Data Definition, Part II - Beginning Oracle SQL: For Oracle Database 12c, Third Edition (2014)

Beginning Oracle SQL: For Oracle Database 12c, Third Edition (2014)

Chapter 7. Data Definition, Part II

Chapter 3 introduced just enough data definition (DDL) syntax to enable you to create the seven case tables for this book, using simple CREATE TABLE commands without any constraint specifications. This second DDL chapter goes into more detail about some data definition aspects, although it is still not intended as a complete reference on the topic. (Discussion of the CREATE TABLE command alone covers more than 100 pages in the Oracle Database documentation.)

The first two sections revisit the CREATE TABLE command and the datatypes supported by Oracle Database 12c. Section 7.3 introduces the ALTER TABLE command, which allows you to change the structure of an existing table (such as to add columns or change datatypes), and theRENAME command, which allows you to rename a table or view. You will learn how to define and handle constraints in Section 7.4.

Section 7.5 covers indexes. The main purpose of indexes is to improve performance (response time) by providing more efficient access paths to table data. Thus, Section 7.6 provides a brief introduction to performance, mainly in the context of checking if the optimizer is using your indexes.

The most efficient method to generate sequence numbers (for example, for order numbers) in an Oracle environment is by using sequence objects, which are introduced in Section 7.7.

We continue with synonyms, in Section 7.8. By creating synonyms you can work with abbreviations for table names, hide the schema name prefix of table names, or even hide the remote database where the table resides. Section 7.9 explains the CURRENT_SCHEMA session parameter.

Section 7.10 discusses the DROP TABLE command and the recycle bin, a concept introduced back in Oracle Database 10g. By default, all dropped tables go to the recycle bin, allowing you to recover from human errors.

The last two sections of the chapter cover some other SQL commands related to data definition: TRUNCATE and COMMENT.

7.1 The CREATE TABLE Command

Chapter 3 introduced the CREATE TABLE command and showed a basic command syntax diagram. This section explores the CREATE TABLE command in a little more detail. Figure 7-1 shows a more complete syntax diagram, but please be aware that even this is far from complete.


Figure 7-1. A CREATE TABLE command syntax diagram

Figure 7-1 shows that the CREATE TABLE command supports two component types: column specifications and constraint specifications.

You can provide an optional STORAGE clause, with various physical storage specifications for the table you are creating. This is an important means to optimizing and spreading the physical storage of your data on disk. For more information about the STORAGE clause and handling physical storage, see Oracle SQL Reference.

According to the syntax diagram in Figure 7-1, you can also create new tables based on a subquery with the AS clause. The CREATE TABLE ... AS SELECT ... command (also known as CTAS) is comparable to one of the possibilities of the INSERT command shown in Figure 6-1(in Chapter 6), where you insert rows into an existing table using a subquery. The only difference is that with CTAS you create and populate the table in a single SQL command. In this case, you can omit the column specifications between the parentheses. If you want to use column specifications anyway, you are not allowed to specify datatypes. In CTAS commands, the new table always inherits the datatypes from the results of the subquery.

The syntax for column specifications in a CREATE TABLE command is detailed in Figure 7-2.


Figure 7-2. A CREATE TABLE column specification syntax

Figure 7-2 shows that you can specify constraints in two ways:

· As independent (out-of-line) components of the CREATE TABLE command (see Figure 7-1)

· As inline constraints inside a column specification (see Figure 7-2)

We will discuss both types of constraints in Section 7.4.

You can use the DEFAULT option to specify a value (or a SQL expression or a reference to the CURRVAL or NEXTVAL of a sequence object1) to be used for INSERT commands that don’t contain an explicit value for the corresponding column.

7.2 More on Datatypes

Datatypes were introduced in Chapter 3. Table 7-1 provides a more complete overview of the most important Oracle datatypes.

Table 7-1. Important Oracle Datatypes




Character string with fixed length n (default 1) using the database characterset


Variable-length string; maximum n characters using the database characterset


Character string with fixed length n (default 1) using the national characterset


Variable-length string; maximum n characters using the national characterset


Date (between 4712 BC and 9999 AD)


Timestamp, with or without time zone information


Date/time interval


Unstructured binary data (Binary Large Object)


Large text (Character Large Object) using the database characterset


Large text (Character Large Object) using the national characterset


Binary data; maximum n bytes


Can store any number, maximum precision and scale 38 digits


Integer; maximum n digits


Total of n digits; maximum m digits right of the decimal point


32-bit floating-point number


64-bit floating-point number

image Note If you insert values into a NUMBER(n,m) column and you exceed precision n, you get an error message. If you exceed scale m, the Oracle DBMS rounds the value.

The Oracle DBMS supports many datatype synonyms for portability with other DBMS implementations and for compliance with the ANSI/ISO standard. For example, CHARACTER is identical to CHAR; DECIMAL(n,m) is identical to NUMBER(n,m); and NUMBER even has multiple synonyms, such as INTEGER, REAL, and SMALLINT.

Each Oracle datatype has its own precision or length limits, as shown in Table 7-2.

