4.1. Lexical Structure

SQL input consists of a sequence of commands. A command is composed of a sequence of tokens, terminated by a semicolon (";"). The end of the input stream also terminates a command. Which tokens are valid depends on the syntax of the particular command.

A token can be a key word, an identifier, a quoted identifier, a literal (or constant), or a special character symbol. Tokens are normally separated by whitespace (space, tab, newline), but need not be if there is no ambiguity (which is generally only the case if a special character is adjacent to some other token type).

For example, the following is (syntactically) valid SQL input:

SELECT * FROM MY_TABLE;
UPDATE MY_TABLE SET A = 5;
INSERT INTO MY_TABLE VALUES (3, 'hi there');

This is a sequence of three commands, one per line (although this is not required; more than one command can be on a line, and commands can usefully be split across lines).

Additionally, comments can occur in SQL input. They are not tokens, they are effectively equivalent to whitespace.

The SQL syntax is not very consistent regarding what tokens identify commands and which are operands or parameters. The first few tokens are generally the command name, so in the above example we would usually speak of a "SELECT", an "UPDATE", and an "INSERT" command. But for instance the UPDATE command always requires a SET token to appear in a certain position, and this particular variation of INSERT also requires a VALUES in order to be complete. The precise syntax rules for each command are described in Part VI.

4.1.1. Identifiers and Key Words

Tokens such as SELECT, UPDATE, or VALUES in the example above are examples of key words, that is, words that have a fixed meaning in the SQL language. The tokens MY_TABLE and A are examples of identifiers. They identify names of tables, columns, or other database objects, depending on the command they are used in. Therefore they are sometimes simply called "names". Key words and identifiers have the same lexical structure, meaning that one cannot know whether a token is an identifier or a key word without knowing the language. A complete list of key words can be found in Appendix C.

SQL identifiers and key words must begin with a letter (a-z, but also letters with diacritical marks and non-Latin letters) or an underscore (_). Subsequent characters in an identifier or key word can be letters, underscores, digits (0-9), or dollar signs ($). Note that dollar signs are not allowed in identifiers according to the letter of the SQL standard, so their use might render applications less portable. The SQL standard will not define a key word that contains digits or starts or ends with an underscore, so identifiers of this form are safe against possible conflict with future extensions of the standard.

The system uses no more than NAMEDATALEN-1 bytes of an identifier; longer names can be written in commands, but they will be truncated. By default, NAMEDATALEN is 64 so the maximum identifier length is 63 bytes. If this limit is problematic, it can be raised by changing the NAMEDATALEN constant in src/include/pg_config_manual.h.

Key words and unquoted identifiers are case insensitive. Therefore:

UPDATE MY_TABLE SET A = 5;

can equivalently be written as:

uPDaTE my_TabLE SeT a = 5;

A convention often used is to write key words in upper case and names in lower case, e.g.:

UPDATE my_table SET a = 5;

There is a second kind of identifier: the delimited identifier or quoted identifier. It is formed by enclosing an arbitrary sequence of characters in double-quotes ("). A delimited identifier is always an identifier, never a key word. So "select" could be used to refer to a column or table named "select", whereas an unquoted select would be taken as a key word and would therefore provoke a parse error when used where a table or column name is expected. The example can be written with quoted identifiers like this:

UPDATE "my_table" SET "a" = 5;

Quoted identifiers can contain any character, except the character with code zero. (To include a double quote, write two double quotes.) This allows constructing table or column names that would otherwise not be possible, such as ones containing spaces or ampersands. The length limitation still applies.

