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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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6.14.6 Array Input and Output Syntax

The external text representation of an array value consists of items that are interpreted according to the I/O conversion rules for the array's element type, plus decoration that indicates the array structure. The decoration consists of curly braces ({ and }) around the array value plus delimiter characters between adjacent items. The delimiter character is usually a comma (,) but can be something else: it is determined by the typdelim setting for the array's element type. Among the standard data types provided in the PostgreSQL distribution, all use a comma, except for type box, which uses a semicolon (;). In a multidimensional array, each dimension (row, plane, cube, etc.) gets its own level of curly braces, and delimiters must be written between adjacent curly-braced entities of the same level.

The array output routine will put double quotes around element values if they are empty strings, contain curly braces, delimiter characters, double quotes, backslashes, or white space, or match the word NULL. Double quotes and backslashes embedded in element values will be backslash-escaped. For numeric data types it is safe to assume that double quotes will never appear, but for textual data types one should be prepared to cope with either the presence or absence of quotes.

By default, the lower bound index value of an array's dimensions is set to one. To represent arrays with other lower bounds, the array subscript ranges can be specified explicitly before writing the array contents. This decoration consists of square brackets ([]) around each array dimension's lower and upper bounds, with a colon (:) delimiter character in between. The array dimension decoration is followed by an equal sign (=). For example:

SELECT f1[1][-2][3] AS e1, f1[1][-1][5] AS e2
 FROM (SELECT '[1:1][-2:-1][3:5]={{{1,2,3},{4,5,6}}}'::int[]
 AS f1) AS ss;

 e1 | e2
----+----
  1 |  6
(1 row)

The array output routine will include explicit dimensions in its result only when there are one or more lower bounds different from one.

If the value written for an element is NULL (in any case variant), the element is taken to be NULL. The presence of any quotes or backslashes disables this and allows the literal string value “NULL” to be entered. Also, for backwards compatibility with pre-8.2 versions of PostgreSQL, the array_nulls configuration parameter can be turned off to suppress recognition of NULL as a NULL.

As shown previously, when writing an array value you can use double quotes around any individual array element. You must do so if the element value would otherwise confuse the array-value parser. For example, elements containing curly braces, commas (or the data type's delimiter character), double quotes, backslashes, or leading or trailing whitespace must be double-quoted. Empty strings and strings matching the word NULL must be quoted, too. To put a double quote or backslash in a quoted array element value, use escape string syntax and precede it with a backslash. Alternatively, you can avoid quotes and use backslash-escaping to protect all data characters that would otherwise be taken as array syntax.

You can add whitespace before a left brace or after a right brace. You can also add whitespace before or after any individual item string. In all of these cases the whitespace will be ignored. However, whitespace within double-quoted elements, or surrounded on both sides by non-whitespace characters of an element, is not ignored.

Note: Remember that what you write in an SQL command will first be interpreted as a string literal, and then as an array. This doubles the number of backslashes you need. For example, to insert a text array value containing a backslash and a double quote, you'd need to write:

INSERT ... VALUES (E'{"\\\\","\\""}');

The escape string processor removes one level of backslashes, so that what arrives at the array-value parser looks like {"\\","\""}. In turn, the strings fed to the text data type's input routine become \ and " respectively. (If we were working with a data type whose input routine also treated backslashes specially, bytea for example, we might need as many as eight backslashes in the command to get one backslash into the stored array element.) Dollar quoting (see section 2.1.2.4 Dollar-Quoted String Constants) can be used to avoid the need to double backslashes.

Tip: The ARRAY constructor syntax (see section 2.2.11 Array Constructors) is often easier to work with than the array-literal syntax when writing array values in SQL commands. In ARRAY, individual element values are written the same way they would be written when not members of an array.

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