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The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language Reference
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 454 pages
ISBN 9781906966041
RRP £14.95 ($19.95)

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6.1.2 Arbitrary Precision Numbers

The type numeric can store numbers with up to 1000 digits of precision and perform calculations exactly. It is especially recommended for storing monetary amounts and other quantities where exactness is required. However, arithmetic on numeric values is very slow compared to the integer types, or to the floating-point types described in the next section.

We use the following terms below: The scale of a numeric is the count of decimal digits in the fractional part, to the right of the decimal point. The precision of a numeric is the total count of significant digits in the whole number, that is, the number of digits to both sides of the decimal point. So the number 23.5141 has a precision of 6 and a scale of 4. Integers can be considered to have a scale of zero.

Both the maximum precision and the maximum scale of a numeric column can be configured. To declare a column of type numeric use the syntax:

NUMERIC(precision, scale)

The precision must be positive, the scale zero or positive. Alternatively:


selects a scale of 0. Specifying:


without any precision or scale creates a column in which numeric values of any precision and scale can be stored, up to the implementation limit on precision. A column of this kind will not coerce input values to any particular scale, whereas numeric columns with a declared scale will coerce input values to that scale. (The SQL standard requires a default scale of 0, i.e., coercion to integer precision. We find this a bit useless. If you're concerned about portability, always specify the precision and scale explicitly.)

If the scale of a value to be stored is greater than the declared scale of the column, the system will round the value to the specified number of fractional digits. Then, if the number of digits to the left of the decimal point exceeds the declared precision minus the declared scale, an error is raised.

Numeric values are physically stored without any extra leading or trailing zeroes. Thus, the declared precision and scale of a column are maximums, not fixed allocations. (In this sense the numeric type is more akin to varchar(n) than to char(n).) The actual storage requirement is two bytes for each group of four decimal digits, plus five to eight bytes overhead.

In addition to ordinary numeric values, the numeric type allows the special value NaN, meaning “not-a-number”. Any operation on NaN yields another NaN. When writing this value as a constant in an SQL command, you must put quotes around it, for example UPDATE table SET x = 'NaN'. On input, the string NaN is recognized in a case-insensitive manner.

Note: In most implementations of the “not-a-number” concept, NaN is not considered equal to any other numeric value (including NaN). In order to allow numeric values to be sorted and used in tree-based indexes, PostgreSQL treats NaN values as equal, and greater than all non-NaN values.

The types decimal and numeric are equivalent. Both types are part of the SQL standard.

ISBN 9781906966041The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1A - SQL Language ReferenceSee the print edition