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33.4. Query Language (SQL) Functions

SQL functions execute an arbitrary list of SQL statements, returning the result of the last query in the list. In the simple (non-set) case, the first row of the last query's result will be returned. (Bear in mind that "the first row" of a multirow result is not well-defined unless you use ORDER BY.) If the last query happens to return no rows at all, the null value will be returned.

Alternatively, an SQL function may be declared to return a set, by specifying the function's return type as SETOF sometype. In this case all rows of the last query's result are returned. Further details appear below.

The body of an SQL function should be a list of one or more SQL statements separated by semicolons. Note that because the syntax of the CREATE FUNCTION command requires the body of the function to be enclosed in single quotes, single quote marks (') used in the body of the function must be escaped, by writing two single quotes ('') or a backslash (\') where each quote is desired.

Arguments to the SQL function may be referenced in the function body using the syntax $n: $1 refers to the first argument, $2 to the second, and so on. If an argument is of a composite type, then the dot notation, e.g., $1.name, may be used to access attributes of the argument.

33.4.1. SQL Functions on Base Types

The simplest possible SQL function has no arguments and simply returns a base type, such as integer:

    SELECT 1 AS result;

SELECT one();


Notice that we defined a column alias within the function body for the result of the function (with the name result), but this column alias is not visible outside the function. Hence, the result is labeled one instead of result.

It is almost as easy to define SQL functions that take base types as arguments. In the example below, notice how we refer to the arguments within the function as $1 and $2.

CREATE FUNCTION add_em(integer, integer) RETURNS integer AS '
    SELECT $1 + $2;

SELECT add_em(1, 2) AS answer;


Here is a more useful function, which might be used to debit a bank account:

CREATE FUNCTION tf1 (integer, numeric) RETURNS integer AS '
    UPDATE bank 
        SET balance = balance - $2
        WHERE accountno = $1;
    SELECT 1;

A user could execute this function to debit account 17 by $100.00 as follows:

SELECT tf1(17, 100.0);

In practice one would probably like a more useful result from the function than a constant 1, so a more likely definition is

CREATE FUNCTION tf1 (integer, numeric) RETURNS numeric AS '
    UPDATE bank 
        SET balance = balance - $2
        WHERE accountno = $1;
    SELECT balance FROM bank WHERE accountno = $1;

which adjusts the balance and returns the new balance.

Any collection of commands in the SQL language can be packaged together and defined as a function. Besides SELECT queries, the commands can include data modification (i.e., INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE). However, the final command must be a SELECT that returns whatever is specified as the function's return type. Alternatively, if you want to define a SQL function that performs actions but has no useful value to return, you can define it as returning void. In that case, the function body must not end with a SELECT. For example:

        WHERE salary <= 0;

SELECT clean_emp();


(1 row)

33.4.2. SQL Functions on Composite Types

When specifying functions with arguments of composite types, we must not only specify which argument we want (as we did above with $1 and $2) but also the attributes of that argument. For example, suppose that emp is a table containing employee data, and therefore also the name of the composite type of each row of the table. Here is a function double_salary that computes what someone's salary would be if it were doubled:

    name        text,
    salary      integer,
    age         integer,
    cubicle     point

CREATE FUNCTION double_salary(emp) RETURNS integer AS '
    SELECT $1.salary * 2 AS salary;

SELECT name, double_salary(emp) AS dream
    FROM emp
    WHERE emp.cubicle ~= point '(2,1)';

 name | dream
 Sam  |  2400

Notice the use of the syntax $1.salary to select one field of the argument row value. Also notice how the calling SELECT command uses a table name to denote the entire current row of that table as a composite value. The table row can alternatively be referenced like this:

SELECT name, double_salary(emp.*) AS dream
    FROM emp
    WHERE emp.cubicle ~= point '(2,1)';

which emphasizes its row nature.

It is also possible to build a function that returns a composite type. This is an example of a function that returns a single emp row:

    SELECT text ''None'' AS name,
        1000 AS salary,
        25 AS age,
        point ''(2,2)'' AS cubicle;

In this example we have specified each of the attributes with a constant value, but any computation could have been substituted for these constants.

Note two important things about defining the function:

  • The select list order in the query must be exactly the same as that in which the columns appear in the table associated with the composite type. (Naming the columns, as we did above, is irrelevant to the system.)

  • You must typecast the expressions to match the definition of the composite type, or you will get errors like this:

    ERROR:  function declared to return emp returns varchar instead of text at column 1

A function that returns a row (composite type) can be used as a table function, as described below. It can also be called in the context of an SQL expression, but only when you extract a single attribute out of the row or pass the entire row into another function that accepts the same composite type.

