Preface - Oracle PL/SQL Programming (2014)

Oracle PL/SQL Programming (2014)


Millions of application developers and database administrators around the world use software provided by Oracle Corporation to build complex systems that manage vast quantities of data. At the heart of much of Oracle’s software is PL/SQL—a programming language that provides procedural extensions to Oracle’s version of SQL (Structured Query Language) and serves as the programming language within the Oracle Developer toolset (most notably Forms Developer and Reports Developer).

PL/SQL figures prominently as an enabling technology in almost every new product released by Oracle Corporation. Software professionals use PL/SQL to perform many kinds of programming functions, including:

§ Implementing crucial business rules in the Oracle Server with PL/SQL-based stored procedures and database triggers

§ Generating and managing XML documents entirely within the database

§ Linking web pages to an Oracle database

§ Implementing and automating database administration tasks—from establishing row-level security to managing rollback segments within PL/SQL programs

PL/SQL was modeled after Ada,[1] a programming language designed for the US Department of Defense. Ada is a high-level language that emphasizes data abstraction, information hiding, and other key elements of modern design strategies. As a result of this very smart design decision by Oracle, PL/SQL is a powerful language that incorporates many of the most advanced elements of procedural languages, including:

§ A full range of datatypes from number to string, and including complex data structures such as records (which are similar to rows in a relational table), collections (which are Oracle’s version of arrays), and XMLType (for managing XML documents in Oracle and through PL/SQL)

§ An explicit and highly readable block structure that makes it easy to enhance and maintain PL/SQL applications

§ Conditional, iterative, and sequential control statements, including a CASE statement and three different kinds of loops

§ Exception handlers for use in event-based error handling

§ Named, reusable code elements such as functions, procedures, triggers, object types (akin to object-oriented classes), and packages (collections of related programs and variables)

PL/SQL is integrated tightly into Oracle’s SQL language: you can execute SQL statements directly from your procedural program without having to rely on any kind of intermediate application programming interface (API) such as Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) or Open Database Connectivity (ODBC). Conversely, you can also call your own PL/SQL functions from within a SQL statement.

Oracle developers who want to be successful in the 21st century must learn to use PL/SQL to full advantage. This is a two-step process. First, you must become familiar with and learn how to use the language’s ever-expanding set of features; and second, after gaining competence in the individual features, you must learn how to put these constructs together to build complex applications.

For these reasons and more, Oracle developers need a solid, comprehensive resource for the base PL/SQL language. You need to know the basic building blocks of PL/SQL, but you also need to learn by example so that you can avoid some of the trial and error. As with any programming language, PL/SQL has a right way and many wrong ways (or at least “not as right” ways) to handle just about any task. It is my hope that this book will help you learn how to use the PL/SQL language in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Objectives of This Book

What, specifically, will this book help you do?

Take full advantage of PL/SQL

Oracle’s reference manuals may describe all the features of the PL/SQL language, but they don’t tell you how to apply the technology. In fact, in some cases, you’ll be lucky to even understand how to use a given feature after you’ve made your way through the railroad diagrams. Books and training courses tend to cover the same standard topics in the same limited way. In this book, I’ll venture beyond the basics to the far reaches of the language, finding the nonstandard ways that a particular feature can be tweaked to achieve a desired result.

Use PL/SQL to solve your problems

You don’t spend your days and nights writing PL/SQL modules so that you can rise to a higher plane of existence. You use PL/SQL to solve problems for your company or your customers. In this book, I try hard to help you tackle real-world problems, the kinds of issues developers face on a daily basis (at least those problems that can be solved with mere software). To do this, I’ve packed the book with examples—not just small code fragments, but substantial application components that you can apply immediately to your own situations. There is a good deal of code in the book itself, and much more on the accompanying website. In a number of cases, I use the code examples to guide you through the analytical process needed to come up with a solution. In this way you’ll see, in the most concrete terms, how to apply PL/SQL features and undocumented applications of those features to a particular situation.

Write efficient, maintainable code

PL/SQL and the rest of the Oracle products offer the potential for incredible development productivity. If you aren’t careful, however, this capability will simply let you dig yourself into a deeper, darker hole than you’ve ever found yourself in before. I would consider this book a failure if it only helped programmers write more code in less time; I want to help you develop the skills and techniques to build applications that readily adapt to change and that are easily understood and maintained. I want to teach you to use comprehensive strategies and code architectures that allow you to apply PL/SQL in powerful, general ways to the problems you face.

Structure of This Book

Both the authors and O’Reilly Media are committed to providing comprehensive, useful coverage of PL/SQL over the life of the language. This sixth edition of Oracle PL/SQL Programming describes the features and capabilities of PL/SQL up through Oracle Database 12c Release 1. I assume for this edition that Oracle Database 12c is the baseline PL/SQL version. However, where appropriate, I reference specific features introduced (or only available) in other, earlier versions. For a list of the main characteristics of the various releases, see the section About PL/SQL Versions in Chapter 1.

