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33.4. Using Host Variables

In Section 33.3 you saw how you can execute SQL statements from an embedded SQL program. Some of those statements only used fixed values and did not provide a way to insert user-supplied values into statements or have the program process the values returned by the query. Those kinds of statements are not really useful in real applications. This section explains in detail how you can pass data between your C program and the embedded SQL statements using a simple mechanism called host variables. In an embedded SQL program we consider the SQL statements to be guests in the C program code which is the host language. Therefore the variables of the C program are called host variables.

Another way to exchange values between PostgreSQL backends and ECPG applications is the use of SQL descriptors, described in Section 33.7.

33.4.1. Overview

Passing data between the C program and the SQL statements is particularly simple in embedded SQL. Instead of having the program paste the data into the statement, which entails various complications, such as properly quoting the value, you can simply write the name of a C variable into the SQL statement, prefixed by a colon. For example:

EXEC SQL INSERT INTO sometable VALUES (:v1, 'foo', :v2);

This statements refers to two C variables named v1 and v2 and also uses a regular SQL string literal, to illustrate that you are not restricted to use one kind of data or the other.

This style of inserting C variables in SQL statements works anywhere a value expression is expected in an SQL statement.

33.4.2. Declare Sections

To pass data from the program to the database, for example as parameters in a query, or to pass data from the database back to the program, the C variables that are intended to contain this data need to be declared in specially marked sections, so the embedded SQL preprocessor is made aware of them.

This section starts with:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;

and ends with:

EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

Between those lines, there must be normal C variable declarations, such as:

int   x = 4;
char  foo[16], bar[16];

As you can see, you can optionally assign an initial value to the variable. The variable's scope is determined by the location of its declaring section within the program. You can also declare variables with the following syntax which implicitly creates a declare section:

EXEC SQL int i = 4;

You can have as many declare sections in a program as you like.

The declarations are also echoed to the output file as normal C variables, so there's no need to declare them again. Variables that are not intended to be used in SQL commands can be declared normally outside these special sections.

The definition of a structure or union also must be listed inside a DECLARE section. Otherwise the preprocessor cannot handle these types since it does not know the definition.

33.4.3. Retrieving Query Results

Now you should be able to pass data generated by your program into an SQL command. But how do you retrieve the results of a query? For that purpose, embedded SQL provides special variants of the usual commands SELECT and FETCH. These commands have a special INTO clause that specifies which host variables the retrieved values are to be stored in. SELECT is used for a query that returns only single row, and FETCH is used for a query that returns multiple rows, using a cursor.

Here is an example:

/*
 * assume this table:
 * CREATE TABLE test1 (a int, b varchar(50));
 */

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int v1;
VARCHAR v2;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

 ...

EXEC SQL SELECT a, b INTO :v1, :v2 FROM test;

So the INTO clause appears between the select list and the FROM clause. The number of elements in the select list and the list after INTO (also called the target list) must be equal.

Here is an example using the command FETCH:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int v1;
VARCHAR v2;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

 ...

EXEC SQL DECLARE foo CURSOR FOR SELECT a, b FROM test;

 ...

do
{
    ...
    EXEC SQL FETCH NEXT FROM foo INTO :v1, :v2;
    ...
} while (...);

Here the INTO clause appears after all the normal clauses.

33.4.4. Type Mapping

When ECPG applications exchange values between the PostgreSQL server and the C application, such as when retrieving query results from the server or executing SQL statements with input parameters, the values need to be converted between PostgreSQL data types and host language variable types (C language data types, concretely). One of the main points of ECPG is that it takes care of this automatically in most cases.

In this respect, there are two kinds of data types: Some simple PostgreSQL data types, such as integer and text, can be read and written by the application directly. Other PostgreSQL data types, such as timestamp and numeric can only be accessed through special library functions; see Section 33.4.4.2.

Table 33-1 shows which PostgreSQL data types correspond to which C data types. When you wish to send or receive a value of a given PostgreSQL data type, you should declare a C variable of the corresponding C data type in the declare section.

