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Postgres composite types for tables

A nice feature in PostgreSQL is that when you create a table, “a composite type is also automatically created, with the same name as the table, to represent the table’s row type” (quoted from the documentation). A composite type represents the structure of a row or record. This means you can work with a single record of a table much like an object in an OOP language.

So, if you create an example table:

CREATE TABLE example (
  id int,
  name text

You also get a composite type (also known as a “user defined type” in other database systems) named example. Then, in PL/pgSQL, you can then do things like:

Create a function that returns an example record:

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION construct_example (p_name text)
RETURNS example
AS $$
  v_example example;
  v_example.id = 1;
  v_example.name = p_name;
  RETURN v_example;
LANGUAGE plpgsql;

Use an example record as a single record source for an INSERT INTO statement:

INSERT INTO example VALUES ((SELECT construct_example('ABC')).*);

Use ROW to construct a record on the fly:

SELECT ROW(1::int, 'ABC'::text)::example;

Use JSON to hydrate a record:

v_json_object = '{"id": 1, "name": "ABC"}'::json;
v_example = json_populate_record(NULL::example, v_json_object);

It’s actually quite handy to be able to work with a single record that is of the same type as a table.


One curious thing about composite types is how the IS NULL and IS NOT NULL constructs work on them.

IS NULL is TRUE if a variable of the composite type is NULL or if all the fields of the record are NULL.

So, both of these evaluate to TRUE:

SELECT ROW(NULL::int, NULL::text)::example IS NULL;

IS NOT NULL, on the other hand, is only TRUE if all the fields in the record are not NULL.

SELECT ROW(1::int, NULL::text)::example IS NOT NULL;
-- false!
SELECT ROW(1::int, 'ABC'::text)::example IS NOT NULL;
-- true

Because of this, a composite type variable can have both IS NOT NULL and IS NULL constructs equal to FALSE at the same time!

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