#100CodeExamples – Constants in PL/SQL and SQL

We often deal with the same things in several places of our codebase, be it names, IDs, codes or something similiar. Problems arise when we write them slightly different, which we often don’t notice because it won’t create a compiler error.

Additionally, these things should often not be changeable once set, therefore most programming languages provide CONSTANTS.
PL/SQL does so, too, but to get these constants into SQL can be a bit tricky.

create table characters_of_force (
  name varchar2(128) not null primary key,
  alignment varchar2(10) not null,
  constraint characters_of_force_chk
    check (alignment in ('dark','light','neutral'))
);

insert into characters_of_force
  values ('Darth Vader', 'dark');
insert into characters_of_force
  values ('Luke Skywalker', 'light');
insert into characters_of_force
  values ('Aurra Sing', 'neutral');

select * from characters_of_force;

/* We want to have constants for the possible alignment-
   values so typos are less likely and our IDE can help us
*/
create or replace package alignment_types as
  /* the constant keyword prevents the package variable
     from being overridden at a later time */
  dark constant varchar2(10) := 'dark';
  light constant varchar2(10) := 'light';
  neutral constant varchar2(10) := 'neutral';
end;
/

/* We can now use the constants from PL/SQL.
   Note how we dont need a package body if we just
   want to provide constants */
begin
  dbms_output.put_line(
    'Anakin was first aligned to '
    || alignment_types.light
    || ' but turned to '
    || alignment_types.dark
    || ' later');
end;
/

/* But we can not access package variables from SQL */
select alignment_types.light from dual;

/* To overcome this we can change our package */
create or replace package alignment_types as
  /* No public constants anymore,
     but functions without parameters */
  function light return varchar2;
  function dark return varchar2;
  function neutral return varchar2;
end;
/

create or replace package body alignment_types as
  /* Here we have our constants again,
     hiding them from public access */
  g_dark constant varchar2(10) := 'dark';
  g_light constant varchar2(10) := 'light';
  g_neutral constant varchar2(10) := 'neutral';

  /* The functions are our only publicly available item */
  function light return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_light;
    end;

  function dark return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_dark;
    end;

  function neutral return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_neutral;
    end;
end;
/


/* Now we can access the constant from SQL, too */
select alignment_types.light from dual;

/* We can, however, not use it in the check constraint */
alter table characters_of_force
  drop constraint characters_of_force_chk;

alter table characters_of_force
  add constraint characters_of_force_chk
  check ( alignment in
    (alignment_types.light,
     alignment_types.dark,
     alignment_types.neutral)
  );

/* But we can work around this with a virtual column */
create or replace package alignment_types as
  function light return varchar2;
  function dark return varchar2;
  function neutral return varchar2;
  /* We need a deterministic check-function */
  function valid_type(i_value in varchar2)
    return int deterministic;
end;
/

create or replace package body alignment_types as
  g_dark constant varchar2(10) := 'dark';
  g_light constant varchar2(10) := 'light';
  g_neutral constant varchar2(10) := 'neutral';

  function light return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_light;
    end;

  function dark return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_dark;
    end;

  function neutral return varchar2
  as
    begin
      return g_neutral;
    end;

  /* This function can just check against our constants */
  function valid_type(i_value in varchar2)
    return int deterministic
  as
    begin
      if ( i_value in (light, dark, neutral)) then
        return 1;
      else
        return 0;
      end if;
    end;
end;
/

/* We create a virtual column with this function */
alter table characters_of_force
  add (alignment_check number generated always as (
    alignment_types.valid_type(alignment)
  ));

/* And can then check the content of this virtual column */
alter table characters_of_force
  add constraint characters_of_force_chk
  check ( alignment_check = 1 );

insert into characters_of_force ( name, alignment )
  values ('Anakin Skywalker', 'confused');

This example is available on LiveSQL.

Why I learned this

Constants are great for a number of reasons and I try to use them in whatever language I’m coding.

Maybe the most important thing for me is that they allow my IDE to do most of the typing work and the use of constants turns typos, which would be unnoticed, into ones that produce compilation errors.

2 thoughts on “#100CodeExamples – Constants in PL/SQL and SQL

    • Aw, learned a thing: better not fix a typo via the WordPress app on the smartphone if you’re using the new editor.
      Thanks a lot for letting me know!

      Like

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