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3.3. Character Types

Table 3-4. Character Types

Type name Description
character(n), char(n) Fixed-length blank padded
character varying(n), varchar(n) Variable-length with limit
text Variable unlimited length

SQL defines two primary character types: character(n) and character varying(n), where n is a positive integer. Both of these types can store strings up to n characters in length. An attempt to store a longer string into a column of these types will result in an error, unless the excess characters are all spaces, in which case the string will be truncated to the maximum length. (This somewhat bizarre exception is required by the SQL standard.) If the string to be stored is shorter than the declared length, values of type character will be space-padded; values of type character varying will simply store the shorter string.

Note: Prior to PostgreSQL 7.2, strings that were too long were silently truncated, no error was raised.

The notations char(n) and varchar(n) are aliases for character(n) and character varying(n), respectively. character without length specifier is equivalent to character(1); if character varying is used without length specifier, the type accepts strings of any size. The latter is a PostgreSQL extension.

In addition, PostgreSQL supports the more general text type, which stores strings of any length. Unlike character varying, text does not require an explicit declared upper limit on the size of the string. Although the type text is not in the SQL standard, many other RDBMS packages have it as well.

The storage requirement for data of these types is 4 bytes plus the actual string, and in case of character plus the padding. Long strings will be compressed by the system automatically, so the physical requirement on disk may be less. In any case, the longest possible character string that can be stored is about 1 GB. (The maximum value that will be allowed for n in the data type declaration is less than that. It wouldn't be very useful to change this because with multibyte character encodings the number of characters and bytes can be quite different anyway. If you desire to store long strings with no specific upper limit, use text or character varying without a length specifier, rather than making up an arbitrary length limit.)

Tip: There are no performance differences between these three types, apart from the increased storage size when using the blank-padded type.

Refer to Section 1.1.2.1 for information about the syntax of string literals, and to Chapter 4 for information about available operators and functions.

Example 3-1. Using the character types

CREATE TABLE test1 (a character(4));
INSERT INTO test1 VALUES ('ok');
SELECT a, char_length(a) FROM test1; -- (1)
  a   | char_length
------+-------------
 ok   |           4

CREATE TABLE test2 (b varchar(5));
INSERT INTO test2 VALUES ('ok');
INSERT INTO test2 VALUES ('good      ');
INSERT INTO test2 VALUES ('too long');
ERROR:  value too long for type character varying(5)
SELECT b, char_length(b) FROM test2;
   b   | char_length
-------+-------------
 ok    |           2
 good  |           5
(1)
The char_length function is discussed in Section 4.4.

There are two other fixed-length character types in PostgreSQL. The name type exists only for storage of internal catalog names and is not intended for use by the general user. Its length is currently defined as 32 bytes (31 usable characters plus terminator) but should be referenced using the macro NAMEDATALEN. The length is set at compile time (and is therefore adjustable for special uses); the default maximum length may change in a future release. The type "char" (note the quotes) is different from char(1) in that it only uses one byte of storage. It is internally used in the system catalogs as a poor-man's enumeration type.

Table 3-5. Specialty Character Type

Type Name Storage Description
"char" 1 byte Single character internal type
name 32 bytes Thirty-one character internal type
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