Table 33-1. Mapping Between PostgreSQL Data Types and C Variable Types

PostgreSQL data type Host variable type
smallint short
integer int
bigint long long int
decimal decimal[a]
numeric numeric[a]
real float
double precision double
serial int
bigserial long long int
oid unsigned int
character(n), varchar(n), text char[n+1], VARCHAR[n+1][b]
name char[NAMEDATALEN]
timestamp timestamp[a]
interval interval[a]
date date[a]
boolean bool[c]
Notes:
a. This type can only be accessed through special library functions; see Section 33.4.4.2.
b. declared in ecpglib.h
c. declared in ecpglib.h if not native

33.4.4.1. Handling Character Strings

To handle SQL character string data types, such as varchar and text, there are two possible ways to declare the host variables.

One way is using char[], an array of char, which is the most common way to handle character data in C.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    char str[50];
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

Note that you have to take care of the length yourself. If you use this host variable as the target variable of a query which returns a string with more than 49 characters, a buffer overflow occurs.

The other way is using the VARCHAR type, which is a special type provided by ECPG. The definition on an array of type VARCHAR is converted into a named struct for every variable. A declaration like:

VARCHAR var[180];

is converted into:

struct varchar_var { int len; char arr[180]; } var;

The member arr hosts the string including a terminating zero byte. Thus, to store a string in a VARCHAR host variable, the host variable has to be declared with the length including the zero byte terminator. The member len holds the length of the string stored in the arr without the terminating zero byte. When a host variable is used as input for a query, if strlen(arr) and len are different, the shorter one is used.

VARCHAR can be written in upper or lower case, but not in mixed case.

char and VARCHAR host variables can also hold values of other SQL types, which will be stored in their string forms.

33.4.4.2. Accessing Special Data Types

ECPG contains some special types that help you to interact easily with some special data types from the PostgreSQL server. In particular, it has implemented support for the numeric, decimal, date, timestamp, and interval types. These data types cannot usefully be mapped to primitive host variable types (such as int, long long int, or char[]), because they have a complex internal structure. Applications deal with these types by declaring host variables in special types and accessing them using functions in the pgtypes library. The pgtypes library, described in detail in Section 33.6 contains basic functions to deal with those types, such that you do not need to send a query to the SQL server just for adding an interval to a time stamp for example.

The follow subsections describe these special data types. For more details about pgtypes library functions, see Section 33.6.

33.4.4.2.1. timestamp, date

Here is a pattern for handling timestamp variables in the ECPG host application.

First, the program has to include the header file for the timestamp type:

#include <pgtypes_timestamp.h>

Next, declare a host variable as type timestamp in the declare section:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
timestamp ts;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

And after reading a value into the host variable, process it using pgtypes library functions. In following example, the timestamp value is converted into text (ASCII) form with the PGTYPEStimestamp_to_asc() function:

EXEC SQL SELECT now()::timestamp INTO :ts;

printf("ts = %s\n", PGTYPEStimestamp_to_asc(ts));

This example will show some result like following:

ts = 2010-06-27 18:03:56.949343

In addition, the DATE type can be handled in the same way. The program has to include pgtypes_date.h, declare a host variable as the date type and convert a DATE value into a text form using PGTYPESdate_to_asc() function. For more details about the pgtypes library functions, see Section 33.6.

33.4.4.2.2. interval

The handling of the interval type is also similar to the timestamp and date types. It is required, however, to allocate memory for an interval type value explicitly. In other words, the memory space for the variable has to be allocated in the heap memory, not in the stack memory.

Here is an example program:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <pgtypes_interval.h>

int
main(void)
{
EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    interval *in;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    EXEC SQL CONNECT TO testdb;

    in = PGTYPESinterval_new();
    EXEC SQL SELECT '1 min'::interval INTO :in;
    printf("interval = %s\n", PGTYPESinterval_to_asc(in));
    PGTYPESinterval_free(in);

    EXEC SQL COMMIT;
    EXEC SQL DISCONNECT ALL;
    return 0;
}

33.4.4.2.3. numeric, decimal

The handling of the numeric and decimal types is similar to the interval type: It requires defining a pointer, allocating some memory space on the heap, and accessing the variable using the pgtypes library functions. For more details about the pgtypes library functions, see Section 33.6.

No functions are provided specifically for the decimal type. An application has to convert it to a numeric variable using a pgtypes library function to do further processing.

