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PostgreSQL SQL Syntax and Use

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The first two chapters explored the basics of the SQL language and looked at the data types supported by PostgreSQL. This chapter covers a variety of topics that should round out your knowledge of PostgreSQL.

We'll start by looking at the rules that you have to follow when choosing names for tables, columns, indexes, and such. Next, you'll see how to create, destroy, and view PostgreSQL databases. In Chapter 1, "Introduction to PostgreSQL and SQL," you created a few simple tables; in this chapter, you'll learn all the details of the CREATE TABLE command. I'll also talk about indexes. I'll finish up by talking about transaction processing and locking. If you are familiar with Sybase, DB2, or Microsoft SQL Server, I think you'll find that the locking model used by PostgreSQL is a refreshing change.

PostgreSQL Naming Rules

When you create an object in PostgreSQL, you give that object a name. Every table has a name, every column has a name, and so on. PostgreSQL uses a single type to define all object names: the name type.

A value of type name is a string of 31 or fewer characters1. A name must start with a letter or an underscore; the rest of the string can contain letters, digits, and underscores.

If you examine the entry corresponding to name in the pg_type table, you will find that a name is really 32 characters long. Because the name type is used internally by the PostgreSQL engine, it is a null-terminated string. So, the maximum length of name value is 31 characters. You can enter more than 31 characters for an object name, but PostgreSQL stores only the first 31 characters.

Both SQL and PostgreSQL reserve certain words and normally, you cannot use those words to name objects. Examples of reserved words are


You cannot create a table named INTEGER or a column named BETWEEN. A complete list of reserved words can be found in Appendix B of the PostgreSQL User's Guide.

If you find that you need to create an object that does not meet these rules, you can enclose the name in double quotes. Wrapping a name in quotes creates a quoted identifier. For example, you could create a table whose name is "3.14159"—the double quotes are required, but are not actually a part of the name (that is, they are not stored and do not count against the 31-character limit). When you create an object whose name must be quoted, you have to include the quotes not only when you create the object, but every time you refer to that object. For example, to select from the table mentioned previously, you would have to write

SELECT filling, topping, crust FROM "3.14159";

Here are a few examples of both valid and invalid names:

my_table    -- valid
my_2nd_table  -- valid
échéanciers  -- valid: accented and non-Latin letters are allowed
"2nd_table"  -- valid: quoted identifier
"create table" -- valid: quoted identifier
"1040Forms"  -- valid: quoted identifier
2nd_table   -- invalid: does not start with a letter or an underscore

Quoted names are case-sensitive. "1040Forms" and "1040FORMS" are two distinct names. Unquoted names are converted to lowercase, as shown here:

ERROR: Relation 'foo' already exists
movies=# \d
      List of relations
    Name          | Type  |   Owner
 1040FORMS        | table | bruce
 1040Forms        | table | sheila
 customers        | table | bruce
 distributors     | table | bruce
 foo              | table | bruce
 rentals          | table | bruce
 returns          | table | John Whorfin
 tapes            | table | bruce
 (6 rows)

The names of all objects must be unique within some scope. Every database must have a unique name; the name of a table must be unique within the scope of a single database2, and column names must be unique within a table. The name of an index must be unique within a database.

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