Table 7-2. Oracle Datatype Limits




38 digits


2000 bytes


4000 bytes


4000 bytes or 32,767 bytes 2


2000 bytes or 32,767 bytes 3


(4GB – 1) × (database block size)


(4GB – 1) × (database block size)

Character Datatypes

You may have noticed that Table 7-2 shows 2000 and 4000 for the CHAR and VARCHAR2 datatype limits, respectively. You might wonder in which unit these numbers are expressed. That depends on the value of the NLS_LENGTH_SEMANTICS parameter. The default for the Oracle DBMS is to use BYTE length semantics. If you want to make your SQL code independent of this parameter, you can override its value by using explicit BYTE and CHAR suffixes in your datatype specifications. With single-byte characterset encodings, BYTE and CHAR are equivalent. However, if either your database characterset or your national characterset are using variable-length or multibyte characterset codes, then you may want to be aware that a column specified as VARCHAR2(20) or VARCHAR2(20 BYTE) can store only 10 multibyte characters. Here are a couple examples:

· CHAR(42 BYTE): Fixed string, 42 bytes maximum in database characterset

· VARCHAR2(2000 CHAR): Variable-length string, maximum of 2000 characters in database characterset

· NVARCHAR2(150 BYTE): Variable-length string, maximum of 150 bytes in the national characterset

· NVARCHAR2(150 CHAR): Variable-length string, maximum of 150 characters in the national characterset

Comparison Semantics

The difference between VARCHAR2 and CHAR datatypes is the treatment of comparisons involving strings of different lengths. There are two different semantics to compare strings of different lengths: padded comparison (padding with spaces) and nonpadded comparison.

If you compare two strings, character by character, and all of the characters are identical until the point where the shortest string is processed, nonpadded comparison semantics automatically “declares” the longest string as being greater than the shorter string. On the other hand, padded comparison semantics extends the shortest string with spaces until the length of the longest string and continues comparing characters. This means that trailing spaces in strings don’t influence padded comparison results. Here are examples of the comparison types:

· Padded comparison: 'RAID5' = 'RAID5 '

· Nonpadded comparison: ' RAID5' < ' RAID5 '

By using the VARCHAR2 datatype, especially in all your SQL script files, you are guaranteed to get nonpadded comparison semantics.

Column Data Interpretation

There is an important difference between the RAW and VARCHAR2 datatypes. RAW column data (like BLOB data) is never interpreted by the DBMS in any way. For example, VARCHAR2 column data is converted automatically during transport from an ASCII to an EBCDIC environment. You typically use the RAW and BLOB datatypes for columns containing binary data, such as scanned documents, sound tracks, and movie fragments.

Numbers Revisited

Before we move on to the ALTER TABLE command in the next section, let’s briefly revisit numbers. The Oracle DBMS has always stored NUMBER values in a proprietary internal format, to maintain maximum portability to the impressive list of different platforms (operating systems) that it supports. The NUMBER datatype is still the best choice for most columns containing numeric data. However, the internal storage of this datatype implies some processing overhead, especially when you are performing many nontrivial numerical computations in your SQL statements.

Since Oracle Database 10g you can also store floating-point numbers in your table columns. Floating-point numbers don’t offer the same precision as NUMBER values, but they may result in better response times for numerical computations. You can choose between two floating-point datatypes:

· BINARY_FLOAT: 32-bit, single precision

· BINARY_DOUBLE: 64-bit, double precision

You can also specify floating-point constants (literals) in your SQL statements with a suffix f (single precision) or d (double precision), as shown in Listing 7-1.

Listing 7-1. Floating-Point Literals

SQL> select 5.1d, 42f from dual;

5.1D 42F
---------- ----------
5.1E+000 4.2E+001


We won’t use these two floating-point datatypes in this book. See Oracle SQL Reference for more details.

7.3 The ALTER TABLE and RENAME Commands

Sometimes, it is necessary to change the structure of existing tables. For example, you may find that the maximum width of a certain column is defined too low, you may want to add an extra column to an existing table, or you may need to modify a constraint. In these situations, you can use the ALTER TABLE command. Figure 7-3 shows the syntax diagram for this command.


Figure 7-3. An ALTER TABLE command syntax diagram

image Note The ALTER TABLE command is much more complicated and extended than Figure 7-3 suggests. See Oracle SQL Reference for more details.

You can add columns or constraint definitions to an existing table with the ADD option. The MODIFY option allows you to change definitions of existing columns. For example, you can widen a column, allow null values with NULL, or prohibit null values with NOT NULL.

You can drop columns from tables with the DROP COLUMN option. This will remove the column physically from the table structure. You can also set columns to “unused” with the ALTER TABLE ...SET UNUSED command, and physically remove them from the database later with the ALTER TABLE ... DROP UNUSED COLUMNS command. This may be useful when you want to drop multiple columns in a single scan (accessing the rows only once). The RENAME COLUMN option allows you to change the name of a column.

image Caution You should be careful with the “destructive” DROP COLUMN option. Some database applications may depend on the existence of the column you are dropping.

Dropping columns in very big tables could be a very time and resource consuming operation. To avoid exhaustion of undo space (used for rollback purposes), we can use a CHECKPOINT option, such as "ALTER TABLE...DROP UNUSED COLUMNS CHECKPOINT 300", which would will checkpoint or save changes permanently every 300 rows changed.

With the constraint manipulation option, you can remove, enable, or disable constraints. Figure 7-4 shows the syntax details of this ALTER TABLE command option. For more details about constraint handling, see the next section.


Figure 7-4. ALTER TABLE constraint manipulation syntax

Just like the CREATE TABLE command, the ALTER TABLE command also allows you to influence various physical table storage attributes.

In general, you can apply any structure change to existing tables, even when they contain rows. However, there are some exceptions. For example, for obvious reasons you cannot add a NOT NULL column to a nonempty table, unless you immediately specify a DEFAULT value in the same ALTER TABLE command. Listing 7-2 shows an example

Listing 7-2. ALTER TABLE Command Example

SQL> alter table registrations
2 add (entered_by number(4) default 7839 not null);

Table altered.

SQL> alter table registrations
2 drop column entered_by;

Table altered.


image Note The ALTER TABLE statement is probably the best illustration of the power of the relational model. Think about this: you can change a table definition while the table contains data and applications are running.

The RENAME command is rather straightforward. It allows you to change the name of a table or view (views are discussed in Chapter 10). Figure 7-5 shows the syntax diagram for the RENAME command.


