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37.4. Declarations

All variables used in a block must be declared in the declarations section of the block. (The only exception is that the loop variable of a FOR loop iterating over a range of integer values is automatically declared as an integer variable.)

PL/pgSQL variables can have any SQL data type, such as integer, varchar, and char.

Here are some examples of variable declarations:

user_id integer;
quantity numeric(5);
url varchar;
myrow tablename%ROWTYPE;
myfield tablename.columnname%TYPE;
arow RECORD;

The general syntax of a variable declaration is:

name [ CONSTANT ] type [ NOT NULL ] [ { DEFAULT | := } expression ];

The DEFAULT clause, if given, specifies the initial value assigned to the variable when the block is entered. If the DEFAULT clause is not given then the variable is initialized to the SQL null value. The CONSTANT option prevents the variable from being assigned to, so that its value remains constant for the duration of the block. If NOT NULL is specified, an assignment of a null value results in a run-time error. All variables declared as NOT NULL must have a nonnull default value specified.

The default value is evaluated every time the block is entered. So, for example, assigning now() to a variable of type timestamp causes the variable to have the time of the current function call, not the time when the function was precompiled.


quantity integer DEFAULT 32;
url varchar := '';
user_id CONSTANT integer := 10;

37.4.1. Aliases for Function Parameters

Parameters passed to functions are named with the identifiers $1, $2, etc. Optionally, aliases can be declared for $n parameter names for increased readability. Either the alias or the numeric identifier can then be used to refer to the parameter value.

There are two ways to create an alias. The preferred way is to give a name to the parameter in the CREATE FUNCTION command, for example:

CREATE FUNCTION sales_tax(subtotal real) RETURNS real AS $$
    RETURN subtotal * 0.06;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

The other way, which was the only way available before PostgreSQL 8.0, is to explicitly declare an alias, using the declaration syntax

name ALIAS FOR $n;

The same example in this style looks like

CREATE FUNCTION sales_tax(real) RETURNS real AS $$
    subtotal ALIAS FOR $1;
    RETURN subtotal * 0.06;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

Some more examples:

CREATE FUNCTION instr(varchar, integer) RETURNS integer AS $$
    v_string ALIAS FOR $1;
    index ALIAS FOR $2;
    -- some computations using v_string and index here
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

CREATE FUNCTION concat_selected_fields(in_t sometablename) RETURNS text AS $$
    RETURN in_t.f1 || in_t.f3 || in_t.f5 || in_t.f7;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

When a PL/pgSQL function is declared with output parameters, the output parameters are given $n names and optional aliases in just the same way as the normal input parameters. An output parameter is effectively a variable that starts out NULL; it should be assigned to during the execution of the function. The final value of the parameter is what is returned. For instance, the sales-tax example could also be done this way:

CREATE FUNCTION sales_tax(subtotal real, OUT tax real) AS $$
    tax := subtotal * 0.06;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

Notice that we omitted RETURNS real — we could have included it, but it would be redundant.

Output parameters are most useful when returning multiple values. A trivial example is:

CREATE FUNCTION sum_n_product(x int, y int, OUT sum int, OUT prod int) AS $$
    sum := x + y;
    prod := x * y;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

As discussed in Section 33.4.3, this effectively creates an anonymous record type for the function's results. If a RETURNS clause is given, it must say RETURNS record.

When the return type of a PL/pgSQL function is declared as a polymorphic type (anyelement or anyarray), a special parameter $0 is created. Its data type is the actual return type of the function, as deduced from the actual input types (see Section 33.2.5). This allows the function to access its actual return type as shown in Section 37.4.2. $0 is initialized to null and can be modified by the function, so it can be used to hold the return value if desired, though that is not required. $0 can also be given an alias. For example, this function works on any data type that has a + operator:

CREATE FUNCTION add_three_values(v1 anyelement, v2 anyelement, v3 anyelement)
RETURNS anyelement AS $$
    result ALIAS FOR $0;
    result := v1 + v2 + v3;
    RETURN result;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

The same effect can be had by declaring one or more output parameters as anyelement or anyarray. In this case the special $0 parameter is not used; the output parameters themselves serve the same purpose. For example:

CREATE FUNCTION add_three_values(v1 anyelement, v2 anyelement, v3 anyelement,
                                 OUT sum anyelement)
AS $$
    sum := v1 + v2 + v3;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

37.4.2. Copying Types


%TYPE provides the data type of a variable or table column. You can use this to declare variables that will hold database values. For example, let's say you have a column named user_id in your users table. To declare a variable with the same data type as users.user_id you write:

user_id users.user_id%TYPE;

By using %TYPE you don't need to know the data type of the structure you are referencing, and most importantly, if the data type of the referenced item changes in the future (for instance: you change the type of user_id from integer to real), you may not need to change your function definition.

%TYPE is particularly valuable in polymorphic functions, since the data types needed for internal variables may change from one call to the next. Appropriate variables can be created by applying %TYPE to the function's arguments or result placeholders.

37.4.3. Row Types

name table_name%ROWTYPE;
name composite_type_name;

A variable of a composite type is called a row variable (or row-type variable). Such a variable can hold a whole row of a SELECT or FOR query result, so long as that query's column set matches the declared type of the variable. The individual fields of the row value are accessed using the usual dot notation, for example rowvar.field.

A row variable can be declared to have the same type as the rows of an existing table or view, by using the table_name%ROWTYPE notation; or it can be declared by giving a composite type's name. (Since every table has an associated composite type of the same name, it actually does not matter in PostgreSQL whether you write %ROWTYPE or not. But the form with %ROWTYPE is more portable.)

Parameters to a function can be composite types (complete table rows). In that case, the corresponding identifier $n will be a row variable, and fields can be selected from it, for example $1.user_id.

Only the user-defined columns of a table row are accessible in a row-type variable, not the OID or other system columns (because the row could be from a view). The fields of the row type inherit the table's field size or precision for data types such as char(n).

Here is an example of using composite types. table1 and table2 are existing tables having at least the mentioned fields:

CREATE FUNCTION merge_fields(t_row table1) RETURNS text AS $$
    t2_row table2%ROWTYPE;
    SELECT * INTO t2_row FROM table2 WHERE ... ;
    RETURN t_row.f1 || t2_row.f3 || t_row.f5 || t2_row.f7;
$$ LANGUAGE plpgsql;

SELECT merge_fields(t.*) FROM table1 t WHERE ... ;

37.4.4. Record Types

name RECORD;

Record variables are similar to row-type variables, but they have no predefined structure. They take on the actual row structure of the row they are assigned during a SELECT or FOR command. The substructure of a record variable can change each time it is assigned to. A consequence of this is that until a record variable is first assigned to, it has no substructure, and any attempt to access a field in it will draw a run-time error.

Note that RECORD is not a true data type, only a placeholder. One should also realize that when a PL/pgSQL function is declared to return type record, this is not quite the same concept as a record variable, even though such a function may well use a record variable to hold its result. In both cases the actual row structure is unknown when the function is written, but for a function returning record the actual structure is determined when the calling query is parsed, whereas a record variable can change its row structure on-the-fly.

37.4.5. RENAME

RENAME oldname TO newname;

Using the RENAME declaration you can change the name of a variable, record or row. This is primarily useful if NEW or OLD should be referenced by another name inside a trigger procedure. See also ALIAS.


RENAME id TO user_id;
RENAME this_var TO that_var;

Note: RENAME appears to be broken as of PostgreSQL 7.3. Fixing this is of low priority, since ALIAS covers most of the practical uses of RENAME.