15 Using Oracle Object References

This chapter describes the standard Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) that let you access and manipulate object references.

This section discusses the following topics:

Oracle Extensions for Object References

Oracle supports the use of references to database objects. Oracle JDBC provides support for object references as:

  • Columns in a SELECT clause

  • IN or OUT bind variables

  • Attributes in an Oracle object

  • Elements in a collection type object

In SQL, an object reference (REF) is strongly typed. For example, a reference to an EMPLOYEE object would be defined as an EMPLOYEE REF, not just a REF.

When you select an object reference, be aware that you are retrieving only a pointer to an object, not the object itself. You have the choice of materializing the reference as a java.sql.Ref instance for portability, or materializing it as an instance of a custom Java class that you have created in advance, which is strongly typed. Custom Java classes used for object references are referred to as custom reference classes and must implement the oracle.jdbc.OracleData interface.

You can retrieve a REF instance through a result set or callable statement object, and pass an updated REF instance back to the database through a prepared statement or callable statement object. The REF class includes functionality to get and set underlying object attribute values, and get the SQL base type name of the underlying object.

Custom reference classes include this same functionality, as well as having the advantage of being strongly typed. This can help you find coding errors during compilation that might not otherwise be discovered until run time.


  • If you are using the oracle.jdbc.OracleData interface for custom object classes, then you will presumably use OracleData for corresponding custom reference classes as well. However, if you are using the standard java.sql.SQLData interface for custom object classes, then you can only use weak Java types for references. The SQLData interface is for mapping SQL object types only.

  • You can create and retrieve REF objects in your JDBC application only by running SQL statements. There is no JDBC-specific functionality for creating and retrieving REF objects.

  • You cannot have a reference to an array, even though arrays, like objects, are structured types.

Retrieving and Passing an Object Reference

This section discusses JDBC functionality for retrieving and passing object references. It covers the following topics:

Retrieving an Object Reference from a Result Set

To demonstrate how to retrieve object references, the following example first defines an Oracle object type ADDRESS, which is then referenced in the PEOPLE table:

create type ADDRESS as object
   (street_name     VARCHAR2(30),
    house_no        NUMBER);

create table PEOPLE 
    (col1 VARCHAR2(30),
     col2 NUMBER,
     col3 REF ADDRESS);

The ADDRESS object type has two attributes: a street name and a house number. The PEOPLE table has three columns: a column for character data, a column for numeric data, and a column containing a reference to an ADDRESS object.

To retrieve an object reference, follow these general steps:

  1. Use a standard SQL SELECT statement to retrieve the reference from a database table REF column.

  2. Use getRef to get the address reference from the result set into an OracleRef instance.

  3. Let Address be the Java custom class corresponding to the SQL object type ADDRESS.

  4. Add the correspondence between the Java class Address and the SQL type ADDRESS to your type map.

  5. Use the getObject method to retrieve the contents of the Address reference. Cast the output to Address.

The PEOPLE database table is defined earlier in this section. The code for the preceding steps, except the step of adding Address to the type map, is as follows:

ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery("SELECT col3 FROM PEOPLE"); 
while (rs.next())
   OracleRef ref = rs.getRef(1);
   Address a = (Address)ref.getObject();


In the preceding code, stmt is a previously defined statement object.

Retrieving an Object Reference from a Callable Statement

To retrieve an object reference as an OUT parameter in PL/SQL blocks, you must register the bind type for your OUT parameter.

  1. Cast your callable statement to OracleCallableStatement, as follows:

    OracleCallableStatement ocs = 
       (OracleCallableStatement)conn.prepareCall("{? = call func()}");
  2. Register the OUT parameter with the following form of the registerOutParameter method:

    ocs.registerOutParameter (int param_index, int sql_type, String sql_type_name);

    param_index is the parameter index and sql_type is the SQL type code. The sql_type_name is the name of the structured object type that this reference is used for. For example, if the OUT parameter is a reference to an ADDRESS object, then ADDRESS is the sql_type_name that should be passed in.

  3. Run the call, as follows:


Passing an Object Reference to a Prepared Statement

Pass an object reference to a prepared statement in the same way as you would pass any other SQL type. Use either the setObject method or the setREF method of a prepared statement object.

Use a prepared statement to update an address reference based on ROWID, as follows:

PreparedStatement pstmt = 
   conn.prepareStatement ("update PEOPLE set ADDR_REF = ? where ROWID = ?");
pstmt.setRef (1, addr_ref);
    pstmt.setRowId (2, rowid);

Accessing and Updating Object Values Through an Object Reference

You can use the Ref object setObject method to update the value of an object in the database through an object reference. To do this, you must first retrieve the reference to the database object and create a Java object that corresponds to the database object.

For example, you can use the code in "Retrieving and Passing an Object Reference", to retrieve the reference to a database ADDRESS object, as follows:

ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery("SELECT col3 FROM PEOPLE"); 
if (rs.next())
   Ref ref = rs.getRef(1);
   Address a = (Address)ref.getObject();

Then, you can create a Java Address object that corresponds to the database ADDRESS object. Use the setObject method of the Ref interface to set the value of the database object, as follows:

Address addr = new Address(...);

Here, the setValue method updates the database ADDRESS object immediately.

Custom Reference Classes with JPublisher

This chapter primarily describes the functionality of the java.sql.Ref class, but it is also possible to access Oracle object references through custom Java classes or, more specifically, custom reference classes.

Custom reference classes offer all the functionality described earlier in this chapter, as well as the advantage of being strongly typed. A custom reference class must satisfy three requirements:

  • It must implement the oracle.jdbc.OracleData interface. Note that the standard JDBC SQLData interface, which is an alternative for custom object classes, is not intended for custom reference classes.

  • It, or a companion class, must implement the oracle.jdbc.OracleDataFactory interface, for creating instances of the custom reference class.

  • It must provide a way to refer to the object data. JPublisher accomplishes this by using an oracle.sql.REF attribute.


Starting from Oracle Database 12c Release 1 (12.1), the oracle.sql.REF class is deprecated and replaced with the oracle.jdbc.OracleRef interface, which is a part of the oracle.jdbc package. Oracle strongly recommends you to use the methods available in the java.sql package, where possible, for standard compatibility and methods available in the oracle.jdbc package for Oracle specific extensions. Refer to MoS Note 1364193.1 for more information about the oracle.jdbc.OracleRef interface.

You can create custom reference classes yourself, but the most convenient way to produce them is through the Oracle JPublisher utility. If you use JPublisher to generate a custom object class to map to an Oracle object and you specify that JPublisher use an OracleData implementation, then JPublisher will also generate a custom reference class that implements OracleData and OracleDataFactory and includes an oracle.sql.REF attribute. The OracleData implementation will be used if the JPublisher -usertypes mapping option is set to oracle, which is the default.

Custom reference classes are strongly typed. For example, if you define an Oracle object EMPLOYEE, then JPublisher can generate an Employee custom object class and an EmployeeRef custom reference class. Using EmployeeRef instances instead of generic oracle.sql.REF instances makes it easier to catch errors during compilation instead of at run time. For example, if you accidentally assign some other kind of object reference into an EmployeeRef variable.

Be aware that the standard SQLData interface supports only SQL object mappings. For this reason, if you instruct JPublisher to implement the standard SQLData interface in creating a custom object class, then JPublisher will not generate a custom reference class. In this case, your only option is to use standard java.sql.Ref instances or oracle.sql.REF instances to map to your object references.