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Chapter 35. Triggers

This chapter describes how to write trigger functions. Trigger functions can be written in C or in some of the available procedural languages. It is not currently possible to write a SQL-language trigger function.

35.1. Overview of Trigger Behavior

A trigger can be defined to execute before or after an INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE operation, either once per modified row, or once per SQL statement. If a trigger event occurs, the trigger's function is called at the appropriate time to handle the event.

The trigger function must be defined before the trigger itself can be created. The trigger function must be declared as a function taking no arguments and returning type trigger. (The trigger function receives its input through a specially-passed TriggerData structure, not in the form of ordinary function arguments.)

Once a suitable trigger function has been created, the trigger is established with CREATE TRIGGER. The same trigger function can be used for multiple triggers.

Trigger functions return a table row (a value of type HeapTuple) to the calling executor. A trigger fired before an operation has the following choices:

  • It can return a NULL pointer to skip the operation for the current row (and so the row will not be inserted/updated/deleted).

  • For INSERT and UPDATE triggers only, the returned row becomes the row that will be inserted or will replace the row being updated. This allows the trigger function to modify the row being inserted or updated.

A before trigger that does not intend to cause either of these behaviors must be careful to return as its result the same row that was passed in (that is, the NEW row for INSERT and UPDATE triggers, the OLD row for DELETE triggers).

The return value is ignored for triggers fired after an operation, and so they may as well return NULL.

If more than one trigger is defined for the same event on the same relation, the triggers will be fired in alphabetical order by trigger name. In the case of before triggers, the possibly-modified row returned by each trigger becomes the input to the next trigger. If any before trigger returns a NULL pointer, the operation is abandoned and subsequent triggers are not fired.

If a trigger function executes SQL commands then these commands may fire triggers again. This is known as cascading triggers. There is no direct limitation on the number of cascade levels. It is possible for cascades to cause a recursive invocation of the same trigger; for example, an INSERT trigger might execute a command that inserts an additional row into the same table, causing the INSERT trigger to be fired again. It is the trigger programmer's responsibility to avoid infinite recursion in such scenarios.

When a trigger is being defined, arguments can be specified for it. The purpose of including arguments in the trigger definition is to allow different triggers with similar requirements to call the same function. As an example, there could be a generalized trigger function that takes as its arguments two column names and puts the current user in one and the current time stamp in the other. Properly written, this trigger function would be independent of the specific table it is triggering on. So the same function could be used for INSERT events on any table with suitable columns, to automatically track creation of records in a transaction table for example. It could also be used to track last-update events if defined as an UPDATE trigger.