A variant of quoted identifiers allows including escaped Unicode characters identified by their code points. This variant starts with U& (upper or lower case U followed by ampersand) immediately before the opening double quote, without any spaces in between, for example U&"foo". (Note that this creates an ambiguity with the operator &. Use spaces around the operator to avoid this problem.) Inside the quotes, Unicode characters can be specified in escaped form by writing a backslash followed by the four-digit hexadecimal code point number or alternatively a backslash followed by a plus sign followed by a six-digit hexadecimal code point number. For example, the identifier "data" could be written as

U&"d\0061t\+000061"

The following less trivial example writes the Russian word "slon" (elephant) in Cyrillic letters:

U&"\0441\043B\043E\043D"

If a different escape character than backslash is desired, it can be specified using the UESCAPE clause after the string, for example:

U&"d!0061t!+000061" UESCAPE '!'

The escape character can be any single character other than a hexadecimal digit, the plus sign, a single quote, a double quote, or a whitespace character. Note that the escape character is written in single quotes, not double quotes.

To include the escape character in the identifier literally, write it twice.

The Unicode escape syntax works only when the server encoding is UTF8. When other server encodings are used, only code points in the ASCII range (up to \007F) can be specified. Both the 4-digit and the 6-digit form can be used to specify UTF-16 surrogate pairs to compose characters with code points larger than U+FFFF, although the availability of the 6-digit form technically makes this unnecessary. (Surrogate pairs are not stored directly, but combined into a single code point that is then encoded in UTF-8.)

Quoting an identifier also makes it case-sensitive, whereas unquoted names are always folded to lower case. For example, the identifiers FOO, foo, and "foo" are considered the same by PostgreSQL, but "Foo" and "FOO" are different from these three and each other. (The folding of unquoted names to lower case in PostgreSQL is incompatible with the SQL standard, which says that unquoted names should be folded to upper case. Thus, foo should be equivalent to "FOO" not "foo" according to the standard. If you want to write portable applications you are advised to always quote a particular name or never quote it.)

4.1.2. Constants

There are three kinds of implicitly-typed constants in PostgreSQL: strings, bit strings, and numbers. Constants can also be specified with explicit types, which can enable more accurate representation and more efficient handling by the system. These alternatives are discussed in the following subsections.

4.1.2.1. String Constants

A string constant in SQL is an arbitrary sequence of characters bounded by single quotes ('), for example 'This is a string'. To include a single-quote character within a string constant, write two adjacent single quotes, e.g., 'Dianne''s horse'. Note that this is not the same as a double-quote character (").

Two string constants that are only separated by whitespace with at least one newline are concatenated and effectively treated as if the string had been written as one constant. For example:

SELECT 'foo'
'bar';

is equivalent to:

SELECT 'foobar';

but:

SELECT 'foo'      'bar';

is not valid syntax. (This slightly bizarre behavior is specified by SQL; PostgreSQL is following the standard.)

4.1.2.2. String Constants with C-style Escapes

PostgreSQL also accepts "escape" string constants, which are an extension to the SQL standard. An escape string constant is specified by writing the letter E (upper or lower case) just before the opening single quote, e.g., E'foo'. (When continuing an escape string constant across lines, write E only before the first opening quote.) Within an escape string, a backslash character (\) begins a C-like backslash escape sequence, in which the combination of backslash and following character(s) represent a special byte value, as shown in Table 4-1.

Table 4-1. Backslash Escape Sequences

Backslash Escape Sequence Interpretation
\b backspace
\f form feed
\n newline
\r carriage return
\t tab
\o, \oo, \ooo (o = 0 - 7) octal byte value
\xh, \xhh (h = 0 - 9, A - F) hexadecimal byte value
\uxxxx, \Uxxxxxxxx (x = 0 - 9, A - F) 16 or 32-bit hexadecimal Unicode character value

Any other character following a backslash is taken literally. Thus, to include a backslash character, write two backslashes (\\). Also, a single quote can be included in an escape string by writing \', in addition to the normal way of ''.

It is your responsibility that the byte sequences you create, especially when using the octal or hexadecimal escapes, compose valid characters in the server character set encoding. When the server encoding is UTF-8, then the Unicode escapes or the alternative Unicode escape syntax, explained in Section 4.1.2.3, should be used instead. (The alternative would be doing the UTF-8 encoding by hand and writing out the bytes, which would be very cumbersome.)

