Hierarchical Queries

If a table contains hierarchical data, then you can select rows in a hierarchical order using the hierarchical query clause:


condition can be any condition as described in Conditions.

START WITH specifies the root row(s) of the hierarchy.

CONNECT BY specifies the relationship between parent rows and child rows of the hierarchy.

  • The NOCYCLE parameter instructs Oracle Database to return rows from a query even if a CONNECT BY loop exists in the data. Use this parameter along with the CONNECT_BY_ISCYCLE pseudocolumn to see which rows contain the loop. Refer to CONNECT_BY_ISCYCLE Pseudocolumn for more information.

  • In a hierarchical query, one expression in condition must be qualified with the PRIOR operator to refer to the parent row. For example,

    ... PRIOR expr = expr
    ... expr = PRIOR expr

    If the CONNECT BY condition is compound, then only one condition requires the PRIOR operator, although you can have multiple PRIOR conditions. For example:

    CONNECT BY last_name != 'King' AND PRIOR employee_id = manager_id ...
    CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id and 
               PRIOR account_mgr_id = customer_id ...

    PRIOR is a unary operator and has the same precedence as the unary + and - arithmetic operators. It evaluates the immediately following expression for the parent row of the current row in a hierarchical query.

    PRIOR is most commonly used when comparing column values with the equality operator. (The PRIOR keyword can be on either side of the operator.) PRIOR causes Oracle to use the value of the parent row in the column. Operators other than the equal sign (=) are theoretically possible in CONNECT BY clauses. However, the conditions created by these other operators can result in an infinite loop through the possible combinations. In this case Oracle detects the loop at run time and returns an error.

Both the CONNECT BY condition and the PRIOR expression can take the form of an uncorrelated subquery. However, CURRVAL and NEXTVAL are not valid PRIOR expressions, so the PRIOR expression cannot refer to a sequence.

You can further refine a hierarchical query by using the CONNECT_BY_ROOT operator to qualify a column in the select list. This operator extends the functionality of the CONNECT BY [PRIOR] condition of hierarchical queries by returning not only the immediate parent row but all ancestor rows in the hierarchy.

See Also:

CONNECT_BY_ROOT for more information about this operator and "Hierarchical Query Examples"

Oracle processes hierarchical queries as follows:

  • A join, if present, is evaluated first, whether the join is specified in the FROM clause or with WHERE clause predicates.

  • The CONNECT BY condition is evaluated.

  • Any remaining WHERE clause predicates are evaluated.

Oracle then uses the information from these evaluations to form the hierarchy using the following steps:

  1. Oracle selects the root row(s) of the hierarchy—those rows that satisfy the START WITH condition.

  2. Oracle selects the child rows of each root row. Each child row must satisfy the condition of the CONNECT BY condition with respect to one of the root rows.

  3. Oracle selects successive generations of child rows. Oracle first selects the children of the rows returned in step 2, and then the children of those children, and so on. Oracle always selects children by evaluating the CONNECT BY condition with respect to a current parent row.

  4. If the query contains a WHERE clause without a join, then Oracle eliminates all rows from the hierarchy that do not satisfy the condition of the WHERE clause. Oracle evaluates this condition for each row individually, rather than removing all the children of a row that does not satisfy the condition.

  5. Oracle returns the rows in the order shown in Figure 9-1. In the diagram, children appear below their parents. For an explanation of hierarchical trees, see Figure 3-1.

Figure 9-1 Hierarchical Queries

Description of Figure 9-1 follows
Description of "Figure 9-1 Hierarchical Queries"

To find the children of a parent row, Oracle evaluates the PRIOR expression of the CONNECT BY condition for the parent row and the other expression for each row in the table. Rows for which the condition is true are the children of the parent. The CONNECT BY condition can contain other conditions to further filter the rows selected by the query.

If the CONNECT BY condition results in a loop in the hierarchy, then Oracle returns an error. A loop occurs if one row is both the parent (or grandparent or direct ancestor) and a child (or a grandchild or a direct descendent) of another row.


In a hierarchical query, do not specify either ORDER BY or GROUP BY, as they will override the hierarchical order of the CONNECT BY results. If you want to order rows of siblings of the same parent, then use the ORDER SIBLINGS BY clause. See order_by_clause.

Hierarchical Query Examples


The following hierarchical query uses the CONNECT BY clause to define the relationship between employees and managers:

SELECT employee_id, last_name, manager_id
   FROM employees
   CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id;

----------- ------------------------- ----------
        101 Kochhar                          100
        108 Greenberg                        101
        109 Faviet                           108
        110 Chen                             108
        111 Sciarra                          108
        112 Urman                            108
        113 Popp                             108
        200 Whalen                           101
        203 Mavris                           101
        204 Baer                             101
. . .

