implicit conversion occurs as part of a define operation in a SELECT statement, then any modifications to the destination LOB do not affect the persistent LOB in the table that the LOB was selected from as shown in the following example:

SQL> -- check lob length before update 
SQL> select dbms_lob.getlength(ad_sourcetext) from Print_media 
  2       where product_id=3106 and ad_id = 13001; 

DBMS_LOB.GETLENGTH(AD_SOURCETEXT) 
--------------------------------- 
         205 

SQL> 
SQL> declare 
  2   clob1 clob; 
  3   amt number:=10; 
  4  BEGIN 
  5    -- select a clob column into a clob, no implicit convesion 
  6    SELECT ad_sourcetext INTO clob1 FROM Print_media 
  7      WHERE product_id=3106 and ad_id=13001 FOR UPDATE; 
  8 
  9    dbms_lob.trim(clob1, amt); -- Trim the selected lob to 10 bytes 
 10  END; 
 11  / 

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed. 

SQL> -- Modification is performed on clob1 which points to the 
SQL> -- clob column in the table 
SQL> select dbms_lob.getlength(ad_sourcetext) from Print_media 
  2       where product_id=3106 and ad_id = 13001; 

DBMS_LOB.GETLENGTH(AD_SOURCETEXT) 
--------------------------------- 
          10 

SQL> 
SQL> rollback; 

Rollback complete. 

SQL> -- check lob length before update 
SQL> select dbms_lob.getlength(ad_sourcetext) from Print_media 
  2       where product_id=3106 and ad_id = 13001; 

DBMS_LOB.GETLENGTH(AD_SOURCETEXT) 
--------------------------------- 
         205 

SQL> 
SQL> declare 
  2   nclob1 nclob; 
  3   amt number:=10; 
  4  BEGIN 
  5 
  6    -- select a clob column into a nclob, implicit conversion occurs 
  7    SELECT ad_sourcetext INTO nclob1 FROM Print_media 
  8      WHERE product_id=3106 and ad_id=13001 FOR UPDATE; 
  9 
 10    dbms_lob.trim(nclob1, amt); -- Trim the selected lob to 10 bytes 
 11  END; 
 12  / 

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed. 

SQL> -- Modification to nclob1 does not affect the clob in the table, 
SQL> -- because nclob1 is a independent temporary LOB 

SQL> select dbms_lob.getlength(ad_sourcetext) from Print_media 
  2       where product_id=3106 and ad_id = 13001; 

DBMS_LOB.GETLENGTH(AD_SOURCETEXT) 
--------------------------------- 
         205 
  

See Also:

Unsupported Use of LOBs in SQL

Table 10-2 lists SQL operations that are not supported on LOB columns.

Table 10-2 Unsupported Usage of LOBs in SQL

SQL Operations Not Supported Example of unsupported usage

SELECT DISTINCT

SELECT DISTINCT clobCol from...

SELECT clause

ORDER BY

SELECT... ORDER BY clobCol

SELECT clause

GROUP BY

SELECT avg(num) FROM...

GROUP BY clobCol

UNION, INTERSECT, MINUS

(Note that UNION ALL works for LOBs.)

SELECT clobCol1 from tab1 UNION SELECT clobCol2 from tab2;

Join queries

SELECT... FROM... WHERE tab1.clobCol = tab2.clobCol

Index columns

CREATE INDEX clobIndx ON tab(clobCol)...


VARCHAR2 and RAW Semantics for LOBs

The following semantics, used with VARCHAR2 and RAW datatypes, also apply to LOBs:

LOBs Returned from SQL Functions

When a LOB is returned from a SQL function, the result returned is a temporary LOB. Your application should view the temporary LOB as local storage for the data returned from the SELECT operation as follows:

  • In PL/SQL, the temporary LOB has the same lifetime (duration) as other local PL/SQL program variables. It can be passed to subsequent SQL or PL/SQL VARCHAR2 functions or queries as a PL/SQL local variable. The temporary LOB will go out of scope at the end of the program block at which time, the LOB is freed. These are the same semantics as those for PL/SQL VARCHAR2 variables. At any time, nonetheless, you can use a DBMS_LOB.FREETEMPORARY call to release the resources taken by the local temporary LOBs.

    Note:

    If the SQL statement returns a LOB or a LOB is an OUT parameter for a PL/SQL function or procedure, you must test if it is a temporary LOB, and if it is, then free it after you are done with it.
  • In OCI, the temporary LOBs returned from SQL queries are always in session duration, unless a user-defined duration is present, in which case, the temporary LOBs will be in the user-defined duration.

    Caution:

    Ensure that your temporary tablespace is large enough to store all temporary LOB results returned from queries in your program(s).

The following example illustrates selecting out a CLOB column into a VARCHAR2 and returning the result as a CHAR buffer of declared size:

DECLARE
  vc1 VARCHAR2(32000);
  lb1 CLOB;
  lb2 CLOB;
BEGIN
  SELECT clobCol1 INTO vc1 FROM tab WHERE colID=1;
  -- lb1 is a temporary LOB
  SELECT clobCol2 || clobCol3 INTO lb1 FROM tab WHERE colID=2;

  lb2 := vc1|| lb1;
  -- lb2 is a still temporary LOB, so the persistent data in the database 
  -- is not modified. An update is necessary to modify the table data.
  UPDATE tab SET clobCol1 = lb2 WHERE colID = 1;
  
DBMS_LOB.FREETEMPORARY(lb2); -- Free up the space taken by lb2
<... some more queries ...>
END; -- at the end of the block, lb1 is automatically freed 

IS NULL and IS [NOT] NULL Usage with VARCHAR2s and CLOBs

You can use the IS NULL and IS [NOT] NULL operators with LOB columns. When used with LOBs, these operators determine whether a LOB locator is stored in the row.

