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37.9. C-Language Functions

User-defined functions can be written in C (or a language that can be made compatible with C, such as C++). Such functions are compiled into dynamically loadable objects (also called shared libraries) and are loaded by the server on demand. The dynamic loading feature is what distinguishes C language functions from internal functions — the actual coding conventions are essentially the same for both. (Hence, the standard internal function library is a rich source of coding examples for user-defined C functions.)

Currently only one calling convention is used for C functions (version 1). Support for that calling convention is indicated by writing a PG_FUNCTION_INFO_V1() macro call for the function, as illustrated below.

37.9.1. Dynamic Loading

The first time a user-defined function in a particular loadable object file is called in a session, the dynamic loader loads that object file into memory so that the function can be called. The CREATE FUNCTION for a user-defined C function must therefore specify two pieces of information for the function: the name of the loadable object file, and the C name (link symbol) of the specific function to call within that object file. If the C name is not explicitly specified then it is assumed to be the same as the SQL function name.

The following algorithm is used to locate the shared object file based on the name given in the CREATE FUNCTION command:

  1. If the name is an absolute path, the given file is loaded.

  2. If the name starts with the string $libdir, that part is replaced by the PostgreSQL package library directory name, which is determined at build time.

  3. If the name does not contain a directory part, the file is searched for in the path specified by the configuration variable dynamic_library_path.

  4. Otherwise (the file was not found in the path, or it contains a non-absolute directory part), the dynamic loader will try to take the name as given, which will most likely fail. (It is unreliable to depend on the current working directory.)

If this sequence does not work, the platform-specific shared library file name extension (often .so) is appended to the given name and this sequence is tried again. If that fails as well, the load will fail.

It is recommended to locate shared libraries either relative to $libdir or through the dynamic library path. This simplifies version upgrades if the new installation is at a different location. The actual directory that $libdir stands for can be found out with the command pg_config --pkglibdir.

The user ID the PostgreSQL server runs as must be able to traverse the path to the file you intend to load. Making the file or a higher-level directory not readable and/or not executable by the postgres user is a common mistake.

In any case, the file name that is given in the CREATE FUNCTION command is recorded literally in the system catalogs, so if the file needs to be loaded again the same procedure is applied.


PostgreSQL will not compile a C function automatically. The object file must be compiled before it is referenced in a CREATE FUNCTION command. See Section 37.9.5 for additional information.

To ensure that a dynamically loaded object file is not loaded into an incompatible server, PostgreSQL checks that the file contains a magic block with the appropriate contents. This allows the server to detect obvious incompatibilities, such as code compiled for a different major version of PostgreSQL. A magic block is required as of PostgreSQL 8.2. To include a magic block, write this in one (and only one) of the module source files, after having included the header fmgr.h:


The #ifdef test can be omitted if the code doesn't need to compile against pre-8.2 PostgreSQL releases.

After it is used for the first time, a dynamically loaded object file is retained in memory. Future calls in the same session to the function(s) in that file will only incur the small overhead of a symbol table lookup. If you need to force a reload of an object file, for example after recompiling it, begin a fresh session.

Optionally, a dynamically loaded file can contain initialization and finalization functions. If the file includes a function named _PG_init, that function will be called immediately after loading the file. The function receives no parameters and should return void. If the file includes a function named _PG_fini, that function will be called immediately before unloading the file. Likewise, the function receives no parameters and should return void. Note that _PG_fini will only be called during an unload of the file, not during process termination. (Presently, unloads are disabled and will never occur, but this may change in the future.)

37.9.2. Base Types in C-Language Functions

To know how to write C-language functions, you need to know how PostgreSQL internally represents base data types and how they can be passed to and from functions. Internally, PostgreSQL regards a base type as a blob of memory. The user-defined functions that you define over a type in turn define the way that PostgreSQL can operate on it. That is, PostgreSQL will only store and retrieve the data from disk and use your user-defined functions to input, process, and output the data.

Base types can have one of three internal formats:

  • pass by value, fixed-length

  • pass by reference, fixed-length

  • pass by reference, variable-length

By-value types can only be 1, 2, or 4 bytes in length (also 8 bytes, if sizeof(Datum) is 8 on your machine). You should be careful to define your types such that they will be the same size (in bytes) on all architectures. For example, the long type is dangerous because it is 4 bytes on some machines and 8 bytes on others, whereas int type is 4 bytes on most Unix machines. A reasonable implementation of the int4 type on Unix machines might be:

/* 4-byte integer, passed by value */
typedef int int4;

(The actual PostgreSQL C code calls this type int32, because it is a convention in C that intXX means XX bits. Note therefore also that the C type int8 is 1 byte in size. The SQL type int8 is called int64 in C. See also Table 37.1.)