Figure 7-5. RENAME command syntax diagram

7.4 Constraints

As you saw in the previous sections, you can specify constraint definitions in the CREATE TABLE and ALTER TABLE commands. As noted earlier in the description of the CREATE TABLE command, you can treat constraints as independent table components (for example, at the end of your CREATE TABLE command after all column definitions) or as part of a column definition. A common terminology to distinguish these two ways to specify constraints is out-of-line versus inline constraints.

For each constraint definition, you can optionally specify a constraint name. It is highly recommended that you assign a meaningful name for all your constraint definitions. If you don’t specify a constraint name yourself, the Oracle DBMS generates a far from informative name for you:SYS_Cnnnnn, where nnnnn is an arbitrary sequence number. Once constraints are created, you need their names to manipulate (enable, disable, or drop) them. Moreover, constraint names show up in constraint violation error messages. Therefore, well-chosen constraint names make error messages more informative. See Listing 7-3 later in this section for an example, showing a foreign key constraint violation.

Out-of-Line Constraints

Figure 7-6shows the syntax details for out-of-line constraints. This syntax is slightly different from the inline constraint syntax.


Figure 7-6. Out-of-line constraint syntax diagram

In the syntax diagram, col name list refers to a comma-separated list of one or more column names. The type of constraint can be UNIQUE, PRIMARY KEY, FOREIGN KEY, and CHECK. By default, constraints become active immediately, unless you specify the DISABLE option; in other words, the default option is ENABLE.

The four types of constraints work as follows:

· UNIQUE allows you to prevent duplicate values in a column or a column combination.

· PRIMARY KEYand FOREIGN KEY allow you to implement entity integrity and referential integrity. See Chapter 1 for a detailed discussion of these concepts.

· CHECK allows you to specify any arbitrary condition as a constraint.

Figure 7-7 shows the syntax details of a foreign key constraint reference (FK-REF in Figure 7-6).


Figure 7-7. Foreign key reference syntax diagram

You can omit the comma-separated list of column names (col name list in Figure 7-7) in the foreign key reference. In that case, the foreign key constraint automatically refers to the primary key of the referenced table.

image Tip In general, it is considered good practice to have foreign keys always refer to primary keys, although foreign keys may also reference unique keys.

To understand the ON DELETE option of the foreign key reference, consider the example of a foreign key constraint violation shown in Listing 7-3. Normally, it is impossible to remove parent (master) rows if the database still contains child (detail) rows. In Listing 7-3, we try to remove the XML course while the database still apparently contains XML course offerings.

Listing 7-3. Example of a Foreign Key Constraint Violation

SQL> delete from courses
2 where code = 'XML';

delete from courses
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-02292: integrity constraint (BOOK.O_COURSE_FK) violated -
child record found


image Note Listing 7-10 shows the definition of the O_COURSE_FK constraint.

The ON DELETE CASCADE option (see Figure 7-7) changes the behavior in such situations. The master/detail problems are solved by a cascading effect, in which, apart from the parent row, all child rows are implicitly deleted, too. The ON DELETE SET NULL option solves the same problem in a different way: the child rows are updated, rather than deleted. This approach is applicable only if the foreign key columns involved may contain null values, of course.

Inline Constraints

The inline constraint syntax is shown in Figure 7-8. There are some subtle differences from the syntax for out-of-line constraints:

· You don’t specify column names in inline constraints, because inline constraints always belong to the column definition in which they are embedded.

· The foreign key constraint reference (FK-REF) is the same for both constraint types (see Figure 7-7), but you don’t specify the keywords FOREIGN KEY for an inline constraint—REFERENCES is enough.

· In the context of inline constraints, a NOT NULL constraint is allowed. In out-of-line constraints, this is impossible, unless you rewrite it as a CHECK constraint.


Figure 7-8. Inline constraint syntax diagram

Constraint Definitions in the Data Dictionary

Constraint definitions are stored in the data dictionary. The two most important views are USER_CONSTRAINTS and USER_CONS_COLUMNS. Listing 7-4 shows how you can produce an overview of all referential integrity constraints for the current user.

Listing 7-4. Foreign Key Constraints in the Data Dictionary

SQL> select table_name
2 , constraint_name
3 , status
4 , r_constraint_name as references
5 from user_constraints
6 where constraint_type = 'R';

-------------------- -------------------- -------- ----------


Tools like Oracle Forms can use constraint definitions from the data dictionary—for example, to generate code for constraint checking in database applications.

Last but not least, the Oracle optimizer uses knowledge about constraint information from the data dictionary to decide about efficient execution plans for SQL statements. To reiterate what we discussed in Chapter 1, constraints are very important, and they must be defined in the database.

Case Table Definitions with Constraints

Listings 7-5 through 7-12 show the CREATE TABLE commands for the seven case tables of this book. The constraints in these CREATE TABLE commands are meant to be self-explanatory, showing various examples of PRIMARY KEY, FOREIGN KEY, UNIQUE, CHECK, and NOT NULLconstraints.

image Note For more details about the seven case tables, refer to Appendix C of this book.