Note:

In the SQL 92 standard, a character string of length zero is distinct from a NULL string. The return value of IS NULL differs when you pass a LOB compared to a VARCHAR2:
  • When you pass an initialized LOB of length zero to the IS NULL function, zero (FALSE) is returned. These semantics are compliant with the SQL standard.

  • When you pass a VARCHAR2 of length zero to the IS NULL function, TRUE is returned.

WHERE Clause Usage with LOBs

SQL functions with LOBs as arguments, except functions that compare LOB values, are allowed in predicates of the WHERE clause. For example, the LENGTH function can be included in the predicate of the WHERE clause:

CREATE TABLE t (n NUMBER, c CLOB);
INSERT INTO t VALUES (1, 'abc');

SELECT * FROM t WHERE c IS NOT NULL;
SELECT * FROM t WHERE LENGTH(c) > 0;
SELECT * FROM t WHERE c LIKE '%a%';
SELECT * FROM t WHERE SUBSTR(c, 1, 2) LIKE '%b%';
SELECT * FROM t WHERE INSTR(c, 'b') = 2;

Built-in Functions for Remote LOBs and BFILEs

Whatever SQL built-in functions and user-defined functions that are supported on local LOBs and BFILEs are also supported on remote LOBs and BFILEs, as long as the final value returned by nested functions is not a LOB. This includes functions for remote persistent and temporary LOBs and for BFILEs.

Built-in SQL functions which are executed on a remote site can be part of any SQL statement, like SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE. For example:

SELECT LENGTH(ad_sourcetext) FROM print_media@remote_site -- CLOB
SELECT LENGTH(ad_fltextn) FROM print_media@remote_site;   -- NCLOB
SELECT LENGTH(ad_composite) FROM print_media@remote_site; -- BLOB
SELECT product_id from print_media@remote_site WHERE LENGTH(ad_sourcetext) > 3;

UPDATE print_media@remote_site SET product_id = 2 WHERE LENGTH(ad_sourcetext) > 3;

SELECT TO_CHAR(foo@dbs2(...)) FROM dual@dbs2;
-- where foo@dbs2 returns a temporary LOB

The SQL functions fall under the following (not necessarily exclusive) categories:

  1. SQL functions that are not supported on LOBs. These functions are relevant only for CLOBs: an example is DECODE.

    These functions cannot be supported on remote LOBs since they are not supported on local LOBs.

  2. Functions taking exactly one LOB argument (all other arguments are of other datatypes) and not returning a LOB. These functions are relevant only for CLOBs, NCLOBs, and BLOBs: an example is LENGTH and it is supported. For example:

    SELECT LENGTH(ad_composite) FROM print_media@remote_site;
    SELECT LENGTH(ad_header.logo) FROM print_media@remote_site; -- LOB in object
    
    SELECT product_id from print_media@remote_site WHERE LENGTH(ad_sourcetext) > 3;
    
  3. Functions that return a LOB. All these functions are relevant only for CLOBs and NCLOBs. These functions may return the original LOB or produce a temporary LOB. These functions can be performed on the remote site, as long as the result returned to the local site is not a LOB.

    Functions returning a temporary LOB are: REPLACE, SUBSTR, CONCAT, ||, TRIM, LTRIM, RTRIM, LOWER, UPPER, NLS_LOWER, NLS_UPPER, LPAD, and RPAD.

    Functions returning the original LOB locator are: NVL, DECODE, and CASE. Note that even though DECODE and CASE are not supported currently to operate on LOBs, they could operate on other datatypes and return a LOB.

    For example, the following statements are supported:

    SELECT TO_CHAR(CONCAT(ad_sourcetext, ad_sourcetext)) FROM
        print_media@remote_site;
    
    SELECT TO_CHAR(SUBSTR(ad_fltextnfs, 1, 3)) FROM
        print_media@remote_site;
    

    But the following statements are not supported:

    SELECT CONCAT(ad_sourcetext, ad_sourcetext) FROM
        print_media@remote_site;
    
    SELECT SUBSTR(ad_sourcetext, 1, 3) FROM print_media@remote_site;
    
  4. Functions that take in more than one LOB argument:

    These are: INSTR, LIKE, REPLACE, CONCAT, ||, SUBSTR, TRIM, LTRIM, RTRIM, LPAD, and RPAD. All these functions are relevant only for CLOBs and NCLOBs.

    These functions are supported only if all the LOB arguments are in the same dblink, and the value returned is not a LOB. For example, the following is supported:

    SELECT TO_CHAR(CONCAT(ad_sourcetext, ad_sourcetext)) FROM
    print_media@remote_site; -- CLOB
    
    SELECT TO_CHAR(CONCAT(ad_fltextn, ad_fltextn)) FROM
    print_media@remote_site; -- NCLOB
    

    But the following is not supported:

    SELECT TO_CHAR(CONCAT(a.ad_sourcetext, b.ad_sourcetext)) FROM
    print_media@db1 a, print_media@db2 b WHERE a.product_id = b.product_id;