On the other hand, fixed-length types of any size can be passed by-reference. For example, here is a sample implementation of a PostgreSQL type:

/* 16-byte structure, passed by reference */
typedef struct
    double  x, y;
} Point;

Only pointers to such types can be used when passing them in and out of PostgreSQL functions. To return a value of such a type, allocate the right amount of memory with palloc, fill in the allocated memory, and return a pointer to it. (Also, if you just want to return the same value as one of your input arguments that's of the same data type, you can skip the extra palloc and just return the pointer to the input value.)

Finally, all variable-length types must also be passed by reference. All variable-length types must begin with an opaque length field of exactly 4 bytes, which will be set by SET_VARSIZE; never set this field directly! All data to be stored within that type must be located in the memory immediately following that length field. The length field contains the total length of the structure, that is, it includes the size of the length field itself.

Another important point is to avoid leaving any uninitialized bits within data type values; for example, take care to zero out any alignment padding bytes that might be present in structs. Without this, logically-equivalent constants of your data type might be seen as unequal by the planner, leading to inefficient (though not incorrect) plans.


Never modify the contents of a pass-by-reference input value. If you do so you are likely to corrupt on-disk data, since the pointer you are given might point directly into a disk buffer. The sole exception to this rule is explained in Section 37.10.

As an example, we can define the type text as follows:

typedef struct {
    int32 length;
} text;

The [FLEXIBLE_ARRAY_MEMBER] notation means that the actual length of the data part is not specified by this declaration.

When manipulating variable-length types, we must be careful to allocate the correct amount of memory and set the length field correctly. For example, if we wanted to store 40 bytes in a text structure, we might use a code fragment like this:

#include "postgres.h"
char buffer[40]; /* our source data */
text *destination = (text *) palloc(VARHDRSZ + 40);
SET_VARSIZE(destination, VARHDRSZ + 40);
memcpy(destination->data, buffer, 40);

VARHDRSZ is the same as sizeof(int32), but it's considered good style to use the macro VARHDRSZ to refer to the size of the overhead for a variable-length type. Also, the length field must be set using the SET_VARSIZE macro, not by simple assignment.

Table 37.1 specifies which C type corresponds to which SQL type when writing a C-language function that uses a built-in type of PostgreSQL. The Defined In column gives the header file that needs to be included to get the type definition. (The actual definition might be in a different file that is included by the listed file. It is recommended that users stick to the defined interface.) Note that you should always include postgres.h first in any source file, because it declares a number of things that you will need anyway.

Table 37.1. Equivalent C Types for Built-in SQL Types

SQL Type C Type Defined In
abstime AbsoluteTime utils/nabstime.h
bigint (int8) int64 postgres.h
boolean bool postgres.h (maybe compiler built-in)
box BOX* utils/geo_decls.h
bytea bytea* postgres.h
"char" char (compiler built-in)
character BpChar* postgres.h
cid CommandId postgres.h
date DateADT utils/date.h
smallint (int2) int16 postgres.h
int2vector int2vector* postgres.h
integer (int4) int32 postgres.h
real (float4) float4* postgres.h
double precision (float8) float8* postgres.h
interval Interval* datatype/timestamp.h
lseg LSEG* utils/geo_decls.h
name Name postgres.h
oid Oid postgres.h
oidvector oidvector* postgres.h
path PATH* utils/geo_decls.h
point POINT* utils/geo_decls.h
regproc regproc postgres.h
reltime RelativeTime utils/nabstime.h
text text* postgres.h
tid ItemPointer storage/itemptr.h
time TimeADT utils/date.h
time with time zone TimeTzADT utils/date.h
timestamp Timestamp* datatype/timestamp.h
tinterval TimeInterval utils/nabstime.h
varchar VarChar* postgres.h
xid TransactionId postgres.h

Now that we've gone over all of the possible structures for base types, we can show some examples of real functions.

37.9.3. Version 1 Calling Conventions

The version-1 calling convention relies on macros to suppress most of the complexity of passing arguments and results. The C declaration of a version-1 function is always:

Datum funcname(PG_FUNCTION_ARGS)

In addition, the macro call:


must appear in the same source file. (Conventionally, it's written just before the function itself.) This macro call is not needed for internal-language functions, since PostgreSQL assumes that all internal functions use the version-1 convention. It is, however, required for dynamically-loaded functions.

In a version-1 function, each actual argument is fetched using a PG_GETARG_xxx() macro that corresponds to the argument's data type. In non-strict functions there needs to be a previous check about argument null-ness using PG_ARGNULL_xxx(). The result is returned using a PG_RETURN_xxx() macro for the return type. PG_GETARG_xxx() takes as its argument the number of the function argument to fetch, where the count starts at 0. PG_RETURN_xxx() takes as its argument the actual value to return.