Here is an example program handling numeric and decimal type variables.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <pgtypes_numeric.h>

EXEC SQL WHENEVER SQLERROR STOP;

int
main(void)
{
EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    numeric *num;
    numeric *num2;
    decimal *dec;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    EXEC SQL CONNECT TO testdb;

    num = PGTYPESnumeric_new();
    dec = PGTYPESdecimal_new();

    EXEC SQL SELECT 12.345::numeric(4,2), 23.456::decimal(4,2) INTO :num, :dec;

    printf("numeric = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num, 0));
    printf("numeric = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num, 1));
    printf("numeric = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num, 2));

    /* Convert decimal to numeric to show a decimal value. */
    num2 = PGTYPESnumeric_new();
    PGTYPESnumeric_from_decimal(dec, num2);

    printf("decimal = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num2, 0));
    printf("decimal = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num2, 1));
    printf("decimal = %s\n", PGTYPESnumeric_to_asc(num2, 2));

    PGTYPESnumeric_free(num2);
    PGTYPESdecimal_free(dec);
    PGTYPESnumeric_free(num);

    EXEC SQL COMMIT;
    EXEC SQL DISCONNECT ALL;
    return 0;
}

33.4.4.3. Host Variables with Nonprimitive Types

As a host variable you can also use arrays, typedefs, structs, and pointers.

33.4.4.3.1. Arrays

There are two use cases for arrays as host variables. The first is a way to store some text string in char[] or VARCHAR[], as explained Section 33.4.4.1. The second use case is to retrieve multiple rows from a query result without using a cursor. Without an array, to process a query result consisting of multiple rows, it is required to use a cursor and the FETCH command. But with array host variables, multiple rows can be received at once. The length of the array has to be defined to be able to accommodate all rows, otherwise a buffer overflow will likely occur.

Following example scans the pg_database system table and shows all OIDs and names of the available databases:

int
main(void)
{
EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    int dbid[8];
    char dbname[8][16];
    int i;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    memset(dbname, 0, sizeof(char)* 16 * 8);
    memset(dbid, 0, sizeof(int) * 8);

    EXEC SQL CONNECT TO testdb;

    /* Retrieve multiple rows into arrays at once. */
    EXEC SQL SELECT oid,datname INTO :dbid, :dbname FROM pg_database;

    for (i = 0; i < 8; i++)
        printf("oid=%d, dbname=%s\n", dbid[i], dbname[i]);

    EXEC SQL COMMIT;
    EXEC SQL DISCONNECT ALL;
    return 0;
}

This example shows following result. (The exact values depend on local circumstances.)

oid=1, dbname=template1
oid=11510, dbname=template0
oid=11511, dbname=postgres
oid=313780, dbname=testdb
oid=0, dbname=
oid=0, dbname=
oid=0, dbname=

33.4.4.3.2. Structures

A structure whose member names match the column names of a query result, can be used to retrieve multiple columns at once. The structure enables handling multiple column values in a single host variable.

The following example retrieves OIDs, names, and sizes of the available databases from the pg_database system table and using the pg_database_size() function. In this example, a structure variable dbinfo_t with members whose names match each column in the SELECT result is used to retrieve one result row without putting multiple host variables in the FETCH statement.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    typedef struct
    {
       int oid;
       char datname[65];
       long long int size;
    } dbinfo_t;

    dbinfo_t dbval;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    memset(&dbval, 0, sizeof(dbinfo_t));

    EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT oid, datname, pg_database_size(oid) AS size FROM pg_database;
    EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

    /* when end of result set reached, break out of while loop */
    EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

    while (1)
    {
        /* Fetch multiple columns into one structure. */
        EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :dbval;

        /* Print members of the structure. */
        printf("oid=%d, datname=%s, size=%lld\n", dbval.oid, dbval.datname, dbval.size);
    }

    EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

This example shows following result. (The exact values depend on local circumstances.)

oid=1, datname=template1, size=4324580
oid=11510, datname=template0, size=4243460
oid=11511, datname=postgres, size=4324580
oid=313780, datname=testdb, size=8183012

