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8.16. Object Identifier Types

Object identifiers (OIDs) are used internally by PostgreSQL as primary keys for various system tables. OIDs are not added to user-created tables, unless WITH OIDS is specified when the table is created, or the default_with_oids configuration variable is enabled. Type oid represents an object identifier. There are also several alias types for oid: regproc, regprocedure, regoper, regoperator, regclass, regtype, regconfig, and regdictionary. Table 8-22 shows an overview.

The oid type is currently implemented as an unsigned four-byte integer. Therefore, it is not large enough to provide database-wide uniqueness in large databases, or even in large individual tables. So, using a user-created table's OID column as a primary key is discouraged. OIDs are best used only for references to system tables.

The oid type itself has few operations beyond comparison. It can be cast to integer, however, and then manipulated using the standard integer operators. (Beware of possible signed-versus-unsigned confusion if you do this.)

The OID alias types have no operations of their own except for specialized input and output routines. These routines are able to accept and display symbolic names for system objects, rather than the raw numeric value that type oid would use. The alias types allow simplified lookup of OID values for objects. For example, to examine the pg_attribute rows related to a table mytable, one could write:

SELECT * FROM pg_attribute WHERE attrelid = 'mytable'::regclass;

rather than:

SELECT * FROM pg_attribute
  WHERE attrelid = (SELECT oid FROM pg_class WHERE relname = 'mytable');

While that doesn't look all that bad by itself, it's still oversimplified. A far more complicated sub-select would be needed to select the right OID if there are multiple tables named mytable in different schemas. The regclass input converter handles the table lookup according to the schema path setting, and so it does the "right thing" automatically. Similarly, casting a table's OID to regclass is handy for symbolic display of a numeric OID.

Table 8-22. Object Identifier Types

Name References Description Value Example
oid any numeric object identifier 564182
regproc pg_proc function name sum
regprocedure pg_proc function with argument types sum(int4)
regoper pg_operator operator name +
regoperator pg_operator operator with argument types *(integer,integer) or -(NONE,integer)
regclass pg_class relation name pg_type
regtype pg_type data type name integer
regconfig pg_ts_config text search configuration english
regdictionary pg_ts_dict text search dictionary simple

All of the OID alias types accept schema-qualified names, and will display schema-qualified names on output if the object would not be found in the current search path without being qualified. The regproc and regoper alias types will only accept input names that are unique (not overloaded), so they are of limited use; for most uses regprocedure or regoperator are more appropriate. For regoperator, unary operators are identified by writing NONE for the unused operand.

An additional property of the OID alias types is the creation of dependencies. If a constant of one of these types appears in a stored expression (such as a column default expression or view), it creates a dependency on the referenced object. For example, if a column has a default expression nextval('my_seq'::regclass), PostgreSQL understands that the default expression depends on the sequence my_seq; the system will not let the sequence be dropped without first removing the default expression.

Another identifier type used by the system is xid, or transaction (abbreviated xact) identifier. This is the data type of the system columns xmin and xmax. Transaction identifiers are 32-bit quantities.

A third identifier type used by the system is cid, or command identifier. This is the data type of the system columns cmin and cmax. Command identifiers are also 32-bit quantities.

A final identifier type used by the system is tid, or tuple identifier (row identifier). This is the data type of the system column ctid. A tuple ID is a pair (block number, tuple index within block) that identifies the physical location of the row within its table.

(The system columns are further explained in Section 5.4.)

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