Here are some examples using the version-1 calling convention:

#include "postgres.h"
#include <string.h>
#include "fmgr.h"
#include "utils/geo_decls.h"


/* by value */


    int32   arg = PG_GETARG_INT32(0);

    PG_RETURN_INT32(arg + 1);

/* by reference, fixed length */


    /* The macros for FLOAT8 hide its pass-by-reference nature. */
    float8   arg = PG_GETARG_FLOAT8(0);

    PG_RETURN_FLOAT8(arg + 1.0);


    /* Here, the pass-by-reference nature of Point is not hidden. */
    Point     *pointx = PG_GETARG_POINT_P(0);
    Point     *pointy = PG_GETARG_POINT_P(1);
    Point     *new_point = (Point *) palloc(sizeof(Point));

    new_point->x = pointx->x;
    new_point->y = pointy->y;


/* by reference, variable length */


    text     *t = PG_GETARG_TEXT_PP(0);

     * VARSIZE_ANY_EXHDR is the size of the struct in bytes, minus the
     * VARHDRSZ or VARHDRSZ_SHORT of its header.  Construct the copy with a
     * full-length header.
    text     *new_t = (text *) palloc(VARSIZE_ANY_EXHDR(t) + VARHDRSZ);

     * VARDATA is a pointer to the data region of the new struct.  The source
     * could be a short datum, so retrieve its data through VARDATA_ANY.
    memcpy((void *) VARDATA(new_t), /* destination */
           (void *) VARDATA_ANY(t), /* source */
           VARSIZE_ANY_EXHDR(t));   /* how many bytes */


    text  *arg1 = PG_GETARG_TEXT_PP(0);
    text  *arg2 = PG_GETARG_TEXT_PP(1);
    int32 arg1_size = VARSIZE_ANY_EXHDR(arg1);
    int32 arg2_size = VARSIZE_ANY_EXHDR(arg2);
    int32 new_text_size = arg1_size + arg2_size + VARHDRSZ;
    text *new_text = (text *) palloc(new_text_size);

    SET_VARSIZE(new_text, new_text_size);
    memcpy(VARDATA(new_text), VARDATA_ANY(arg1), arg1_size);
    memcpy(VARDATA(new_text) + arg1_size, VARDATA_ANY(arg2), arg2_size);

Supposing that the above code has been prepared in file funcs.c and compiled into a shared object, we could define the functions to PostgreSQL with commands like this:

CREATE FUNCTION add_one(integer) RETURNS integer
     AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'add_one'

-- note overloading of SQL function name "add_one"
CREATE FUNCTION add_one(double precision) RETURNS double precision
     AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'add_one_float8'

CREATE FUNCTION makepoint(point, point) RETURNS point
     AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'makepoint'

CREATE FUNCTION copytext(text) RETURNS text
     AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'copytext'

CREATE FUNCTION concat_text(text, text) RETURNS text
     AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'concat_text'

Here, DIRECTORY stands for the directory of the shared library file (for instance the PostgreSQL tutorial directory, which contains the code for the examples used in this section). (Better style would be to use just 'funcs' in the AS clause, after having added DIRECTORY to the search path. In any case, we can omit the system-specific extension for a shared library, commonly .so.)

Notice that we have specified the functions as strict, meaning that the system should automatically assume a null result if any input value is null. By doing this, we avoid having to check for null inputs in the function code. Without this, we'd have to check for null values explicitly, using PG_ARGISNULL().

At first glance, the version-1 coding conventions might appear to be just pointless obscurantism, over using plain C calling conventions. They do however allow to deal with NULLable arguments/return values, and toasted (compressed or out-of-line) values.

The macro PG_ARGISNULL(n) allows a function to test whether each input is null. (Of course, doing this is only necessary in functions not declared strict.) As with the PG_GETARG_xxx() macros, the input arguments are counted beginning at zero. Note that one should refrain from executing PG_GETARG_xxx() until one has verified that the argument isn't null. To return a null result, execute PG_RETURN_NULL(); this works in both strict and nonstrict functions.

Other options provided by the version-1 interface are two variants of the PG_GETARG_xxx() macros. The first of these, PG_GETARG_xxx_COPY(), guarantees to return a copy of the specified argument that is safe for writing into. (The normal macros will sometimes return a pointer to a value that is physically stored in a table, which must not be written to. Using the PG_GETARG_xxx_COPY() macros guarantees a writable result.) The second variant consists of the PG_GETARG_xxx_SLICE() macros which take three arguments. The first is the number of the function argument (as above). The second and third are the offset and length of the segment to be returned. Offsets are counted from zero, and a negative length requests that the remainder of the value be returned. These macros provide more efficient access to parts of large values in the case where they have storage type external. (The storage type of a column can be specified using ALTER TABLE tablename ALTER COLUMN colname SET STORAGE storagetype. storagetype is one of plain, external, extended, or main.)

Finally, the version-1 function call conventions make it possible to return set results (Section 37.9.8) and implement trigger functions (Chapter 38) and procedural-language call handlers (Chapter 55). For more details see src/backend/utils/fmgr/README in the source distribution.

37.9.4. Writing Code

Before we turn to the more advanced topics, we should discuss some coding rules for PostgreSQL C-language functions. While it might be possible to load functions written in languages other than C into PostgreSQL, this is usually difficult (when it is possible at all) because other languages, such as C++, FORTRAN, or Pascal often do not follow the same calling convention as C. That is, other languages do not pass argument and return values between functions in the same way. For this reason, we will assume that your C-language functions are actually written in C.

