Prefix searches, Wildcard characters and LIKE

Want to run a prefix search using the LIKE operator, but your search pattern includes wildcards like _ or %? A common example is searching the v$parameter view for parameters starting with the underscore (_) character. So, why doesn’t this work:

SELECT * FROM v$parameter WHERE name LIKE '_%';

This returns ALL the rows in the view, because the “_” in the pattern matches any single character. There’s all sorts of ways to get around this:

Option 1. Use TRANSLATE to modify the underscores to some other character

SELECT * FROM my_table
WHERE TRANSLATE(my_column, '_', '#') LIKE '#%';

No good if you’re after a general solution, e.g. what if the original string already has some “#”‘s in it? Also, even if the table has an ordinary index on the column the query cannot use it.

Option 2. Use SUBSTR so that we can use an equality condition instead of LIKE

SELECT * FROM my_table
WHERE SUBSTR(my_column,1,1) = '_';

Easy, simple. Except that an ordinary index on the column will still not be used (of course, an appropriate function-based index could be used).

Option 3. Use a regular expression

SELECT * FROM my_table
WHERE REGEXP_LIKE(my_column, '^_');


SELECT * FROM my_table
WHERE REGEXP_INSTR(my_column, '^_') > 0

Rather simple, once you know how to write regular expressions. Still can’t use an ordinary index, though (although, again, a (very specific and otherwise generally useless) function-based index could be used).

Option 4. Read the manual and learn something about the LIKE operator

SELECT * FROM my_table
WHERE my_column LIKE '\_%' ESCAPE '\';

Easy, simple; and if there’s an index on the column, the optimiser may use it. No need for any silly function-based indexes or new-fangled regular expressions.

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