Listing 7-5. The EMPLOYEES Table

create table employees
( empno NUMBER(4) constraint E_PK primary key
constraint E_EMPNO_CHK check (empno > 7000)
, ename VARCHAR2(8) constraint E_NAME_NN not null
, init VARCHAR2(5) constraint E_INIT_NN not null
, job VARCHAR2(8)
, mgr NUMBER(4) constraint E_MGR_FK references employees
, bdate DATE constraint E_BDAT_NN not null
, msal NUMBER(6,2) constraint E_MSAL_NN not null
, comm NUMBER(6,2)
, deptno NUMBER(2) default 10
, constraint E_SALES_CHK check
+ nvl2(comm, 1,0) = 1)
) ;

Listing 7-6. The DEPARTMENTS Table

create table departments
( deptno NUMBER(2) constraint D_PK primary key
constraint D_DEPTNO_CHK check (mod(deptno,10) = 0)
, dname VARCHAR2(10) constraint D_DNAME_NN not null
constraint D_DNAME_UN unique
constraint D_DNAME_CHK check (dname = upper(dname))
, location VARCHAR2(8) constraint D_LOC_NN not null
constraint D_LOC_CHK check (location = upper(location))
, mgr NUMBER(4) constraint D_MGR_FK references employees
) ;

Listing 7-7. Adding a Foreign Key Constraint

alter table employees add
(constraint E_DEPT_FK foreign key (deptno) references departments);

Listing 7-8. The SALGRADES Table

create table salgrades
( grade NUMBER(2) constraint S_PK primary key
, lowerlimit NUMBER(6,2) constraint S_LOWER_NN not null
constraint S_LOWER_CHK check (lowerlimit >= 0)
, upperlimit NUMBER(6,2) constraint S_UPPER_NN not null
, bonus NUMBER(6,2) constraint S_BONUS_NN not null
, constraint S_LO_UP_CHK check
(lowerlimit <= upperlimit)
) ;

Listing 7-9. The COURSES Table

create table courses
( code VARCHAR2(6) constraint C_PK primary key
, description VARCHAR2(30) constraint C_DESC_NN not null
, category CHAR(3) constraint C_CAT_NN not null
, duration NUMBER(2) constraint C_DUR_NN not null
, constraint C_CODE_CHK check
(code = upper(code))
, constraint C_CAT_CHK check
(category in ('GEN','BLD','DSG'))
) ;

Listing 7-10. The OFFERINGS Table

create table offerings
( course VARCHAR2(6) constraint O_COURSE_NN not null
constraint O_COURSE_FK references courses
, begindate DATE constraint O_BEGIN_NN not null
, trainer NUMBER(4) constraint O_TRAIN_FK references employees
, location VARCHAR2(8)
, constraint O_PK primary key
) ;

Listing 7-11. The REGISTRATIONS Table

create table registrations
( attendee NUMBER(4) constraint R_ATT_NN not null
constraint R_ATT_FK references employees
, course VARCHAR2(6) constraint R_COURSE_NN not null
, begindate DATE constraint R_BEGIN_NN not null
, evaluation NUMBER(1) constraint R_EVAL_CHK check (evaluation in (1,2,3,4,5))
, constraint R_PK primary key
, constraint R_OFF_FK foreign key (course,begindate)
references offerings
) ;

Listing 7-12. The HISTORY Table

create table history
( empno NUMBER(4) constraint H_EMPNO_NN not null
constraint H_EMPNO_FK references employees
on delete cascade
, beginyear NUMBER(4) constraint H_BYEAR_NN not null
, begindate DATE constraint H_BDATE_NN not null
, enddate DATE
, deptno NUMBER(2) constraint H_DEPT_NN not null
constraint H_DEPT_FK references departments
, msal NUMBER(6,2) constraint H_MSAL_NN not null
, comments VARCHAR2(60)
, constraint H_PK primary key (empno,begindate)
, constraint H_BEG_END check (begindate < enddate)
) ;

A Solution for Foreign Key References: CREATE SCHEMA

While we are on the topic of creating multiple tables, Oracle SQL also supports the ANSI/ISO standard CREATE SCHEMA command. This command allows you to create a complete schema (consisting of tables, views, and grants) with a single DDL command/transaction. One advantage of the CREATE SCHEMA command is that it succeeds or fails as an atomic transaction. It also solves the problem of two tables having foreign key references to each other (see Listings 7-5, 7-6, and 7-7), where you normally need at least one ALTER TABLE command, because foreign keys can reference only existing tables.

Listing 7-13 shows how you could have created the case tables with the CREATE SCHEMA command.

Listing 7-13. The CREATE SCHEMA Command

SQL> create schema authorization BOOK
2 create table employees (...)
3 create table departments (...)
4 create table salgrades (...)
5 create table courses (...)
6 create table offerings (...)
7 create table registrations (...)
8 create table history (...)
9 create view ... as select ... from ...
10 grant select on ... to public;

image Note The name of this command (as implemented by Oracle) is confusing, because it does not actually create a schema. Oracle schemas are created with the CREATE USER command. The command succeeds only if the schema name is the same as your Oracle database username.

You can specify the CREATE SCHEMA command components in any order. Within each component definition, you can refer to other (earlier or later) schema components.

Deferrable Constraints

The Oracle DBMS also supports deferrable constraints, allowing you to specify when you want the constraints to be checked. These are the two possibilities:

· IMMEDIATE checks at the statement level.

· DEFERRED checks at the end of the transaction.

Before you can use this distinction, you must first allow a constraint to be deferrable. The default option for all constraints that you create is NOT DEFERRABLE. If you want your constraints to be deferrable, add the DEFERRABLE option in the constraint definition, as shown in Figure 7-9, just before the storage clause specification (see Figures 7-6 and 7-8).


Figure 7-9. DEFERRABLE option for constraint definitions

If you allow constraints to be deferrable using the DEFERRABLE option, they still have a default behavior of INITIALLY IMMEDIATE. The INITIALLY option allows you to specify the desired default constraint checking behavior, using IMMEDIATE or DEFERRED.

You can dynamically change or override the default behavior of deferrable constraints at the transaction level with the SET CONSTRAINTS command, as shown in Figure 7-10.


Figure 7-10. SET CONSTRAINTS command syntax diagram

At first sight, the complexity of all this constraint-checking syntax may look overwhelming. The following summary may help clarify how it works:

· By default, the Oracle DBMS always uses immediate constraint checking.

· You must explicitly allow a constraint to be deferrable. By default, constraints are not deferrable.

· If constraints are deferrable, you can choose how they should be checked by default: immediate or deferred.