The basic rules for writing and building C functions are as follows:

  • Use pg_config --includedir-server to find out where the PostgreSQL server header files are installed on your system (or the system that your users will be running on).

  • Compiling and linking your code so that it can be dynamically loaded into PostgreSQL always requires special flags. See Section 37.9.5 for a detailed explanation of how to do it for your particular operating system.

  • Remember to define a magic block for your shared library, as described in Section 37.9.1.

  • When allocating memory, use the PostgreSQL functions palloc and pfree instead of the corresponding C library functions malloc and free. The memory allocated by palloc will be freed automatically at the end of each transaction, preventing memory leaks.

  • Always zero the bytes of your structures using memset (or allocate them with palloc0 in the first place). Even if you assign to each field of your structure, there might be alignment padding (holes in the structure) that contain garbage values. Without this, it's difficult to support hash indexes or hash joins, as you must pick out only the significant bits of your data structure to compute a hash. The planner also sometimes relies on comparing constants via bitwise equality, so you can get undesirable planning results if logically-equivalent values aren't bitwise equal.

  • Most of the internal PostgreSQL types are declared in postgres.h, while the function manager interfaces (PG_FUNCTION_ARGS, etc.) are in fmgr.h, so you will need to include at least these two files. For portability reasons it's best to include postgres.h first, before any other system or user header files. Including postgres.h will also include elog.h and palloc.h for you.

  • Symbol names defined within object files must not conflict with each other or with symbols defined in the PostgreSQL server executable. You will have to rename your functions or variables if you get error messages to this effect.

37.9.5. Compiling and Linking Dynamically-loaded Functions

Before you are able to use your PostgreSQL extension functions written in C, they must be compiled and linked in a special way to produce a file that can be dynamically loaded by the server. To be precise, a shared library needs to be created.

For information beyond what is contained in this section you should read the documentation of your operating system, in particular the manual pages for the C compiler, cc, and the link editor, ld. In addition, the PostgreSQL source code contains several working examples in the contrib directory. If you rely on these examples you will make your modules dependent on the availability of the PostgreSQL source code, however.

Creating shared libraries is generally analogous to linking executables: first the source files are compiled into object files, then the object files are linked together. The object files need to be created as position-independent code (PIC), which conceptually means that they can be placed at an arbitrary location in memory when they are loaded by the executable. (Object files intended for executables are usually not compiled that way.) The command to link a shared library contains special flags to distinguish it from linking an executable (at least in theory — on some systems the practice is much uglier).

In the following examples we assume that your source code is in a file foo.c and we will create a shared library The intermediate object file will be called foo.o unless otherwise noted. A shared library can contain more than one object file, but we only use one here.


The compiler flag to create PIC is -fpic. To create shared libraries the compiler flag is -shared.

gcc -fpic -c foo.c
gcc -shared -o foo.o

This is applicable as of version 3.0 of FreeBSD.


The compiler flag of the system compiler to create PIC is +z. When using GCC it's -fpic. The linker flag for shared libraries is -b. So:

cc +z -c foo.c


gcc -fpic -c foo.c

and then:

ld -b -o foo.o

HP-UX uses the extension .sl for shared libraries, unlike most other systems.


The compiler flag to create PIC is -fpic. On some platforms in some situations -fPIC must be used if -fpic does not work. Refer to the GCC manual for more information. The compiler flag to create a shared library is -shared. A complete example looks like this:

cc -fpic -c foo.c
cc -shared -o foo.o

Here is an example. It assumes the developer tools are installed.

cc -c foo.c
cc -bundle -flat_namespace -undefined suppress -o foo.o

The compiler flag to create PIC is -fpic. For ELF systems, the compiler with the flag -shared is used to link shared libraries. On the older non-ELF systems, ld -Bshareable is used.

gcc -fpic -c foo.c
gcc -shared -o foo.o

The compiler flag to create PIC is -fpic. ld -Bshareable is used to link shared libraries.

gcc -fpic -c foo.c
ld -Bshareable -o foo.o

The compiler flag to create PIC is -KPIC with the Sun compiler and -fpic with GCC. To link shared libraries, the compiler option is -G with either compiler or alternatively -shared with GCC.

cc -KPIC -c foo.c
cc -G -o foo.o


gcc -fpic -c foo.c
gcc -G -o foo.o


If this is too complicated for you, you should consider using GNU Libtool, which hides the platform differences behind a uniform interface.

The resulting shared library file can then be loaded into PostgreSQL. When specifying the file name to the CREATE FUNCTION command, one must give it the name of the shared library file, not the intermediate object file. Note that the system's standard shared-library extension (usually .so or .sl) can be omitted from the CREATE FUNCTION command, and normally should be omitted for best portability.

Refer back to Section 37.9.1 about where the server expects to find the shared library files.