Structure host variables "absorb" as many columns as the structure as fields. Additional columns can be assigned to other host variables. For example, the above program could also be restructured like this, with the size variable outside the structure:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    typedef struct
    {
       int oid;
       char datname[65];
    } dbinfo_t;

    dbinfo_t dbval;
    long long int size;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    memset(&dbval, 0, sizeof(dbinfo_t));

    EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT oid, datname, pg_database_size(oid) AS size FROM pg_database;
    EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

    /* when end of result set reached, break out of while loop */
    EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

    while (1)
    {
        /* Fetch multiple columns into one structure. */
        EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :dbval, :size;

        /* Print members of the structure. */
        printf("oid=%d, datname=%s, size=%lld\n", dbval.oid, dbval.datname, size);
    }

    EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

33.4.4.3.3. Typedefs

Use the typedef keyword to map new types to already existing types.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    typedef char mychartype[40];
    typedef long serial_t;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

Note that you could also use:

EXEC SQL TYPE serial_t IS long;

This declaration does not need to be part of a declare section.

33.4.4.3.4. Pointers

You can declare pointers to the most common types. Note however that you cannot use pointers as target variables of queries without auto-allocation. See Section 33.7 for more information on auto-allocation.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    int   *intp;
    char **charp;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

33.4.5. Handling Nonprimitive SQL Data Types

This section contains information on how to handle nonscalar and user-defined SQL-level data types in ECPG applications. Note that this is distinct from the handling of host variables of nonprimitive types, described in the previous section.

33.4.5.1. Arrays

SQL-level arrays are not directly supported in ECPG. It is not possible to simply map an SQL array into a C array host variable. This will result in undefined behavior. Some workarounds exist, however.

If a query accesses elements of an array separately, then this avoids the use of arrays in ECPG. Then, a host variable with a type that can be mapped to the element type should be used. For example, if a column type is array of integer, a host variable of type int can be used. Also if the element type is varchar or text, a host variable of type char[] or VARCHAR[] can be used.

Here is an example. Assume the following table:

CREATE TABLE t3 (
    ii integer[]
);

testdb=> SELECT * FROM t3;
     ii
-------------
 {1,2,3,4,5}
(1 row)

The following example program retrieves the 4th element of the array and stores it into a host variable of type int:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int ii;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT ii[4] FROM t3;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :ii ;
    printf("ii=%d\n", ii);
}

EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

This example shows the following result:

ii=4

To map multiple array elements to the multiple elements in an array type host variables each element of array column and each element of the host variable array have to be managed separately, for example:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int ii_a[8];
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT ii[1], ii[2], ii[3], ii[4] FROM t3;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :ii_a[0], :ii_a[1], :ii_a[2], :ii_a[3];
    ...
}

Note again that

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int ii_a[8];
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT ii FROM t3;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    /* WRONG */
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :ii_a;
    ...
}

would not work correctly in this case, because you cannot map an array type column to an array host variable directly.

Another workaround is to store arrays in their external string representation in host variables of type char[] or VARCHAR[]. For more details about this representation, see Section 8.14.2. Note that this means that the array cannot be accessed naturally as an array in the host program (without further processing that parses the text representation).

33.4.5.2. Composite Types

Composite types are not directly supported in ECPG, but an easy workaround is possible. The available workarounds are similar to the ones described for arrays above: Either access each attribute separately or use the external string representation.

For the following examples, assume the following type and table:

CREATE TYPE comp_t AS (intval integer, textval varchar(32));
CREATE TABLE t4 (compval comp_t);
INSERT INTO t4 VALUES ( (256, 'PostgreSQL') );

The most obvious solution is to access each attribute separately. The following program retrieves data from the example table by selecting each attribute of the type comp_t separately:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
int intval;
varchar textval[33];
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

/* Put each element of the composite type column in the SELECT list. */
EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT (compval).intval, (compval).textval FROM t4;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    /* Fetch each element of the composite type column into host variables. */
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :intval, :textval;

    printf("intval=%d, textval=%s\n", intval, textval.arr);
}

EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

To enhance this example, the host variables to store values in the FETCH command can be gathered into one structure. For more details about the host variable in the structure form, see Section 33.4.4.3.2. To switch to the structure, the example can be modified as below. The two host variables, intval and textval, become members of the comp_t structure, and the structure is specified on the FETCH command.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
typedef struct
{
    int intval;
    varchar textval[33];
} comp_t;

comp_t compval;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

/* Put each element of the composite type column in the SELECT list. */
EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT (compval).intval, (compval).textval FROM t4;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    /* Put all values in the SELECT list into one structure. */
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :compval;

    printf("intval=%d, textval=%s\n", compval.intval, compval.textval.arr);
}

EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

Although a structure is used in the FETCH command, the attribute names in the SELECT clause are specified one by one. This can be enhanced by using a * to ask for all attributes of the composite type value.