This is an example of extracting an attribute out of a row type:

SELECT (new_emp()).name;


We need the extra parentheses to keep the parser from getting confused:

SELECT new_emp().name;
ERROR:  syntax error at or near "." at character 17

Another option is to use functional notation for extracting an attribute. The simple way to explain this is that we can use the notations attribute(table) and table.attribute interchangeably.

SELECT name(new_emp());

-- This is the same as:
-- SELECT emp.name AS youngster FROM emp WHERE emp.age < 30

SELECT name(emp) AS youngster
    FROM emp
    WHERE age(emp) < 30;


The other way to use a function returning a row result is to declare a second function accepting a row type argument and pass the result of the first function to it:

CREATE FUNCTION getname(emp) RETURNS text AS '
    SELECT $1.name;

SELECT getname(new_emp());
(1 row)

33.4.3. SQL Functions as Table Sources

All SQL functions may be used in the FROM clause of a query, but it is particularly useful for functions returning composite types. If the function is defined to return a base type, the table function produces a one-column table. If the function is defined to return a composite type, the table function produces a column for each attribute of the composite type.

Here is an example:

CREATE TABLE foo (fooid int, foosubid int, fooname text);
INSERT INTO foo VALUES (1, 1, 'Joe');
INSERT INTO foo VALUES (1, 2, 'Ed');
INSERT INTO foo VALUES (2, 1, 'Mary');

    SELECT * FROM foo WHERE fooid = $1;

SELECT *, upper(fooname) FROM getfoo(1) AS t1;

 fooid | foosubid | fooname | upper
     1 |        1 | Joe     | JOE
(2 rows)

As the example shows, we can work with the columns of the function's result just the same as if they were columns of a regular table.

Note that we only got one row out of the function. This is because we did not use SETOF. This is described in the next section.

33.4.4. SQL Functions Returning Sets

When an SQL function is declared as returning SETOF sometype, the function's final SELECT query is executed to completion, and each row it outputs is returned as an element of the result set.

This feature is normally used when calling the function in the FROM clause. In this case each row returned by the function becomes a row of the table seen by the query. For example, assume that table foo has the same contents as above, and we say:

    SELECT * FROM foo WHERE fooid = $1;

SELECT * FROM getfoo(1) AS t1;

Then we would get:

 fooid | foosubid | fooname
     1 |        1 | Joe
     1 |        2 | Ed
(2 rows)

Currently, functions returning sets may also be called in the select list of a query. For each row that the query generates by itself, the function returning set is invoked, and an output row is generated for each element of the function's result set. Note, however, that this capability is deprecated and may be removed in future releases. The following is an example function returning a set from the select list:

CREATE FUNCTION listchildren(text) RETURNS SETOF text AS
'SELECT name FROM nodes WHERE parent = $1'

SELECT * FROM nodes;
   name    | parent
 Top       |
 Child1    | Top
 Child2    | Top
 Child3    | Top
 SubChild1 | Child1
 SubChild2 | Child1
(6 rows)

SELECT listchildren('Top');
(3 rows)

SELECT name, listchildren(name) FROM nodes;
  name  | listchildren
 Top    | Child1
 Top    | Child2
 Top    | Child3
 Child1 | SubChild1
 Child1 | SubChild2
(5 rows)

In the last SELECT, notice that no output row appears for Child2, Child3, etc. This happens because listchildren returns an empty set for those arguments, so no result rows are generated.

33.4.5. Polymorphic SQL Functions

SQL functions may be declared to accept and return the polymorphic types anyelement and anyarray. See Section 33.2.5 for a more detailed explanation of polymorphic functions. Here is a polymorphic function make_array that builds up an array from two arbitrary data type elements:

CREATE FUNCTION make_array(anyelement, anyelement) RETURNS anyarray AS '
    SELECT ARRAY[$1, $2];

SELECT make_array(1, 2) AS intarray, make_array('a'::text, 'b') AS textarray;
 intarray | textarray
 {1,2}    | {a,b}
(1 row)

Notice the use of the typecast 'a'::text to specify that the argument is of type text. This is required if the argument is just a string literal, since otherwise it would be treated as type unknown, and array of unknown is not a valid type. Without the typecast, you will get errors like this:

ERROR:  could not determine "anyarray"/"anyelement" type because input has type "unknown"

It is permitted to have polymorphic arguments with a deterministic return type, but the converse is not. For example:

CREATE FUNCTION is_greater(anyelement, anyelement) RETURNS boolean AS '
    SELECT $1 > $2;

SELECT is_greater(1, 2);
(1 row)

CREATE FUNCTION invalid_func() RETURNS anyelement AS '
    SELECT 1;
ERROR:  cannot determine result data type
DETAIL:  A function returning "anyarray" or "anyelement" must have at least one argument of either type.