37.9.6. Composite-type Arguments

Composite types do not have a fixed layout like C structures. Instances of a composite type can contain null fields. In addition, composite types that are part of an inheritance hierarchy can have different fields than other members of the same inheritance hierarchy. Therefore, PostgreSQL provides a function interface for accessing fields of composite types from C.

Suppose we want to write a function to answer the query:

SELECT name, c_overpaid(emp, 1500) AS overpaid
    FROM emp
    WHERE name = 'Bill' OR name = 'Sam';

Using the version-1 calling conventions, we can define c_overpaid as:

#include "postgres.h"
#include "executor/executor.h"  /* for GetAttributeByName() */



    HeapTupleHeader  t = PG_GETARG_HEAPTUPLEHEADER(0);
    int32            limit = PG_GETARG_INT32(1);
    bool isnull;
    Datum salary;

    salary = GetAttributeByName(t, "salary", &isnull);
    if (isnull)
    /* Alternatively, we might prefer to do PG_RETURN_NULL() for null salary. */

    PG_RETURN_BOOL(DatumGetInt32(salary) > limit);

GetAttributeByName is the PostgreSQL system function that returns attributes out of the specified row. It has three arguments: the argument of type HeapTupleHeader passed into the function, the name of the desired attribute, and a return parameter that tells whether the attribute is null. GetAttributeByName returns a Datum value that you can convert to the proper data type by using the appropriate DatumGetXXX() macro. Note that the return value is meaningless if the null flag is set; always check the null flag before trying to do anything with the result.

There is also GetAttributeByNum, which selects the target attribute by column number instead of name.

The following command declares the function c_overpaid in SQL:

CREATE FUNCTION c_overpaid(emp, integer) RETURNS boolean
    AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'c_overpaid'

Notice we have used STRICT so that we did not have to check whether the input arguments were NULL.

37.9.7. Returning Rows (Composite Types)

To return a row or composite-type value from a C-language function, you can use a special API that provides macros and functions to hide most of the complexity of building composite data types. To use this API, the source file must include:

#include "funcapi.h"

There are two ways you can build a composite data value (henceforth a tuple): you can build it from an array of Datum values, or from an array of C strings that can be passed to the input conversion functions of the tuple's column data types. In either case, you first need to obtain or construct a TupleDesc descriptor for the tuple structure. When working with Datums, you pass the TupleDesc to BlessTupleDesc, and then call heap_form_tuple for each row. When working with C strings, you pass the TupleDesc to TupleDescGetAttInMetadata, and then call BuildTupleFromCStrings for each row. In the case of a function returning a set of tuples, the setup steps can all be done once during the first call of the function.

Several helper functions are available for setting up the needed TupleDesc. The recommended way to do this in most functions returning composite values is to call:

TypeFuncClass get_call_result_type(FunctionCallInfo fcinfo,
                                   Oid *resultTypeId,
                                   TupleDesc *resultTupleDesc)

passing the same fcinfo struct passed to the calling function itself. (This of course requires that you use the version-1 calling conventions.) resultTypeId can be specified as NULL or as the address of a local variable to receive the function's result type OID. resultTupleDesc should be the address of a local TupleDesc variable. Check that the result is TYPEFUNC_COMPOSITE; if so, resultTupleDesc has been filled with the needed TupleDesc. (If it is not, you can report an error along the lines of function returning record called in context that cannot accept type record.)


get_call_result_type can resolve the actual type of a polymorphic function result; so it is useful in functions that return scalar polymorphic results, not only functions that return composites. The resultTypeId output is primarily useful for functions returning polymorphic scalars.


get_call_result_type has a sibling get_expr_result_type, which can be used to resolve the expected output type for a function call represented by an expression tree. This can be used when trying to determine the result type from outside the function itself. There is also get_func_result_type, which can be used when only the function's OID is available. However these functions are not able to deal with functions declared to return record, and get_func_result_type cannot resolve polymorphic types, so you should preferentially use get_call_result_type.

Older, now-deprecated functions for obtaining TupleDescs are:

TupleDesc RelationNameGetTupleDesc(const char *relname)

to get a TupleDesc for the row type of a named relation, and:

TupleDesc TypeGetTupleDesc(Oid typeoid, List *colaliases)

to get a TupleDesc based on a type OID. This can be used to get a TupleDesc for a base or composite type. It will not work for a function that returns record, however, and it cannot resolve polymorphic types.

Once you have a TupleDesc, call:

TupleDesc BlessTupleDesc(TupleDesc tupdesc)

if you plan to work with Datums, or:

AttInMetadata *TupleDescGetAttInMetadata(TupleDesc tupdesc)

if you plan to work with C strings. If you are writing a function returning set, you can save the results of these functions in the FuncCallContext structure — use the tuple_desc or attinmeta field respectively.

When working with Datums, use:

HeapTuple heap_form_tuple(TupleDesc tupdesc, Datum *values, bool *isnull)

to build a HeapTuple given user data in Datum form.