...
EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT (compval).* FROM t4;
EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

while (1)
{
    /* Put all values in the SELECT list into one structure. */
    EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :compval;

    printf("intval=%d, textval=%s\n", compval.intval, compval.textval.arr);
}
...

This way, composite types can be mapped into structures almost seamlessly, even though ECPG does not understand the composite type itself.

Finally, it is also possible to store composite type values in their external string representation in host variables of type char[] or VARCHAR[]. But that way, it is not easily possible to access the fields of the value from the host program.

33.4.5.3. User-defined Base Types

New user-defined base types are not directly supported by ECPG. You can use the external string representation and host variables of type char[] or VARCHAR[], and this solution is indeed appropriate and sufficient for many types.

Here is an example using the data type complex from the example in Section 35.11. The external string representation of that type is (%lf,%lf), which is defined in the functions complex_in() and complex_out() functions in Section 35.11. The following example inserts the complex type values (1,1) and (3,3) into the columns a and b, and select them from the table after that.

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
    varchar a[64];
    varchar b[64];
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

    EXEC SQL INSERT INTO test_complex VALUES ('(1,1)', '(3,3)');

    EXEC SQL DECLARE cur1 CURSOR FOR SELECT a, b FROM test_complex;
    EXEC SQL OPEN cur1;

    EXEC SQL WHENEVER NOT FOUND DO BREAK;

    while (1)
    {
        EXEC SQL FETCH FROM cur1 INTO :a, :b;
        printf("a=%s, b=%s\n", a.arr, b.arr);
    }

    EXEC SQL CLOSE cur1;

This example shows following result:

a=(1,1), b=(3,3)

Another workaround is avoiding the direct use of the user-defined types in ECPG and instead create a function or cast that converts between the user-defined type and a primitive type that ECPG can handle. Note, however, that type casts, especially implicit ones, should be introduced into the type system very carefully.

For example,

CREATE FUNCTION create_complex(r double, i double) RETURNS complex
LANGUAGE SQL
IMMUTABLE
AS $$ SELECT $1 * complex '(1,0')' + $2 * complex '(0,1)' $$;

After this definition, the following

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
double a, b, c, d;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION;

a = 1;
b = 2;
c = 3;
d = 4;

EXEC SQL INSERT INTO test_complex VALUES (create_complex(:a, :b), create_complex(:c, :d));

has the same effect as

EXEC SQL INSERT INTO test_complex VALUES ('(1,2)', '(3,4)');

33.4.6. Indicators

The examples above do not handle null values. In fact, the retrieval examples will raise an error if they fetch a null value from the database. To be able to pass null values to the database or retrieve null values from the database, you need to append a second host variable specification to each host variable that contains data. This second host variable is called the indicator and contains a flag that tells whether the datum is null, in which case the value of the real host variable is ignored. Here is an example that handles the retrieval of null values correctly:

EXEC SQL BEGIN DECLARE SECTION;
VARCHAR val;
int val_ind;
EXEC SQL END DECLARE SECTION:

 ...

EXEC SQL SELECT b INTO :val :val_ind FROM test1;

The indicator variable val_ind will be zero if the value was not null, and it will be negative if the value was null.

The indicator has another function: if the indicator value is positive, it means that the value is not null, but it was truncated when it was stored in the host variable.

If the argument -r no_indicator is passed to the preprocessor ecpg, it works in "no-indicator" mode. In no-indicator mode, if no indicator variable is specified, null values are signaled (on input and output) for character string types as empty string and for integer types as the lowest possible value for type (for example, INT_MIN for int).

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