· If constraints are deferrable, you can influence their behavior with the SETCONSTRAINTS command.

7.5 Indexes

In general, rows within a regular table are unordered. Although the Oracle DBMS offers many different ways to physically organize tables on disk (heap tables, index clusters, hash clusters, index-organized tables, and sorted hash clusters), you should never expect the rows to be physically stored in a certain order. Even if a particular order exists today, there is no guarantee that it will be the same tomorrow. This is a fundamental property of relational databases (see Ted Codd’s rule 8 in Chapter 1 about physical data independence).

Suppose the EMPLOYEES table contains 50,000 rows (instead of the 14 rows we have), and suppose you want to know which employees have a name starting with a Q. Normally, the Oracle DBMS can use only one method to produce the results for this query: by accessing all 50,000 rows (with a full table scan) and checking the name for each of those rows. This could take quite some time, and perhaps there would be no employees at all with such a name.

An index on employee names would be very useful in this situation. When you create an index, the Oracle DBMS creates, and starts to maintain, a separate database object containing a sorted list of column values (or column combination values) with row identifiers referring to the corresponding rows in the table. To further optimize access, indexes are internally organized in a tree structure. (See Oracle Concepts for more details on physical index structures.) If there were such an index on employee names, the optimizer could decide to abandon the full table scan approach and perform an index search instead. The index offers a very efficient access path to all names, returning all row identifiers of employees with a name starting with a Q. This probably would result in a huge performance improvement, because there are only a few database blocks to be visited to produce the query result.

For some of your other queries, indexes on department numbers or birth dates could be useful. You can create as many indexes per table as you like.

In summary, the performance of your SQL statements can often be improved significantly by creating indexes. Sometimes, it is obvious that an index will help, such as when your tables contain a lot of rows and your queries are very selective (only retrieving a few rows). On the other hand, though, you may find that your application benefits from an index on a single-row, single-column table.

Indexes may speed up queries, but the other side of the index picture is the maintenance overhead. Every additional index slows down data manipulation further, because every INSERT/UPDATE/DELETE statement against a table must immediately be processed against all corresponding indexes to keep the indexes synchronized with the table. Also, indexes occupy additional space in your database. This means that you should carefully consider which columns should be indexed and which ones should not be indexed.

These are some suggestions for index candidates:

· Foreign key columns

· Columns often used in WHERE clauses

· Columns often used in ORDER BY and GROUP BY clauses

Here, we’ll look at the commands for index creation and management.

Index Creation

Figure 7-11 shows the (simplified) syntax of the CREATE INDEX command.


Figure 7-11. CREATE INDEX command syntax diagram

The storage clause allows you to influence various physical index storage attributes, such as the storage location and the space allocation behavior. See the Oracle SQL Reference for more details. If the table rows happen to be inserted and stored in index order, you can specify theNOSORT option to speed up index creation. The Oracle DBMS will skip the sort phase (normally needed during index creation), but if the rows turn out to be in the wrong order, the CREATE INDEX command will fail with an error message.

Unique Indexes

Unique indexes serve two purposes: they provide additional access paths to improve response times (like nonunique indexes), and they also prevent duplicate values. You create unique indexes by specifying the UNIQUE option of the CREATE INDEX command (see Figure 7-11).

Note, however, that it is recommended to ensure uniqueness in your tables using the PRIMARY KEY and UNIQUE constraints, leaving it up to the Oracle DBMS to choose an appropriate physical implementation of those constraints.

Bitmap Indexes

Regular indexes work the best if the corresponding columns contain many different values, resulting in better selectivity. Unique indexes offer the best selectivity, because they contain only different values. This means that every equality search (... WHERE COL = ...) results in at most one row. At the other side of the spectrum, if a column contains only a few values (typical examples are gender, status, and yes/no columns), a regular index is not very useful, because the average selectivity of equality searches will be poor.

For such low-cardinality columns, the Oracle DBMS supports bitmap indexes. Bitmap indexes may also outperform regular indexes if your WHERE clause is complicated, using many AND, OR, and NOT connectives. You create bitmap indexes by specifying the BITMAP option (see Figure 7-11).

image Caution Indexes slow down data manipulation, and bitmap indexes are the most expensive index type in terms of maintenance. Don’t create bitmap indexes on tables with a lot of DML activity.

Function-Based Indexes

As Figure 7-11 shows, you can specify an expression between the parentheses when defining the table columns to be indexed. That means that instead of simply specifying a single column or a comma-separated list of columns, you can choose to specify a more complicated expression in an index definition. Indexes containing such expressions are referred to as function-based indexes. See Listing 7-14 for an example, where we create an index on an expression for the yearly salary.

Listing 7-14. Creating a Function-Based Index

SQL> create index year_sal_idx
2 on employees (12*msal + coalesce(comm,0));
Index created.


The index we created in Listing 7-14 can provide an efficient access path for the Oracle DBMS to produce the result of the following query:

SQL> select * from employees where 12*msal+coalesce(comm,0) > 18000;

Function-based indexes can be used in combination with various NLS features to enable linguistic sorting and searching. See Oracle SQL Reference and Oracle Globalization Support Guide for more details.

Index Management

Since indexes are maintained by the Oracle DBMS, each table change is immediately propagated to the indexes. In other words, indexes are always up-to-date. However, if your tables incur continuous and heavy DML activity, you might want to consider rebuilding your indexes. Of course, you could simply drop them and then re-create them. However, using the ALTER INDEX ... REBUILD or ALTER INDEX ... COALESCE command is more efficient. Figure 7-12 shows the (partial) syntax diagram for the ALTER INDEX command.


