My First Quiz

I was pleased to see my PL/SQL quiz question presented yesterday. It was about how PL/SQL variable names and other identifiers whose names conflict with names of tables and columns can still be referenced in SQL within PL/SQL.

It demonstrates how a local variable or parameter of a procedure or function may be referred to unambiguously, by referring to it by the name of the procedure or function, e.g.:

FUNCTION getempid (employee_id IN plch_employees.employee_id%TYPE)
   RETURN plch_employees.employee_id%TYPE
   the_id   plch_employees.employee_id%TYPE;
   SELECT plch_employees.employee_id
     INTO getempid.the_id
     FROM plch_employees
    WHERE plch_employees.employee_id = getempid.employee_id;
   RETURN getempid.the_id;
END getempid;

(notice that the INTO and RETURN parts don’t actually need to reference the function name to refer to the local variable, but I’ve done it this way for clarity)

In the case of an anonymous block, it is necessary to supply a label for the block:

   employee_id   plch_employees.employee_id%TYPE := 100;
   SELECT plch_employees.employee_id
     INTO getempid.employee_id
     FROM plch_employees
    WHERE plch_employees.employee_id = getempid.employee_id;

   DBMS_OUTPUT.put_line (getempid.employee_id);
END getempid;

The quiz answers also explore what happens if a variable name conflicts with a column name, and the identifiers are not referenced; another answer considers the case where the block label happens to conflict with a table name.

I heartily recommend thinking about and writing your own quiz questions and submitting them for Steven to consider for the Challenge. If you do, here are some tips:

  • Focus on one topic – remove any irrelevant details
  • Build a full test case and run it (and re-run it carefully after every single change you make!)
  • Try to remove as much code as possible (without ruining it)
  • Re-read the question the next day, and imagine being a typical Challenger, who nitpicks every single statement 🙂
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  1. Good quiz Jeff!
    Altough I would avoid those naming conflicts by using a scope prefix for my variables, e.g. l_employee_id for a local variable.

    But like I said, good quiz!

    • Thanks, Gert. You’re right – most places where I’ve worked have used naming standards to automatically differentiate between variables, parameters and column names. Unfortunately, not always very consistently.

      While I don’t have a problem using those same standards, in fact would generally prefer them, I think there is a good argument to always use explicit referencing instead.

      I once came across a problem with a piece of code that looked something like this:

      FUNCTION get_abc (p_def IN INTEGER) IS
      v_abc INTEGER;
      SELECT abc INTO v_abc FROM xyz WHERE ghi = p_def;
      RETURN v_abc;

      The problem was, this function always raised the NO_DATA_FOUND exception, even when the incoming parameter should have matched a row in the table. Can you see the reason why? It took a while to discover the problem: the table xyz had a column “p_def”. And on reflection, the column name was quite logical in the context of that table – it was an accident that it happened to also look like a parameter name, because of the naming standard being used.

      I won’t say this is a reason not to use naming standards, but over the years I’ve started preferring the method of always providing explicit references to PL/SQL variables when used in embedded SQL, in order to remove all ambiguity – sure, it makes the code a bit wordier, but it does make it clearer once you get used to it. In addition, it always works – unlike prefixes, which the compiler will not check for you.

  2. Interesting point, never got into that problem.

  3. Just sent off my first quiz.

    I checked the Interactive Report and saw you didn’t enter on your day.

    Do you automatically get excluded, or are you told when it comes up so that you don’t take it that day ?

    • Good on you Gary, I look forward to it 🙂

      I didn’t enter the quiz on my day – Steven emailed me the day before to let me know.

      I don’t know if the site would have excluded me or not, but it would have been a hollow victory if I’d got the quiz right – and would have been rather embarrassing if I got it wrong 🙂

      • Just a follow up in case someone stops by – Steven has officially allowed quiz authors to answer their own quizzes – not only that, but they get 0 seconds as their time to answer 🙂

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