Pl/Python and Cursors in Pl/Pgsql for PostgreSQL
- Compiling PostgreSQL
- Executing Pl/Python and Pl/PgSQL with Cursors
- Suggestions for Future
The purpose of this article is to get people more familiar with some new
programming techniques with procedural languages in PostgreSQL 7.2.
I am really a big fan of procedural languages, and overall, PostgreSQL
rocks when it comes to stored procedures. You can create many different
types of functions like : SQL, Pl/PgSQL, Pl/Perl, and Pl/Tcl. Recently in
7.2, you also have Pl/Perlu and Pl/Python --- unrestricted Perl and
Python. The ability to use other programming languages inside a database
server makes life a lot easier for a programmer (even if there is some
inefficiency with Perl and Python). For a few years, I was irritated by the
fact procedural languages couldn't return more than one item. That has sort
of been taken care of, but not perfectly. One of the last areas to make my
life ten times easier is to have procedural languages return more than item.
We will see we can sort of do this, but I have suggestions to make it better.
NOTE: I am using RedHat 7.2 as a base for this article. Things will be
different with your version of Linux.
There are three things you need to know when compiling PostgreSQL:
You can also add odbc, tcl, and other languages, but I am just using Perl
and Python as examples for now. After you execute "make" and "make install",
follow these commands as the user postgres.
- Edit src/pl/plperl/Makefile.PL and comment out lines 14 through 34.
- Edit src/include/pg_config.h.in and change
#define INDEX_MAX_KEYS 16
#define INDEX_MAX_KEYS 512
- Use this command to compile PostgreSQL:
./configure --prefix=/usr/local/pg72 --with-libraries=/usr/lib/perl5/5.6.0/i386-linux/CORE/libperl.a --with-perl --with-python
chown -R postgres /usr/local/pg72
chown postgres /home/postgres
su -l postgres
- /usr/local/pg72/bin/pg_ctl -D /usr/local/pg72/data -l /tmp/pg_logfile start
- createlang plperl template1
- createlang plpython template1
- createlang plpgsql template1
- createdb postgres
Executing Pl/Python and Pl/PgSQL with Cursors
Here are a list of commands you can execute using the command "psql template1".
This assumes the database "postgres" has been created.
Execute these commands:
drop table contact;
create table contact (
first text, last text, phone text, address text,
city text,state text, zip text
drop function replace_e_to_a(text);
CREATE FUNCTION replace_e_to_a(text) RETURNS text AS
Text1 = re.sub(''e'', ''a'',args)
drop function replace_numbers_to_z(text);
CREATE FUNCTION replace_numbers_to_z(text) RETURNS text AS
Text1 = re.sub(''[0-9]'', ''z'',args)
insert into contact values ('Mark','Nielsen','123-123-1234',
'1234 Somewhere St.', 'Some City 123', 'TX','12345-1234');
insert into contact values ('Mark','Nielsen2','123-123-1234',
'3456 Somewhere St.', 'Some City 444', 'MI','12345-1234');
insert into contact values ('Mark','Nielsen3','123-123-1234',
'5678 Somewhere St.', 'Some City 654', 'AX','12345-1234');
select first, last, address from contact;
drop function select_contact();
CREATE FUNCTION select_contact () RETURNS refcursor AS '
cursor1 CURSOR FOR select replace_e_to_a(first)as first,
replace_e_to_a(last) as last,
replace_numbers_to_z(address) as address
' LANGUAGE 'plpgsql';
FETCH cursor1; FETCH cursor1;FETCH cursor1;
and the output should look like:
INSERT 255188 1
INSERT 255189 1
INSERT 255190 1
first | last | address
Mark | Nielsen | 1234 Somewhere St.
Mark | Nielsen2 | 3456 Somewhere St.
Mark | Nielsen3 | 5678 Somewhere St.
first | last | address
Mark | Nialsan | zzzz Somewhere St.
first | last | address
Mark | Nialsan2 | zzzz Somewhere St.
first | last | address
Mark | Nialsan3 | zzzz Somewhere St.
From this example, you can see how the Pl/pgSQL executes the Python
procedures (the Pl/Python procedures). You don't need Pl/pgSQL to execute
Pl/Python procedures, I just did it that way. You can only use
Perl and Python to manipulate data, not change data in the tables.
Perl and Python just input and output data, they don't do anything to
the database directly.
Also, pl/perlu gets installed
when you compile Perl into PostgreSQL, which is nice.
Suggestions for Future
I still have three big complaints/suggestions:
I like the progression of procedural languages in PostgreSQL. It seems
to be way ahead of a lot of the other free database servers and even
most of the commercial ones. Taking it to the next step would really make
it more of a kick-butt database server. I try to help out by writing
up articles, perhaps you can try to help out by adding features?
- Procedures seem to be able to only return one "item'. It can't return
two items. For me, I would like to be able to return at least two items --
a cursor and a flag saying if the cursor is good or not. Cursors DO NOT
make procedures return more than one value, they return the cursor which
you can consider to be a reference to many items, not the items themselves.
The way I compile my procedures is that they can take upto 512 variables
of input, but they can only return one "item". I am dumbstruck as to why
that is. I tried to read of the discussions on the mailing lists and docs,
but I got lost.
- There doesn't seem to be very many things you can do to cursors, like
see how many entries there are, if there are any entries left, if there
are any entries at all, if it executed correctly, etc. Cursors need to be
advanced some more. Perhaps I just don't have enough experience with
cursors to comment on them.
- Procedures can't return rows of data. Besides the fact it can only
return one item, it can't return rows of one items or rows which contain
multiple items. Being able to return multiple rows with multiple fields
would be cool. Even if we only want to return one row of data, it would
be nice to return a cursor as one item, and then its status (good, bad,
how many, etc) as well. If you can return more than one item, you might
as well make it unlimited or limited by a compile-time number (like inputs
This isn't really a complaint of cursors, but of DBD:Pg for Perl, and
possibly other interfaces to PostgreSQL -- cursors really aren't supported,
as far as I can tell. Thus, if Pl/PgSQL could return multiple rows
of multiple items, it would take care of this problem.
The only other way I know to store data from a procedure is into a temporary
table which can be accessed after the procedure has finished.
To me, that is a bit extreme for 99% of the data I want to get. It is
extreme because usually I just want one row of data and creating a table
just for one row of data isn't worth the effort.
Pl/Python will finally let me let go of Perl once and for all (I have
converted myself to Python). Pl/PgSQL is getting closer to something
that makes it easy for me to program and create complicated procedures
-- I just wish it could actually return multiple items and not
just a reference to a cursor or other single item.
The sad thing is, my version of DBD::Pg for Perl and my Python interface
don't support cursors, and so, it is useless for me to the most part, but
at least it is getting better. I found some things at
http://developer.postgresql.org/todo.php which look promising. Since
cursors really aren't supported in the programming languages I use, if
I truly need to store lots of data, I will probably have to use
temporary tables. I still don't understand why a procedural language
can't return data like you can in a normal sql command. Whatever the
limitation is, it would be nice to overcome.
Standard Database Setup with Perl and PostgreSQL: Part 3
Part 2: PostgreSQL: Perl procedures with PL/pgSQL
Part 1: PostgreSQL: Perl procedures with PL/pgSQL.
- An older article
setting of Web and Database Servers.
Branden Williams articles on PostgreSQL.
- Some links which have nothing to do with this article, but I am
considering for future articles.
If this article
changes, it will be available here
Mark Nielsen works at
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In his spare time, he writes articles relating to Free Software (GPL) or
Free Literature (FDL) and is involved with the non-profit learning center
Copyright © 4/2002 Mark Nielsen