Figure 7-12. ALTER INDEX command syntax diagram

The various ALTER INDEX command options in Figure 7-12 (which is far from complete) show that this command belongs to the purview of database administrators, so we will not discuss them here.

image Note The ENABLE and DISABLE options of the ALTER INDEX command (see Figure 7-12) apply only to function-based indexes. If you set indexes to UNUSABLE, you must REBUILD (or DROP and CREATE) them before they can be used again.

You can remove indexes with the DROP INDEX command. Figure 7-13 shows the syntax diagram for DROP INDEX.


Figure 7-13. DROP INDEX command syntax diagram

Here is an example of removing an index:

SQL> drop index year_sal_idx;
Index dropped.


image Tip In periods of heavy data-manipulation activity, without a lot of reporting (retrieval) activity, you may consider dropping indexes temporarily, and re-creating them later.

When you’re working with indexes, keep in mind that although you can decide about index existence with the CREATE INDEX and DROP INDEX commands, the Oracle optimizer decides about index usage. The optimizer chooses the execution plan for each SQL statement. The next section explains how you can see if the optimizer is using your indexes.

7.6 Performance Monitoring with SQL Developer AUTOTRACE

This is not a book about SQL performance tuning. However, in a chapter where we talk about creating indexes, it makes sense to at least show how you can see whether the indexes you create are actually used. What you need for that purpose is a way to see SQL execution plans.

Oracle provides many diagnostic tools (such as the SQL trace facility, TKPROF, and EXPLAIN PLAN) to help you with your performance-tuning efforts. However, discussion of these useful Oracle tools is not appropriate here; see Oracle Performance Tuning Guide for more details. Fortunately, SQL Developer offers a limited but user-friendly alternative for those diagnostic tools: the AUTOTRACE facility.

If you want to use all of the options of the AUTOTRACE setting, you may need to prepare your Oracle environment:

· SQL Developer assumes the existence of a PLAN_TABLE table to store execution plans. If necessary, you can create a local copy in your own schema with the utlxplan.sql script. Oracle Database 10g and above has a public synonym PLAN_TABLE, pointing to a global temporary table. Creating a local PLAN_TABLE is necessary only in earlier releases.

· You must have sufficient privileges for certain AUTOTRACE features. You need the SELECT_CATALOG_ROLE and SELECT ANY DICTIONARY privileges. These grants must be executed from the SYSTEM database user account. If you don’t have access to that privileged account, contact your local database administrator.

Your display preferences for AUTOTRACE output can be modified by selecting Tools image Preferences image Database image Autotrace image Explain Plan. By clicking the checkboxes for the values you wish to display, you can customize your Autotrace output to your needs. Figure 7-14 shows the preferences I typically use and recommend.


Figure 7-14. SQL Developer AUTOTRACE Preferences settings

After you have verified your privileges and set your display preferences, you can use AUTOTRACE. You may use either the F10 key, the AUTOTRACE toolbar button, or simply execute the query and click on the Autotrace tab to view the output. SQL Developer will execute the query, then show the execution plan and resource statistics that you chose in your Preferences settings. Figure 7-15 shows an example of using AUTOTRACE.


Figure 7-15. SQL Developer AUTOTRACE output

From Figure 7-15, you can see that the optimizer decided to use the unique index E_PK for a range scan, and it chose to access the EMPLOYEES table using the row identifiers resulting from the index range scan.

By choosing the Display Preference for V$MYSTAT, a list of performance-related statement execution statistics is captured and displayed beneath the execution plan. A detailed discussion of these statistics is not appropriate here, but you can see (for example) that no data was read from disk (physical reads) and six buffer cache block visits (consistent gets and db block gets) were needed.

image Note If you use EXPLAIN, the SQL statement is not executed. This is because you ask for only an execution plan, not for statement results and not for execution statistics.

7.7 Sequences

Information systems often use monotonically increasing sequence numbers for primary key columns, such as for orders, shipments, registrations, or invoices. You could implement this functionality with a small secondary table to maintain the last/current value for each primary key, but this approach is guaranteed to create performance problems in a multiuser environment. It is much better to use sequences in such cases.

Before we continue, there is one important thing you should know about sequences: sequence values can show gaps. That means that certain sequence values may disappear and never make it into the column they were meant for. The Oracle DBMS cannot guarantee sequences without gaps (we won’t go into the technical details of why this is true). Normally, this should not be a problem. Primary key values are supposed to be unique, and increasing values are nice for sorting purposes, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t allow gaps in the values. However, if the absence of gaps is a business requirement, you have no choice other than using a small secondary table to maintain these values.

image Note If “absence of gaps” is one of your business requirements, then you probably have a poorly conceived business requirement. You should consider investing some time into reforming your business requirements, or consider not using sequence objects for this purpose.

Sequences can be created, changed, and dropped with the following three SQL commands:




Figure 7-16 shows the syntax diagram of the CREATE SEQUENCE command. The ALTER SEQUENCE command has a similar syntax.


Figure 7-16. A CREATE SEQUENCE command syntax diagram

A sequence definition may consist of a start value, increment value, minimum value, and maximum value. You can also specify whether the sequence generator should stop when reaching a boundary value, or CYCLE the sequence numbers within the minimum/maximum range. All sequence attributes are optional, as Figure 7-16 shows; they all have default values.

Each sequence has two pseudo columns: NEXTVAL and CURRVAL. The meaning of each of these columns is self-explanatory. Listing 7-15 shows how you can create and use a sequence DEPTNO_SEQ to generate department numbers, using the DUAL table. (Note that normally you would use sequence values in INSERT statements.)

Listing 7-15. Creating and Using a Sequence

SQL> create sequence deptno_seq
2 start with 50 increment by 10;

Sequence created.

