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Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes

PL/SQL preallocates the full declared length of the variable. For example, if you assign the same 500-byte value to a VARCHAR2(2000 BYTE) variable and to a VARCHAR2(1999 BYTE) variable, the former takes up 500 bytes and the latter takes up 1999 bytes.

If you specify the maximum size in bytes rather than characters, a VARCHAR2(n) variable might be too small to hold n multibyte characters. To avoid this possibility, use the notation VARCHAR2(n CHAR)so that the variable can hold n characters in the database character set, even if some of those characters contain multiple bytes. When you specify the length in characters, the upper limit is still 32767 bytes. So for double-byte and multibyte character sets, you can only specify 1/2 or 1/3 as many characters as with a single-byte character set.

Although PL/SQL character variables can be relatively long, you cannot insert VARCHAR2 values longer than 4000 bytes into a VARCHAR2 database column.

You can insert any VARCHAR2(n) value into a LONG database column because the maximum width of a LONG column is 2**31 bytes. However, you cannot retrieve a value longer than 32767 bytes from a LONG column into a VARCHAR2(n) variable.

When you do not use the CHAR or BYTE qualifiers, the default is determined by the setting of the NLS_LENGTH_SEMANTICS initialization parameter. When a PL/SQL procedure is compiled, the setting of this parameter is recorded, so that the same setting is used when the procedure is recompiled after being invalidated.

VARCHAR2 Subtypes The VARCHAR2 subtypes below have the same range of values as their base type. For example, VARCHAR is just another name for VARCHAR2.

STRING

VARCHAR

You can use these subtypes for compatibility with ANSI/ISO and IBM types.

Note: Currently, VARCHAR is synonymous with VARCHAR2. However, in future releases of PL/SQL, to accommodate emerging SQL standards, VARCHAR might become a separate datatype with different comparison semantics. It is a good idea to use VARCHAR2 rather than VARCHAR.

PL/SQL National Character Types

The widely used one-byte ASCII and EBCDIC character sets are adequate to represent the Roman alphabet, but some Asian languages, such as Japanese, contain thousands of characters. These languages require two or three bytes to represent each character.

To deal with such languages, Oracle provides globalization support, which lets you process single-byte and multibyte character data and convert between character sets. It also lets your applications run in different language environments.

With globalization support, number and date formats adapt automatically to the language conventions specified for a user session. Thus, users around the world can interact with Oracle in their native languages.

PL/SQL supports two character sets called the database character set, which is used for identifiers and source code, and the national character set, which is used for national language data. The datatypes NCHAR and NVARCHAR2 store character strings formed from the national character set.

Note: When converting CHAR or VARCHAR2 data between databases with different character sets, make sure the data consists of well-formed strings. For more information, see Oracle Database Globalization Support Guide.

3-8 PL/SQL User's Guide and Reference

Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes

Comparing UTF8 and AL16UTF16 Encodings

The national character set represents data as Unicode, using either the UTF8 or

AL16UTF16 encoding.

Each character in the AL16UTF16 encoding takes up 2 bytes. This makes it simple to calculate string lengths to avoid truncation errors when mixing different programming languages, but requires extra storage overhead to store strings made up mostly of ASCII characters.

Each character in the UTF8 encoding takes up 1, 2, or 3 bytes. This lets you fit more characters into a variable or table column, but only if most characters can be represented in a single byte. It introduces the possibility of truncation errors when transferring the data to a buffer measured in bytes.

Oracle recommends that you use the default AL16UTF16 encoding wherever practical, for maximum runtime reliability. If you need to determine how many bytes are required to hold a Unicode string, use the LENGTHB function rather than LENGTH.

NCHAR

You use the NCHAR datatype to store fixed-length (blank-padded if necessary) national character data. How the data is represented internally depends on the national character set specified when the database was created, which might use a variable-width encoding (UTF8) or a fixed-width encoding (AL16UTF16). Because this type can always accommodate multibyte characters, you can use it to hold any Unicode character data.

The NCHAR datatype takes an optional parameter that lets you specify a maximum size in characters. The syntax follows:

NCHAR[(maximum_size)]

Because the physical limit is 32767 bytes, the maximum value you can specify for the length is 32767/2 in the AL16UTF16 encoding, and 32767/3 in the UTF8 encoding.

You cannot use a symbolic constant or variable to specify the maximum size; you must use an integer literal.

If you do not specify a maximum size, it defaults to 1. The value always represents the number of characters, unlike CHAR which can be specified in either characters or bytes.

my_string NCHAR(100); -- maximum size is 100 characters

You cannot insert NCHAR values longer than 2000 bytes into an NCHAR column.

If the NCHAR value is shorter than the defined width of the NCHAR column, Oracle blank-pads the value to the defined width.

You can interchange CHAR and NCHAR values in statements and expressions. It is always safe to turn a CHAR value into an NCHAR value, but turning an NCHAR value into a CHAR value might cause data loss if the character set for the CHAR value cannot represent all the characters in the NCHAR value. Such data loss can result in characters that usually look like question marks (?).

NVARCHAR2

You use the NVARCHAR2 datatype to store variable-length Unicode character data. How the data is represented internally depends on the national character set specified when the database was created, which might use a variable-width encoding (UTF8) or a fixed-width encoding (AL16UTF16). Because this type can always accommodate multibyte characters, you can use it to hold any Unicode character data.