The Unicode escape syntax works fully only when the server encoding is UTF8. When other server encodings are used, only code points in the ASCII range (up to \u007F) can be specified. Both the 4-digit and the 8-digit form can be used to specify UTF-16 surrogate pairs to compose characters with code points larger than U+FFFF, although the availability of the 8-digit form technically makes this unnecessary. (When surrogate pairs are used when the server encoding is UTF8, they are first combined into a single code point that is then encoded in UTF-8.)

Caution

If the configuration parameter standard_conforming_strings is off, then PostgreSQL recognizes backslash escapes in both regular and escape string constants. However, as of PostgreSQL 9.1, the default is on, meaning that backslash escapes are recognized only in escape string constants. This behavior is more standards-compliant, but might break applications which rely on the historical behavior, where backslash escapes were always recognized. As a workaround, you can set this parameter to off, but it is better to migrate away from using backslash escapes. If you need to use a backslash escape to represent a special character, write the string constant with an E.

In addition to standard_conforming_strings, the configuration parameters escape_string_warning and backslash_quote govern treatment of backslashes in string constants.

The character with the code zero cannot be in a string constant.

4.1.2.3. String Constants with Unicode Escapes

PostgreSQL also supports another type of escape syntax for strings that allows specifying arbitrary Unicode characters by code point. A Unicode escape string constant starts with U& (upper or lower case letter U followed by ampersand) immediately before the opening quote, without any spaces in between, for example U&'foo'. (Note that this creates an ambiguity with the operator &. Use spaces around the operator to avoid this problem.) Inside the quotes, Unicode characters can be specified in escaped form by writing a backslash followed by the four-digit hexadecimal code point number or alternatively a backslash followed by a plus sign followed by a six-digit hexadecimal code point number. For example, the string 'data' could be written as

U&'d\0061t\+000061'

The following less trivial example writes the Russian word "slon" (elephant) in Cyrillic letters:

U&'\0441\043B\043E\043D'

If a different escape character than backslash is desired, it can be specified using the UESCAPE clause after the string, for example:

U&'d!0061t!+000061' UESCAPE '!'

The escape character can be any single character other than a hexadecimal digit, the plus sign, a single quote, a double quote, or a whitespace character.

The Unicode escape syntax works only when the server encoding is UTF8. When other server encodings are used, only code points in the ASCII range (up to \007F) can be specified. Both the 4-digit and the 6-digit form can be used to specify UTF-16 surrogate pairs to compose characters with code points larger than U+FFFF, although the availability of the 6-digit form technically makes this unnecessary. (When surrogate pairs are used when the server encoding is UTF8, they are first combined into a single code point that is then encoded in UTF-8.)

Also, the Unicode escape syntax for string constants only works when the configuration parameter standard_conforming_strings is turned on. This is because otherwise this syntax could confuse clients that parse the SQL statements to the point that it could lead to SQL injections and similar security issues. If the parameter is set to off, this syntax will be rejected with an error message.

To include the escape character in the string literally, write it twice.

4.1.2.4. Dollar-quoted String Constants

While the standard syntax for specifying string constants is usually convenient, it can be difficult to understand when the desired string contains many single quotes or backslashes, since each of those must be doubled. To allow more readable queries in such situations, PostgreSQL provides another way, called "dollar quoting", to write string constants. A dollar-quoted string constant consists of a dollar sign ($), an optional "tag" of zero or more characters, another dollar sign, an arbitrary sequence of characters that makes up the string content, a dollar sign, the same tag that began this dollar quote, and a dollar sign. For example, here are two different ways to specify the string "Dianne's horse" using dollar quoting:

$$Dianne's horse$$
$SomeTag$Dianne's horse$SomeTag$

Notice that inside the dollar-quoted string, single quotes can be used without needing to be escaped. Indeed, no characters inside a dollar-quoted string are ever escaped: the string content is always written literally. Backslashes are not special, and neither are dollar signs, unless they are part of a sequence matching the opening tag.