When working with C strings, use:

HeapTuple BuildTupleFromCStrings(AttInMetadata *attinmeta, char **values)

to build a HeapTuple given user data in C string form. values is an array of C strings, one for each attribute of the return row. Each C string should be in the form expected by the input function of the attribute data type. In order to return a null value for one of the attributes, the corresponding pointer in the values array should be set to NULL. This function will need to be called again for each row you return.

Once you have built a tuple to return from your function, it must be converted into a Datum. Use:

HeapTupleGetDatum(HeapTuple tuple)

to convert a HeapTuple into a valid Datum. This Datum can be returned directly if you intend to return just a single row, or it can be used as the current return value in a set-returning function.

An example appears in the next section.

37.9.8. Returning Sets

There is also a special API that provides support for returning sets (multiple rows) from a C-language function. A set-returning function must follow the version-1 calling conventions. Also, source files must include funcapi.h, as above.

A set-returning function (SRF) is called once for each item it returns. The SRF must therefore save enough state to remember what it was doing and return the next item on each call. The structure FuncCallContext is provided to help control this process. Within a function, fcinfo->flinfo->fn_extra is used to hold a pointer to FuncCallContext across calls.

typedef struct FuncCallContext
     * Number of times we've been called before
     * call_cntr is initialized to 0 for you by SRF_FIRSTCALL_INIT(), and
     * incremented for you every time SRF_RETURN_NEXT() is called.
    uint64 call_cntr;

     * OPTIONAL maximum number of calls
     * max_calls is here for convenience only and setting it is optional.
     * If not set, you must provide alternative means to know when the
     * function is done.
    uint64 max_calls;

     * OPTIONAL pointer to result slot
     * This is obsolete and only present for backward compatibility, viz,
     * user-defined SRFs that use the deprecated TupleDescGetSlot().
    TupleTableSlot *slot;

     * OPTIONAL pointer to miscellaneous user-provided context information
     * user_fctx is for use as a pointer to your own data to retain
     * arbitrary context information between calls of your function.
    void *user_fctx;

     * OPTIONAL pointer to struct containing attribute type input metadata
     * attinmeta is for use when returning tuples (i.e., composite data types)
     * and is not used when returning base data types. It is only needed
     * if you intend to use BuildTupleFromCStrings() to create the return
     * tuple.
    AttInMetadata *attinmeta;

     * memory context used for structures that must live for multiple calls
     * multi_call_memory_ctx is set by SRF_FIRSTCALL_INIT() for you, and used
     * by SRF_RETURN_DONE() for cleanup. It is the most appropriate memory
     * context for any memory that is to be reused across multiple calls
     * of the SRF.
    MemoryContext multi_call_memory_ctx;

     * OPTIONAL pointer to struct containing tuple description
     * tuple_desc is for use when returning tuples (i.e., composite data types)
     * and is only needed if you are going to build the tuples with
     * heap_form_tuple() rather than with BuildTupleFromCStrings().  Note that
     * the TupleDesc pointer stored here should usually have been run through
     * BlessTupleDesc() first.
    TupleDesc tuple_desc;

} FuncCallContext;

An SRF uses several functions and macros that automatically manipulate the FuncCallContext structure (and expect to find it via fn_extra). Use:


to determine if your function is being called for the first or a subsequent time. On the first call (only) use:


to initialize the FuncCallContext. On every function call, including the first, use:


to properly set up for using the FuncCallContext and clearing any previously returned data left over from the previous pass.

If your function has data to return, use:

SRF_RETURN_NEXT(funcctx, result)

to return it to the caller. (result must be of type Datum, either a single value or a tuple prepared as described above.) Finally, when your function is finished returning data, use:


to clean up and end the SRF.

The memory context that is current when the SRF is called is a transient context that will be cleared between calls. This means that you do not need to call pfree on everything you allocated using palloc; it will go away anyway. However, if you want to allocate any data structures to live across calls, you need to put them somewhere else. The memory context referenced by multi_call_memory_ctx is a suitable location for any data that needs to survive until the SRF is finished running. In most cases, this means that you should switch into multi_call_memory_ctx while doing the first-call setup.


While the actual arguments to the function remain unchanged between calls, if you detoast the argument values (which is normally done transparently by the PG_GETARG_xxx macro) in the transient context then the detoasted copies will be freed on each cycle. Accordingly, if you keep references to such values in your user_fctx, you must either copy them into the multi_call_memory_ctx after detoasting, or ensure that you detoast the values only in that context.