LEVEL Example

The next example is similar to the preceding example, but uses the LEVEL pseudocolumn to show parent and child rows:

SELECT employee_id, last_name, manager_id, LEVEL
   FROM employees
   CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id;

----------- ------------------------- ---------- ----------
        101 Kochhar                          100          1
        108 Greenberg                        101          2
        109 Faviet                           108          3
        110 Chen                             108          3
        111 Sciarra                          108          3
        112 Urman                            108          3
        113 Popp                             108          3
        200 Whalen                           101          2
        203 Mavris                           101          2
        204 Baer                             101          2
        205 Higgins                          101          2
        206 Gietz                            205          3
        102 De Haan                          100          1


The next example adds a START WITH clause to specify a root row for the hierarchy and an ORDER BY clause using the SIBLINGS keyword to preserve ordering within the hierarchy:

SELECT last_name, employee_id, manager_id, LEVEL
      FROM employees
      START WITH employee_id = 100
      CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id
      ORDER SIBLINGS BY last_name;

------------------------- ----------- ---------- ----------
King                              100                     1
Cambrault                         148        100          2
Bates                             172        148          3
Bloom                             169        148          3
Fox                               170        148          3
Kumar                             173        148          3
Ozer                              168        148          3
Smith                             171        148          3
De Haan                           102        100          2
Hunold                            103        102          3
Austin                            105        103          4
Ernst                             104        103          4
Lorentz                           107        103          4
Pataballa                         106        103          4
Errazuriz                         147        100          2
Ande                              166        147          3
Banda                             167        147          3

In the hr.employees table, the employee Steven King is the head of the company and has no manager. Among his employees is John Russell, who is the manager of department 80. If you update the employees table to set Russell as King's manager, you create a loop in the data:

UPDATE employees SET manager_id = 145
   WHERE employee_id = 100;

SELECT last_name "Employee", 
   LEVEL, SYS_CONNECT_BY_PATH(last_name, '/') "Path"
   FROM employees
   WHERE level <= 3 AND department_id = 80
   START WITH last_name = 'King'
   CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id AND LEVEL <= 4;

ORA-01436: CONNECT BY loop in user data

The NOCYCLE parameter in the CONNECT BY condition causes Oracle to return the rows in spite of the loop. The CONNECT_BY_ISCYCLE pseudocolumn shows you which rows contain the cycle:

SELECT last_name "Employee", CONNECT_BY_ISCYCLE "Cycle",
   LEVEL, SYS_CONNECT_BY_PATH(last_name, '/') "Path"
   FROM employees
   WHERE level <= 3 AND department_id = 80
   START WITH last_name = 'King'
   CONNECT BY NOCYCLE PRIOR employee_id = manager_id AND LEVEL <= 4
   ORDER BY "Employee", "Cycle", LEVEL, "Path";

Employee                       Cycle      LEVEL Path
------------------------- ---------- ---------- -------------------------
Abel                               0          3 /King/Zlotkey/Abel
Ande                               0          3 /King/Errazuriz/Ande
Banda                              0          3 /King/Errazuriz/Banda
Bates                              0          3 /King/Cambrault/Bates
Bernstein                          0          3 /King/Russell/Bernstein
Bloom                              0          3 /King/Cambrault/Bloom
Cambrault                          0          2 /King/Cambrault
Cambrault                          0          3 /King/Russell/Cambrault
Doran                              0          3 /King/Partners/Doran
Errazuriz                          0          2 /King/Errazuriz
Fox                                0          3 /King/Cambrault/Fox


The following statement shows how you can use a hierarchical query to turn the values in a column into a comma-delimited list:

   (SELECT ROWNUM r, warehouse_id FROM warehouses)
   START WITH r = 1
   CONNECT BY r = PRIOR r + 1
   ORDER BY warehouse_id; 


The following example returns the last name of each employee in department 110, each manager at the highest level above that employee in the hierarchy, the number of levels between manager and employee, and the path between the two:

SELECT last_name "Employee", CONNECT_BY_ROOT last_name "Manager",
   LEVEL-1 "Pathlen", SYS_CONNECT_BY_PATH(last_name, '/') "Path"
   FROM employees
   WHERE LEVEL > 1 and department_id = 110
   CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id
   ORDER BY "Employee", "Manager", "Pathlen", "Path";

Employee        Manager            Pathlen Path
--------------- --------------- ---------- ------------------------------
Gietz           Higgins                  1 /Higgins/Gietz
Gietz           King                     3 /King/Kochhar/Higgins/Gietz
Gietz           Kochhar                  2 /Kochhar/Higgins/Gietz
Higgins         King                     2 /King/Kochhar/Higgins
Higgins         Kochhar                  1 /Kochhar/Higgins

The following example uses a GROUP BY clause to return the total salary of each employee in department 110 and all employees above that employee in the hierarchy:

SELECT name, SUM(salary) "Total_Salary" FROM (
   SELECT CONNECT_BY_ROOT last_name as name, Salary
      FROM employees
      WHERE department_id = 110
      CONNECT BY PRIOR employee_id = manager_id)
      GROUP BY name
   ORDER BY name, "Total_Salary";

NAME                      Total_Salary
------------------------- ------------
Gietz                             8300
Higgins                          20300
King                             20300
Kochhar                          20300

See Also:

  • LEVEL Pseudocolumn and CONNECT_BY_ISCYCLE Pseudocolumn for a discussion of how these pseudocolumns operate in a hierarchical query

  • SYS_CONNECT_BY_PATH for information on retrieving the path of column values from root to node

  • order_by_clause for more information on the SIBLINGS keyword of ORDER BY clauses

  • subquery_factoring_clause, which supports recursive subquery factoring (recursive WITH) and lets you query hierarchical data. This feature is more powerful than CONNECT BY in that it provides depth-first search and breadth-first search, and supports multiple recursive branches.