PL/SQL has improved dramatically since the release of version 1.0 in the Oracle 6 database so many years ago. Oracle PL/SQL Programming has also undergone a series of major transformations to keep up with PL/SQL and provide ever-improving coverage of its features.

The biggest change in the sixth edition is its comprehensive coverage of all new PL/SQL features in Oracle Database 12c Release 1. The major features are summarized in Chapter 1, along with references to the chapters where these features are discussed in detail.

I am very happy with the results and hope that you will be too. There is more information than ever before, but I think we managed to present it without losing the sense of humor and conversational tone that readers have told me for years make the book readable, understandable, and highly useful.

One comment regarding the “voice” behind the text. You may notice that in some parts of this book we use the word we, and in others I. One characteristic of this book (and one for which readers have expressed appreciation) is the personal voice that’s inseparable from the text. Consequently, even with the addition of coauthors to the book (and, in the third, fourth, and fifth editions, significant contributions from several other people), we’ve decided to maintain the use of I when an author speaks in his own voice.

Rather than leave you guessing as to which lead author is represented by the I in a given chapter, we thought we’d offer this quick guide for the curious; you’ll find additional discussion of our contributors in the Acknowledgments.














Bill and Steven




Steven and Bill




Steven, Chip, and Jonathan


Darryl and Steven


Steven and Bill






Steven and Adrian


Chip, Jonathan, and Steven


Bill and Steven


Chip, Jonathan, and Steven




Chip, Jonathan, and Steven


Bill, Steven, and Chip


Chip, Jonathan, and Steven






Bill and Steven


Steven and Bill


Bill and Steven


Chip and Jonathan


Bill and Steven



About the Contents

The sixth edition of Oracle PL/SQL Programming is divided into six parts:

Part I

I start from the very beginning in Chapter 1: where did PL/SQL come from? What is it good for? I offer a very quick review of some of the main features of the PL/SQL language. Chapter 2 is designed to help you get PL/SQL programs up and running as quickly as possible: it contains clear, straightforward instructions for executing PL/SQL code in SQL*Plus and a few other common environments. Chapter 3 reviews fundamentals of the PL/SQL language: what makes a PL/SQL statement, an introduction to the block structure, how to write comments in PL/SQL, and so on.

Part II

Chapter 4 through Chapter 6 explore conditional (IF and CASE) and sequential (GOTO and NULL) control statements, loops and the CONTINUE statement, and exception handling in the PL/SQL language. This section of the book will teach you to construct blocks of code that correlate to the complex requirements of your applications.

Part III

Just about every program you write will manipulate data, and much of that data will be local to (defined in) your PL/SQL procedure or function. Chapter 7 through Chapter 13 concentrate on the various types of program data you can define in PL/SQL, such as numbers, strings, dates, timestamps, records, and collections. You will learn about the new datatypes introduced in Oracle Database 11g (SIMPLE_INTEGER, SIMPLE_FLOAT, and SIMPLE_DOUBLE), as well as the many binary, date, and timestamp types introduced in other recent releases. These chapters also cover the various built-in functions provided by Oracle that allow you to manipulate and modify data.

Part IV

Chapter 14 through Chapter 16 address one of the central elements of PL/SQL code construction: the connection to the underlying database, which takes place through the SQL language. These chapters show you how to define transactions that update, insert, merge, and delete tables in the database; how to query information from the database for processing in a PL/SQL program; and how to execute SQL statements dynamically, using native dynamic SQL (NDS).

Part V

This is where it all comes together. You know about declaring and working with variables, and you’re an expert in error handling and loop construction. Now, in Chapter 17 through Chapter 22, you’ll learn about the building blocks of applications, which include procedures, functions, packages, and triggers, and how to move information into and out of PL/SQL programs. Chapter 20 discusses managing your PL/SQL code base, including testing and debugging programs and managing dependencies; it also provides an overview of the edition-based redefinition capability introduced in Oracle Database 11g Release 2. Chapter 21 focuses on how you can use a variety of tools and techniques to get the best performance out of your PL/SQL programs. Chapter 22 covers I/O techniques for PL/SQL, from DBMS_OUTPUT (writing output to the screen) and UTL_FILE (reading and writing files) to UTL_MAIL (sending mail) and UTL_HTTP (retrieving data from a web page).

Part VI

A language as mature and rich as PL/SQL is full of features that you may not use on a day-to-day basis, but that may make the crucial difference between success and failure. Chapter 23 explores the security-related challenges we face as we build PL/SQL programs. Chapter 24 contains an exploration of the PL/SQL architecture, including PL/SQL’s use of memory. Chapter 25 provides guidance for PL/SQL developers who need to address issues of globalization and localization. Chapter 26 offers a guide to the object-oriented features of Oracle (object types and object views).

Appendix A through Appendix C summarize the details of regular expression syntax and number and date formats.