SQL> select deptno_seq.nextval, deptno_seq.currval from dual;

-------- --------
50 50

SQL> select deptno_seq.currval from dual;


SQL> select deptno_seq.currval, deptno_seq.nextval from dual;

-------- --------
60 60


You can use CURRVAL multiple times, in different SQL statements, once you have selected NEXTVAL in an earlier statement, as shown in Listing 7-15. For example, in an order-entry system, you might select a sequence value with NEXTVAL to insert a new order, and then use the same value (CURRVAL) several times to insert multiple line items for that order.

Note the result of the last query in Listing 7-15. Since you select CURRVALbeforeNEXTVAL in the SELECT clause, you might expect to see the current value (50), followed by the next value (60), but apparently that is not the case. This behavior is based on the consistency principle that it doesn’t matter in which order you specify the expressions in the SELECT clause of your queries, because you actually select those expressions at the same time. Try selecting NEXTVAL multiple times in the same SELECT clause and see what happens (the explanation is the same).

One of the most eagerly-awaited new features of Oracle12c was the ability to use the CURRVAL and NEXTVAL of a sequence in the DEFAULT clause for a column. Now, instead of having to code an AFTER INSERT FOR EACH ROW database trigger on the table to populate a column with a value from a sequence, it can simply be specificied declaratively using a CREATE TABLE or ALTER TABLE command.

7.8 Synonyms

You can use the CREATE SYNONYM command to create synonyms for tables or views. Once created, you can use synonyms in all your SQL commands instead of “real” table (and view) names. For example, you can use synonyms for tables with very long table names.

Synonyms are especially useful if you are accessing tables from different schemas, not owned by yourself. Without synonyms, you must explicitly prefix those object names with the schema name and a period. The Oracle data dictionary is a perfect example of synonym usage. You can simply specify the data dictionary view names in your queries, without any prefix, although you obviously don’t own those data dictionary objects.

Synonyms are a “convenience” feature. They don’t provide any additional privileges, and they don’t create security risks. They just save you some typing, and they also allow you to make your applications schema-independent.

Schema-independence is important. By using synonyms, your applications don’t need to contain explicit schema names. This makes your applications more flexible and easier to maintain, because the mapping to physical schema and object names is in the synonym definitions, separated from the application code.

Figure 7-17 shows the syntax diagram for the CREATE SYNONYM command.


Figure 7-17. A CREATE SYNONYM command syntax diagram

Oracle supports public and private synonyms, as you can see in Figure 7-17. By default, synonyms are private. You need to specify the PUBLIC keyword to create public synonyms. All database users can use public synonyms, but you need DBA privileges to be able to create them. The synonyms for the data dictionary objects are examples of public synonyms. Anyone can create private synonyms, but only their owners can use them.

image Caution Although synonyms are useful, they can also cause performance problems. In particular, public synonyms are known to cause such problems. For further details, go to Steve Adams’s web site ( and search for “avoiding public synonyms.”

Listing 7-16 shows how you can create a synonym, how the synonym shows up in the data dictionary views CAT and USER_SYNONYMS, and how you can drop a synonym.

Listing 7-16. Creating and Dropping a Synonym

SQL> create synonym e for employees;
Synonym created.

SQL> describe e
Name Null? Type
------------------------ -------- ------------

SQL> select * from cat;

-------------------- -----------

SQL> select synonym_name, table_owner, table_name
2 from user_synonyms;

-------------------- ----------- ----------------

SQL> drop synonym e;
Synonym dropped.


Synonyms are often used in distributed database environments to implement full data independence. The user (or database application) does not need to know where (in which database) tables or views are located. Normally, you need to specify explicit database links using the at sign (@) in the object name, but synonyms can hide those database link references.

7.9 The CURRENT_SCHEMA Setting

The ALTERSESSION command provides another convenient way to save you the effort of prefixing object names with their schema name, but without using synonyms. This is another “convenience” feature, just like synonyms.

Suppose the demo schema SCOTT (with the EMP and DEPT tables) is present in your database, and suppose you are currently connected as database user BOOK. In that situation, you can use the ALTER SESSION command as shown in Listing 7-17.

Listing 7-17. The CURRENT_SCHEMA Setting

SQL> alter session set current_schema=scott;
Session altered.

SQL> show user

SQL> select * from dept;

-------- -------------- -------------

SQL> alter session set current_schema=book;
Session altered.


You can compare the CURRENT_SCHEMA setting in the database with the change directory (cd) command at the operating system level. In a similar way, it allows you to address all objects locally.

Again, this does not change anything with regard to security and privileges. If you really want to assume the identity of a schema owner, you must use the SQL*Plus CONNECT command, and provide the username/schema name and the corresponding password.

7.10 The DROP TABLE Command

You can drop your tables with the DROP TABLE command. Figure 7-18 shows the syntax diagram for the DROP TABLE command.


Figure 7-18. A DROP TABLE command syntax diagram

Unless you have specific system privileges, you cannot drop tables owned by other database users. Also, you cannot roll back a DROP TABLE command. As you’ve learned in previous chapters, this is true for all DDL statements (CREATE, ALTER, and DROP).

Errare humanum est,” as the Romans said. Because human errors occur occasionally, Oracle Database 10g introduced the concept of the database recycle bin. By default, all dropped tables (and their dependent objects) initially end up in the recycle bin. You can query the recycle bin using the [USER_]RECYCLEBIN view, as shown in Listing 7-18. To make sure we start with an empty recycle bin, we begin the experiment with a PURGE command.

Listing 7-18. Dropping Tables and Querying the Recycle Bin

SQL> purge recyclebin;
Recyclebin purged.

SQL> drop table history;
Table dropped.