A complete pseudo-code example looks like the following:

    FuncCallContext  *funcctx;
    Datum             result;
    further declarations as needed

        MemoryContext oldcontext;

        funcctx = SRF_FIRSTCALL_INIT();
        oldcontext = MemoryContextSwitchTo(funcctx->multi_call_memory_ctx);
        /* One-time setup code appears here: */
        user code
        if returning composite
            build TupleDesc, and perhaps AttInMetadata
        endif returning composite
        user code

    /* Each-time setup code appears here: */
    user code
    funcctx = SRF_PERCALL_SETUP();
    user code

    /* this is just one way we might test whether we are done: */
    if (funcctx->call_cntr < funcctx->max_calls)
        /* Here we want to return another item: */
        user code
        obtain result Datum
        SRF_RETURN_NEXT(funcctx, result);
        /* Here we are done returning items and just need to clean up: */
        user code

A complete example of a simple SRF returning a composite type looks like:


    FuncCallContext     *funcctx;
    int                  call_cntr;
    int                  max_calls;
    TupleDesc            tupdesc;
    AttInMetadata       *attinmeta;

    /* stuff done only on the first call of the function */
        MemoryContext   oldcontext;

        /* create a function context for cross-call persistence */
        funcctx = SRF_FIRSTCALL_INIT();

        /* switch to memory context appropriate for multiple function calls */
        oldcontext = MemoryContextSwitchTo(funcctx->multi_call_memory_ctx);

        /* total number of tuples to be returned */
        funcctx->max_calls = PG_GETARG_UINT32(0);

        /* Build a tuple descriptor for our result type */
        if (get_call_result_type(fcinfo, NULL, &tupdesc) != TYPEFUNC_COMPOSITE)
                     errmsg("function returning record called in context "
                            "that cannot accept type record")));

         * generate attribute metadata needed later to produce tuples from raw
         * C strings
        attinmeta = TupleDescGetAttInMetadata(tupdesc);
        funcctx->attinmeta = attinmeta;


    /* stuff done on every call of the function */
    funcctx = SRF_PERCALL_SETUP();

    call_cntr = funcctx->call_cntr;
    max_calls = funcctx->max_calls;
    attinmeta = funcctx->attinmeta;

    if (call_cntr < max_calls)    /* do when there is more left to send */
        char       **values;
        HeapTuple    tuple;
        Datum        result;

         * Prepare a values array for building the returned tuple.
         * This should be an array of C strings which will
         * be processed later by the type input functions.
        values = (char **) palloc(3 * sizeof(char *));
        values[0] = (char *) palloc(16 * sizeof(char));
        values[1] = (char *) palloc(16 * sizeof(char));
        values[2] = (char *) palloc(16 * sizeof(char));

        snprintf(values[0], 16, "%d", 1 * PG_GETARG_INT32(1));
        snprintf(values[1], 16, "%d", 2 * PG_GETARG_INT32(1));
        snprintf(values[2], 16, "%d", 3 * PG_GETARG_INT32(1));

        /* build a tuple */
        tuple = BuildTupleFromCStrings(attinmeta, values);

        /* make the tuple into a datum */
        result = HeapTupleGetDatum(tuple);

        /* clean up (this is not really necessary) */

        SRF_RETURN_NEXT(funcctx, result);
    else    /* do when there is no more left */

One way to declare this function in SQL is:

CREATE TYPE __retcomposite AS (f1 integer, f2 integer, f3 integer);

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION retcomposite(integer, integer)
    RETURNS SETOF __retcomposite
    AS 'filename', 'retcomposite'

A different way is to use OUT parameters:

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION retcomposite(IN integer, IN integer,
    OUT f1 integer, OUT f2 integer, OUT f3 integer)
    RETURNS SETOF record
    AS 'filename', 'retcomposite'

Notice that in this method the output type of the function is formally an anonymous record type.

The directory contrib/tablefunc module in the source distribution contains more examples of set-returning functions.

37.9.9. Polymorphic Arguments and Return Types

C-language functions can be declared to accept and return the polymorphic types anyelement, anyarray, anynonarray, anyenum, and anyrange. See Section 37.2.5 for a more detailed explanation of polymorphic functions. When function arguments or return types are defined as polymorphic types, the function author cannot know in advance what data type it will be called with, or need to return. There are two routines provided in fmgr.h to allow a version-1 C function to discover the actual data types of its arguments and the type it is expected to return. The routines are called get_fn_expr_rettype(FmgrInfo *flinfo) and get_fn_expr_argtype(FmgrInfo *flinfo, int argnum). They return the result or argument type OID, or InvalidOid if the information is not available. The structure flinfo is normally accessed as fcinfo->flinfo. The parameter argnum is zero based. get_call_result_type can also be used as an alternative to get_fn_expr_rettype. There is also get_fn_expr_variadic, which can be used to find out whether variadic arguments have been merged into an array. This is primarily useful for VARIADIC "any" functions, since such merging will always have occurred for variadic functions taking ordinary array types.