It is possible to nest dollar-quoted string constants by choosing different tags at each nesting level. This is most commonly used in writing function definitions. For example:

$function$
BEGIN
    RETURN ($1 ~ $q$[\t\r\n\v\\]$q$);
END;
$function$

Here, the sequence $q$[\t\r\n\v\\]$q$ represents a dollar-quoted literal string [\t\r\n\v\\], which will be recognized when the function body is executed by PostgreSQL. But since the sequence does not match the outer dollar quoting delimiter $function$, it is just some more characters within the constant so far as the outer string is concerned.

The tag, if any, of a dollar-quoted string follows the same rules as an unquoted identifier, except that it cannot contain a dollar sign. Tags are case sensitive, so $tag$String content$tag$ is correct, but $TAG$String content$tag$ is not.

A dollar-quoted string that follows a keyword or identifier must be separated from it by whitespace; otherwise the dollar quoting delimiter would be taken as part of the preceding identifier.

Dollar quoting is not part of the SQL standard, but it is often a more convenient way to write complicated string literals than the standard-compliant single quote syntax. It is particularly useful when representing string constants inside other constants, as is often needed in procedural function definitions. With single-quote syntax, each backslash in the above example would have to be written as four backslashes, which would be reduced to two backslashes in parsing the original string constant, and then to one when the inner string constant is re-parsed during function execution.

4.1.2.5. Bit-string Constants

Bit-string constants look like regular string constants with a B (upper or lower case) immediately before the opening quote (no intervening whitespace), e.g., B'1001'. The only characters allowed within bit-string constants are 0 and 1.

Alternatively, bit-string constants can be specified in hexadecimal notation, using a leading X (upper or lower case), e.g., X'1FF'. This notation is equivalent to a bit-string constant with four binary digits for each hexadecimal digit.

Both forms of bit-string constant can be continued across lines in the same way as regular string constants. Dollar quoting cannot be used in a bit-string constant.

4.1.2.6. Numeric Constants

Numeric constants are accepted in these general forms:

digits
digits.[digits][e[+-]digits]
[digits].digits[e[+-]digits]
digitse[+-]digits

where digits is one or more decimal digits (0 through 9). At least one digit must be before or after the decimal point, if one is used. At least one digit must follow the exponent marker (e), if one is present. There cannot be any spaces or other characters embedded in the constant. Note that any leading plus or minus sign is not actually considered part of the constant; it is an operator applied to the constant.

These are some examples of valid numeric constants:

42
3.5
4.
.001
5e2
1.925e-3

A numeric constant that contains neither a decimal point nor an exponent is initially presumed to be type integer if its value fits in type integer (32 bits); otherwise it is presumed to be type bigint if its value fits in type bigint (64 bits); otherwise it is taken to be type numeric. Constants that contain decimal points and/or exponents are always initially presumed to be type numeric.

The initially assigned data type of a numeric constant is just a starting point for the type resolution algorithms. In most cases the constant will be automatically coerced to the most appropriate type depending on context. When necessary, you can force a numeric value to be interpreted as a specific data type by casting it. For example, you can force a numeric value to be treated as type real (float4) by writing:

REAL '1.23'  -- string style
1.23::REAL   -- PostgreSQL (historical) style

These are actually just special cases of the general casting notations discussed next.

4.1.2.7. Constants of Other Types

A constant of an arbitrary type can be entered using any one of the following notations:

type 'string'
'string'::type
CAST ( 'string' AS type )

The string constant's text is passed to the input conversion routine for the type called type. The result is a constant of the indicated type. The explicit type cast can be omitted if there is no ambiguity as to the type the constant must be (for example, when it is assigned directly to a table column), in which case it is automatically coerced.

The string constant can be written using either regular SQL notation or dollar-quoting.

It is also possible to specify a type coercion using a function-like syntax:

typename ( 'string' )

but not all type names can be used in this way; see Section 4.2.9 for details.