SQL> select object_name, original_name, droptime
2 from recyclebin;

------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------
BIN$mlRH1je9TBOeVEUhukIpCw==$0 H_PK 2004-07-01:20:22:23
BIN$EETkZCY0RSKCR3BhtF9cJw==$0 HISTORY 2004-07-01:20:22:23


As you can see, the objects are renamed, but the original names are kept as well. There is one entry for the HISTORY table and one entry for the primary key index. You can recover tables (and optionally rename them) from the recycle bin by using the FLASHBACK TABLE command:

SQL> flashback table history to before drop
2 [rename to <new name>];
Flashback complete.


image Caution There is no guarantee the FLASHBACK TABLE command always succeeds. The recycle bin can be purged explicitly (by a database administrator) or implicitly (by the Oracle DBMS).

If you want to drop a table and bypass the recycle bin, you can use the PURGE option of the DROP TABLE command, as shown in Figure 7-18. For example, if the command DROP TABLE HISTORY in Listing 7-18 had instead specified DROP TABLE HISTORY PURGE, then theHISTORY table would not have been moved to the recycle bin, the SELECT from the recycle bin would not have shown the new entry, and of course the command FLASHBACK TABLE HISTORY TO BEFORE DROP command would have failed.

If you drop a table, you implicitly drop certain dependent database objects, such as indexes, triggers, and table privileges granted to other database users. You also invalidate certain other database objects, such as views and packages. Keep this in mind during database reorganizations. To re-create a table, it is not enough to simply issue a CREATE TABLE command after a DROP TABLE command. You need to reestablish the full environment around the dropped table.

If you issue a DROP TABLE command, you may get the following error message if other tables contain foreign key constraints referencing the table that you are trying to drop:

ORA-02449: unique/primary keys in table referenced by foreign keys

Try to drop the EMPLOYEES table, and see what happens. You can solve this problem by using the CASCADE CONSTRAINTS option, as shown in Figure 7-18. Note, however, that this means that all offending foreign key constraints are dropped, too.

7.11 The TRUNCATE Command

The TRUNCATEcommand allows you to delete all rows from a table. Figure 7-19 shows the syntax diagram for the TRUNCATE command.


Figure 7-19. A TRUNCATE command syntax diagram

The default behavior is DROP STORAGE, as indicated by the underlining in Figure 7-19.

Compared with DROP TABLE (followed by a CREATE TABLE), the big advantage of TRUNCATE is that all related indexes and privileges survive the TRUNCATE operation.

This command has two possible advantages over the DELETE command: the performance (response time) is typically better for large tables, and you can optionally reclaim the allocated space. However, there is a price to pay for these two advantages: you cannot perform a ROLLBACK to undo a TRUNCATE, because TRUNCATE is a DDL command. The Oracle DBMS treats DDL commands as single-statement transactions and commits them immediately.

7.12 The COMMENT Command

The COMMENTcommand allows you to add clarifying (semantic) explanations about tables and table columns to the data dictionary. Figure 7-20 shows the syntax diagram for this command.


Figure 7-20. A COMMENT command syntax diagram

Listing 7-19 shows how you can use the COMMENT command to add comments to the data dictionary for a table (SALGRADES) and a column (EMPLOYEES.COMM) and how you can retrieve that information from the data dictionary.

Listing 7-19. Adding Comments to Columns and Tables

SQL> comment on table salgrades
2 is 'Salary grades and net bonuses';
Comment created.

SQL> comment on columnemployees.comm
2 is 'For sales reps only';
Comment created.

SQL> select comments
2 from user_tab_comments
3 where table_name = 'SALGRADES';

Salary grades and net bonuses

SQL> select comments
2 from user_col_comments
3 where table_name = 'EMPLOYEES'
4 and column_name = 'COMM';

For sales reps only


Think of adding comments like documentation. The little extra effort to document your columns and tables will help define and clarify your objects if questions arise in the future.

7.13 Exercises

The following exercises will help you to better understand the concepts described in this chapter. The answers are presented in Appendix D.

1. Listing 7-5 defines the constraint E_SALES_CHK in a rather cryptic way. Formulate the same constraint without using DECODE and NVL2.

2. Why do you think the constraint E_DEPT_FK (in Listing 7-7) is created with a separate ALTER TABLE command?

3. Although this is not covered in this chapter, try to come up with an explanation of the following phenomenon: when using sequences, you cannot use the pseudo column CURRVAL in your session without first calling the pseudo column NEXTVAL:

SQL> select deptno_seq.currval from dual;
select deptno_seq.currval from dual
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-08002: sequence DEPTNO_SEQ.CURRVAL is not yet defined in this session


4. Why is it better to use sequences in a multiuser environment, as opposed to maintaining a secondary table with the last/current sequence values?

5. How is it possible that the EVALUATION column of the REGISTRATIONS table accepts null values, in spite of the constraint R_EVAL_CHK (see Listing 7-11)?

6. If you define a PRIMARY KEY or UNIQUE constraint, the Oracle DBMS normally creates a unique index under the covers (if none of the existing indexes can be used) to check the constraint. Investigate and explain what happens if you define such a constraint asDEFERRABLE.

7. You can use function-based indexes to implement “conditional uniqueness” constraints. Create a unique function-based index on the REGISTRATIONS table to check the following constraint: employees are allowed to attend the OAU course only once. They may attend other courses as many times as they like. Test your solution with the following command (it should fail):

SQL> insert into registrations values (7900,'OAU',trunc(sysdate),null);

Hint: You can use a CASE expression in the index expression.

1Sequence objects and their CURRVAL and NEXTVAL expressions are described later in the chapter, in Section 7.7.

2When the database initialization parameter MAX_STRING_SIZE has the value of STANDARD, then the VARCHAR2 datatype has a maximum size of 4,000 bytes. When the parameter is set to EXTENDED in Oracle12c or above, then the maximum is 32,767 bytes.

3When MAX_STRING_SIZE has the value of STANDARD, then the RAW datatype has a maximum size of 2,000 bytes; when the parameter is set to EXTENDED in Oracle 12c or above, then the maximum is 32.767 bytes.