The chapters on invoking Java and C code from PL/SQL applications, which were part of the hardcopy fourth edition, have been moved to the book’s website.

If you are new to PL/SQL, reading this book from beginning to end should improve your PL/SQL skills and deepen your understanding of the language. If you’re already a proficient PL/SQL programmer, you’ll probably want to dip into the appropriate sections to extract particular techniques for immediate application. Whether you use this book as a teaching guide or as a reference, I hope it will help you use PL/SQL effectively.

What This Book Does Not Cover

As long as this book is, it doesn’t contain everything. The Oracle environment is huge and complex, and in this book we’ve focused our attention on the core PL/SQL language itself. The following topics are therefore outside the scope of this book and are not covered, except in an occasional and peripheral fashion:

The SQL language

I assume that you already have a working knowledge of the SQL language, and that you know how to write SELECTs, UPDATEs, INSERTs, MERGEs, and DELETEs.

Administration of Oracle databases

While database administrators (DBAs) can use this book to learn how to write the PL/SQL needed to build and maintain databases, this book does not explore all the nuances of the Data Definition Language (DDL) of Oracle’s SQL.

Application and database tuning

I don’t cover detailed tuning issues in this book, although Chapter 21 does discuss the many tools and techniques that will help you to optimize the performance of your PL/SQL programs.

Oracle tool-specific technologies independent of PL/SQL

This book does not attempt to show you how to build applications in a tool like Oracle’s Forms Developer, even though the implementation language is PL/SQL. I have chosen to focus on core language capabilities, centered on what you can do with PL/SQL from within the database. However, almost everything covered in this book is applicable to PL/SQL inside Forms Developer and Reports Developer.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are used in this book:


Used for file and directory names and for emphasis when introducing a new term. In the text, it is also used to indicate a user-replaceable element.

Constant width

Used for code examples.

Constant width bold

Indicates user input in examples showing an interaction. Also, in some code examples, highlights the statements being discussed.

Constant width italic

In some code examples, indicates an element (e.g., a parameter) that you supply.


In code examples, generally indicates PL/SQL keywords or certain identifiers used by Oracle Corporation as built-in function and package names.


In code examples, generally indicates user-defined items such as variables, parameters, etc.


In code examples, enter exactly as shown.


In code examples, helps to show structure but is not required.


In code examples, a double hyphen begins a single-line comment that extends to the end of a line.

/* and */

In code examples, these characters delimit a multiline comment that can extend from one line to another.


In code examples and related discussions, a dot qualifies a reference by separating an object name from a component name. For example, dot notation is used to select fields in a record and to specify declarations within a package.

[ ]

In syntax descriptions, square brackets enclose optional items.

{ }

In syntax descriptions, curly brackets enclose a set of items from which you must choose only one.


In syntax descriptions, a vertical bar separates the items enclosed in curly brackets, as in {TRUE | FALSE}.


In syntax descriptions, ellipses indicate repeating elements. An ellipsis also shows that statements or clauses irrelevant to the discussion were left out.


Indicates a tip, suggestion, or general note. For example, I’ll tell you if a certain setting is version specific.


Indicates a warning or caution. For example, I’ll tell you if a certain setting has some kind of negative impact on the system.

Which Platform or Version?

In general, all the discussions and examples in this book apply regardless of the machine and/or operating system you are using. In those cases in which a feature is in any way version-dependent—for example, if you can use it only in Oracle Database 11g (or in a specific release, such as Oracle Database 11g Release 2)—I note that in the text.

There are many versions of PL/SQL, and you may find that you need to use multiple versions in your development work. Chapter 1 describes the various versions of PL/SQL and what you should know about them; see About PL/SQL Versions.

About the Code

All of the code referenced in this book is available from You will also find the contents of some of the chapters from earlier editions that we removed or condensed in the different editions of the book. These may be especially helpful to readers who are running older versions of Oracle.

Information about all of Steven’s books and accompanying resources can be found at You might also want to visit PL/SQL Obsession (Steven Feuerstein’s PL/SQL portal) at ,, where you will find training materials, code downloads, and more.

To find a particlar example on the book’s website, look for the filename cited in the text. For many examples, you will find filenames in the following form provided as a comment at the beginning of the example shown in the book, as illustrated here:

/* File on web: fullname.pkg */

If the code snippet in which you are interested does not have a “File on web” comment, then you should check the corresponding chapter code file.

A chapter code file contains all the code fragments and examples that do not merit their own file, but may prove useful to you for copy-and-paste operations. These files also contain the DDL statements to create tables and other objects on which the code may depend.

Each chapter code file is named chNN_code.sql, where NN is the number of the chapter.

[1] The language was named “Ada” in honor of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who is regarded by many to have been the world’s first computer programmer.

Finally, the hr_schema_install.sql script will create the standard Oracle Human Resources demonstration tables, such as employees and departments. These tables are used in examples throughout the book.