PL/SQL Datatypes 3-9

Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes

The NVARCHAR2 datatype takes a required parameter that specifies a maximum size in characters. The syntax follows:

NVARCHAR2(maximum_size)

Because the physical limit is 32767 bytes, the maximum value you can specify for the length is 32767/2 in the AL16UTF16 encoding, and 32767/3 in the UTF8 encoding.

You cannot use a symbolic constant or variable to specify the maximum size; you must use an integer literal.

The maximum size always represents the number of characters, unlike VARCHAR2 which can be specified in either characters or bytes.

my_string NVARCHAR2(200); -- maximum size is 200 characters

The maximum width of a NVARCHAR2 database column is 4000 bytes. Therefore, you cannot insert NVARCHAR2 values longer than 4000 bytes into a NVARCHAR2 column.

You can interchange VARCHAR2 and NVARCHAR2 values in statements and expressions. It is always safe to turn a VARCHAR2 value into an NVARCHAR2 value, but turning an NVARCHAR2 value into a VARCHAR2 value might cause data loss if the character set for the VARCHAR2 value cannot represent all the characters in the NVARCHAR2 value. Such data loss can result in characters that usually look like question marks (?).

PL/SQL LOB Types

The LOB (large object) datatypes BFILE, BLOB, CLOB, and NCLOB let you store blocks of unstructured data (such as text, graphic images, video clips, and sound waveforms) up to four gigabytes in size. And, they allow efficient, random, piece-wise access to the data.

The LOB types differ from the LONG and LONG RAW types in several ways. For example, LOBs (except NCLOB) can be attributes of an object type, but LONGs cannot. The maximum size of a LOB is four gigabytes, but the maximum size of a LONG is two gigabytes. Also, LOBs support random access to data, but LONGs support only sequential access.

LOB types store lob locators, which point to large objects stored in an external file, in-line (inside the row) or out-of-line (outside the row). Database columns of type BLOB, CLOB, NCLOB, or BFILE store the locators. BLOB, CLOB, and NCLOB data is stored in the database, in or outside the row. BFILE data is stored in operating system files outside the database.

PL/SQL operates on LOBs through the locators. For example, when you select a BLOB column value, only a locator is returned. If you got it during a transaction, the LOB locator includes a transaction ID, so you cannot use it to update that LOB in another transaction. Likewise, you cannot save a LOB locator during one session, then use it in another session.

Starting in Oracle9i, you can also convert CLOBs to CHAR and VARCHAR2 types and vice versa, or BLOBs to RAW and vice versa, which lets you use LOB types in most SQL and PL/SQL statements and functions. To read, write, and do piecewise operations on LOBs, you can use the supplied package DBMS_LOB. For more information, see Oracle Database Application Developer's Guide - Large Objects.

BFILE

You use the BFILE datatype to store large binary objects in operating system files outside the database. Every BFILE variable stores a file locator, which points to a large

3-10 PL/SQL User's Guide and Reference

Overview of Predefined PL/SQL Datatypes

binary file on the server. The locator includes a directory alias, which specifies a full path name (logical path names are not supported).

BFILEs are read-only, so you cannot modify them. The size of a BFILE is system dependent but cannot exceed four gigabytes (2**32 - 1 bytes). Your DBA makes sure that a given BFILE exists and that Oracle has read permissions on it. The underlying operating system maintains file integrity.

BFILEs do not participate in transactions, are not recoverable, and cannot be replicated. The maximum number of open BFILEs is set by the Oracle initialization parameter SESSION_MAX_OPEN_FILES, which is system dependent.

BLOB

You use the BLOB datatype to store large binary objects in the database, in-line or out-of-line. Every BLOB variable stores a locator, which points to a large binary object. The size of a BLOB cannot exceed four gigabytes.

BLOBs participate fully in transactions, are recoverable, and can be replicated. Changes made by package DBMS_LOB can be committed or rolled back. BLOB locators can span transactions (for reads only), but they cannot span sessions.

CLOB

You use the CLOB datatype to store large blocks of character data in the database, in-line or out-of-line. Both fixed-width and variable-width character sets are supported. Every CLOB variable stores a locator, which points to a large block of character data. The size of a CLOB cannot exceed four gigabytes.

CLOBs participate fully in transactions, are recoverable, and can be replicated. Changes made by package DBMS_LOB can be committed or rolled back. CLOB locators can span transactions (for reads only), but they cannot span sessions.

NCLOB

You use the NCLOB datatype to store large blocks of NCHAR data in the database, in-line or out-of-line. Both fixed-width and variable-width character sets are supported. Every NCLOB variable stores a locator, which points to a large block of NCHAR data. The size of an NCLOB cannot exceed four gigabytes.

NCLOBs participate fully in transactions, are recoverable, and can be replicated. Changes made by package DBMS_LOB can be committed or rolled back. NCLOB locators can span transactions (for reads only), but they cannot span sessions.

PL/SQL Boolean Types

PL/SQL has a type for representing Boolean values (true and false). Because SQL does not have an equivalent type, you can use BOOLEAN variables and parameters in PL/SQL contexts but not inside SQL statements or queries.

BOOLEAN

You use the BOOLEAN datatype to store the logical values TRUE, FALSE, and NULL (which stands for a missing, unknown, or inapplicable value). Only logic operations are allowed on BOOLEAN variables.

The BOOLEAN datatype takes no parameters. Only the values TRUE, FALSE, and NULL can be assigned to a BOOLEAN variable.

You cannot insert the values TRUE and FALSE into a database column. You cannot select or fetch column values into a BOOLEAN variable. Functions called from a SQL

PL/SQL Datatypes 3-11

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