For example, suppose we want to write a function to accept a single element of any type, and return a one-dimensional array of that type:

    ArrayType  *result;
    Oid         element_type = get_fn_expr_argtype(fcinfo->flinfo, 0);
    Datum       element;
    bool        isnull;
    int16       typlen;
    bool        typbyval;
    char        typalign;
    int         ndims;
    int         dims[MAXDIM];
    int         lbs[MAXDIM];

    if (!OidIsValid(element_type))
        elog(ERROR, "could not determine data type of input");

    /* get the provided element, being careful in case it's NULL */
    isnull = PG_ARGISNULL(0);
    if (isnull)
        element = (Datum) 0;
        element = PG_GETARG_DATUM(0);

    /* we have one dimension */
    ndims = 1;
    /* and one element */
    dims[0] = 1;
    /* and lower bound is 1 */
    lbs[0] = 1;

    /* get required info about the element type */
    get_typlenbyvalalign(element_type, &typlen, &typbyval, &typalign);

    /* now build the array */
    result = construct_md_array(&element, &isnull, ndims, dims, lbs,
                                element_type, typlen, typbyval, typalign);


The following command declares the function make_array in SQL:

CREATE FUNCTION make_array(anyelement) RETURNS anyarray
    AS 'DIRECTORY/funcs', 'make_array'

There is a variant of polymorphism that is only available to C-language functions: they can be declared to take parameters of type "any". (Note that this type name must be double-quoted, since it's also a SQL reserved word.) This works like anyelement except that it does not constrain different "any" arguments to be the same type, nor do they help determine the function's result type. A C-language function can also declare its final parameter to be VARIADIC "any". This will match one or more actual arguments of any type (not necessarily the same type). These arguments will not be gathered into an array as happens with normal variadic functions; they will just be passed to the function separately. The PG_NARGS() macro and the methods described above must be used to determine the number of actual arguments and their types when using this feature. Also, users of such a function might wish to use the VARIADIC keyword in their function call, with the expectation that the function would treat the array elements as separate arguments. The function itself must implement that behavior if wanted, after using get_fn_expr_variadic to detect that the actual argument was marked with VARIADIC.

37.9.10. Transform Functions

Some function calls can be simplified during planning based on properties specific to the function. For example, int4mul(n, 1) could be simplified to just n. To define such function-specific optimizations, write a transform function and place its OID in the protransform field of the primary function's pg_proc entry. The transform function must have the SQL signature protransform(internal) RETURNS internal. The argument, actually FuncExpr *, is a dummy node representing a call to the primary function. If the transform function's study of the expression tree proves that a simplified expression tree can substitute for all possible concrete calls represented thereby, build and return that simplified expression. Otherwise, return a NULL pointer (not a SQL null).

We make no guarantee that PostgreSQL will never call the primary function in cases that the transform function could simplify. Ensure rigorous equivalence between the simplified expression and an actual call to the primary function.

Currently, this facility is not exposed to users at the SQL level because of security concerns, so it is only practical to use for optimizing built-in functions.

37.9.11. Shared Memory and LWLocks

Add-ins can reserve LWLocks and an allocation of shared memory on server startup. The add-in's shared library must be preloaded by specifying it in shared_preload_libraries. Shared memory is reserved by calling:

void RequestAddinShmemSpace(int size)

from your _PG_init function.

LWLocks are reserved by calling:

void RequestNamedLWLockTranche(const char *tranche_name, int num_lwlocks)

from _PG_init. This will ensure that an array of num_lwlocks LWLocks is available under the name tranche_name. Use GetNamedLWLockTranche to get a pointer to this array.

To avoid possible race-conditions, each backend should use the LWLock AddinShmemInitLock when connecting to and initializing its allocation of shared memory, as shown here:

static mystruct *ptr = NULL;

if (!ptr)
        bool    found;

        LWLockAcquire(AddinShmemInitLock, LW_EXCLUSIVE);
        ptr = ShmemInitStruct("my struct name", size, &found);
        if (!found)
                initialize contents of shmem area;
                acquire any requested LWLocks using:
                ptr->locks = GetNamedLWLockTranche("my tranche name");

37.9.12. Using C++ for Extensibility

Although the PostgreSQL backend is written in C, it is possible to write extensions in C++ if these guidelines are followed:

  • All functions accessed by the backend must present a C interface to the backend; these C functions can then call C++ functions. For example, extern C linkage is required for backend-accessed functions. This is also necessary for any functions that are passed as pointers between the backend and C++ code.

  • Free memory using the appropriate deallocation method. For example, most backend memory is allocated using palloc(), so use pfree() to free it. Using C++ delete in such cases will fail.

  • Prevent exceptions from propagating into the C code (use a catch-all block at the top level of all extern C functions). This is necessary even if the C++ code does not explicitly throw any exceptions, because events like out-of-memory can still throw exceptions. Any exceptions must be caught and appropriate errors passed back to the C interface. If possible, compile C++ with -fno-exceptions to eliminate exceptions entirely; in such cases, you must check for failures in your C++ code, e.g. check for NULL returned by new().

  • If calling backend functions from C++ code, be sure that the C++ call stack contains only plain old data structures (POD). This is necessary because backend errors generate a distant longjmp() that does not properly unroll a C++ call stack with non-POD objects.

In summary, it is best to place C++ code behind a wall of extern C functions that interface to the backend, and avoid exception, memory, and call stack leakage.

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