The ::, CAST(), and function-call syntaxes can also be used to specify run-time type conversions of arbitrary expressions, as discussed in Section 4.2.9. To avoid syntactic ambiguity, the type 'string' syntax can only be used to specify the type of a simple literal constant. Another restriction on the type 'string' syntax is that it does not work for array types; use :: or CAST() to specify the type of an array constant.

The CAST() syntax conforms to SQL. The type 'string' syntax is a generalization of the standard: SQL specifies this syntax only for a few data types, but PostgreSQL allows it for all types. The syntax with :: is historical PostgreSQL usage, as is the function-call syntax.

4.1.3. Operators

An operator name is a sequence of up to NAMEDATALEN-1 (63 by default) characters from the following list:

+ - * / < > = ~ ! @ # % ^ & | ` ?

There are a few restrictions on operator names, however:

When working with non-SQL-standard operator names, you will usually need to separate adjacent operators with spaces to avoid ambiguity. For example, if you have defined a left unary operator named @, you cannot write X*@Y; you must write X* @Y to ensure that PostgreSQL reads it as two operator names not one.

4.1.4. Special Characters

Some characters that are not alphanumeric have a special meaning that is different from being an operator. Details on the usage can be found at the location where the respective syntax element is described. This section only exists to advise the existence and summarize the purposes of these characters.

4.1.5. Comments

A comment is a sequence of characters beginning with double dashes and extending to the end of the line, e.g.:

-- This is a standard SQL comment

Alternatively, C-style block comments can be used:

/* multiline comment
 * with nesting: /* nested block comment */
 */

where the comment begins with /* and extends to the matching occurrence of */. These block comments nest, as specified in the SQL standard but unlike C, so that one can comment out larger blocks of code that might contain existing block comments.

A comment is removed from the input stream before further syntax analysis and is effectively replaced by whitespace.

4.1.6. Operator Precedence

Table 4-2 shows the precedence and associativity of the operators in PostgreSQL. Most operators have the same precedence and are left-associative. The precedence and associativity of the operators is hard-wired into the parser. This can lead to non-intuitive behavior; for example the Boolean operators < and > have a different precedence than the Boolean operators <= and >=. Also, you will sometimes need to add parentheses when using combinations of binary and unary operators. For instance:

SELECT 5 ! - 6;

will be parsed as:

SELECT 5 ! (- 6);

because the parser has no idea - until it is too late - that ! is defined as a postfix operator, not an infix one. To get the desired behavior in this case, you must write:

SELECT (5 !) - 6;

This is the price one pays for extensibility.

Table 4-2. Operator Precedence (decreasing)

Operator/Element Associativity Description
. left table/column name separator
:: left PostgreSQL-style typecast
[ ] left array element selection
+ - right unary plus, unary minus
^ left exponentiation
* / % left multiplication, division, modulo
+ - left addition, subtraction
IS IS TRUE, IS FALSE, IS NULL, etc
ISNULL test for null
NOTNULL test for not null
(any other) left all other native and user-defined operators
IN set membership
BETWEEN range containment
OVERLAPS time interval overlap
LIKE ILIKE SIMILAR string pattern matching
< > less than, greater than
= right equality, assignment
NOT right logical negation
AND left logical conjunction
OR left logical disjunction

Note that the operator precedence rules also apply to user-defined operators that have the same names as the built-in operators mentioned above. For example, if you define a "+" operator for some custom data type it will have the same precedence as the built-in "+" operator, no matter what yours does.

When a schema-qualified operator name is used in the OPERATOR syntax, as for example in:

SELECT 3 OPERATOR(pg_catalog.+) 4;

the OPERATOR construct is taken to have the default precedence shown in Table 4-2 for "any other" operator. This is true no matter which specific operator appears inside OPERATOR().

copyright  ©  October 21 2014 sean dreilinger url: http://durak.org/sean/pubs/software/postgresql/sql-syntax-lexical.html