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The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1B - SQL Command Reference
by The PostgreSQL Global Development Group
Paperback (6"x9"), 488 pages
ISBN 9781906966058
RRP £14.95 ($19.95)

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CREATE TRIGGER -- define a new trigger


CREATE TRIGGER name { BEFORE | AFTER } { event [ OR ... ] }
    ON table [ FOR [ EACH ] { ROW | STATEMENT } ]
    [ WHEN ( condition ) ]
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE function_name ( arguments )


CREATE TRIGGER creates a new trigger. The trigger will be associated with the specified table and will execute the specified function function_name when certain events occur.

The trigger can be specified to fire either before the operation is attempted on a row (before constraints are checked and the INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE is attempted) or after the operation has completed (after constraints are checked and the INSERT, UPDATE, or DELETE has completed). If the trigger fires before the event, the trigger can skip the operation for the current row, or change the row being inserted (for INSERT and UPDATE operations only). If the trigger fires after the event, all changes, including the effects of other triggers, are “visible” to the trigger.

A trigger that is marked FOR EACH ROW is called once for every row that the operation modifies. For example, a DELETE that affects 10 rows will cause any ON DELETE triggers on the target relation to be called 10 separate times, once for each deleted row. In contrast, a trigger that is marked FOR EACH STATEMENT only executes once for any given operation, regardless of how many rows it modifies (in particular, an operation that modifies zero rows will still result in the execution of any applicable FOR EACH STATEMENT triggers).

In addition, triggers may be defined to fire for a TRUNCATE, though only FOR EACH STATEMENT.

Also, a trigger definition can specify a Boolean WHEN condition, which will be tested to see whether the trigger should be fired. In row-level triggers the WHEN condition can examine the old and/or new values of columns of the row. Statement-level triggers can also have WHEN conditions, although the feature is not so useful for them since the condition cannot refer to any values in the table.

If multiple triggers of the same kind are defined for the same event, they will be fired in alphabetical order by name.

SELECT does not modify any rows so you cannot create SELECT triggers. Rules and views are more appropriate in such cases.

Refer to Volume 2: Triggers for more information about triggers.


The name to give the new trigger. This must be distinct from the name of any other trigger for the same table.
Determines whether the function is called before or after the event.
One of INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, or TRUNCATE; this specifies the event that will fire the trigger. Multiple events can be specified using OR. For UPDATE triggers, it is possible to specify a list of columns using this syntax:
UPDATE OF column_name1 [, column_name2 ... ]
The trigger will only fire if at least one of the listed columns is mentioned as a target of the update.
The name (optionally schema-qualified) of the table the trigger is for.
This specifies whether the trigger procedure should be fired once for every row affected by the trigger event, or just once per SQL statement. If neither is specified, FOR EACH STATEMENT is the default.
A Boolean expression that determines whether the trigger function will actually be executed. If WHEN is specified, the function will only be called if the condition returns true. In FOR EACH ROW triggers, the WHEN condition can refer to columns of the old and/or new row values by writing OLD.column_name or NEW.column_name respectively. Of course, INSERT triggers cannot refer to OLD and DELETE triggers cannot refer to NEW. Currently, WHEN expressions cannot contain subqueries.
A user-supplied function that is declared as taking no arguments and returning type trigger, which is executed when the trigger fires.
An optional comma-separated list of arguments to be provided to the function when the trigger is executed. The arguments are literal string constants. Simple names and numeric constants can be written here, too, but they will all be converted to strings. Please check the description of the implementation language of the trigger function to find out how these arguments can be accessed within the function; it might be different from normal function arguments.


To create a trigger on a table, the user must have the TRIGGER privilege on the table.

Use DROP TRIGGER to remove a trigger.

A column-specific trigger (FOR UPDATE OF column_name) will fire when any of its columns are listed as targets in the UPDATE command's SET list. It is possible for a column's value to change even when the trigger is not fired, because changes made to the row's contents by BEFORE UPDATE triggers are not considered. Conversely, a command such as UPDATE ... SET x = x ... will fire a trigger on column x, even though the column's value did not change.

In a BEFORE trigger, the WHEN condition is evaluated just before the function is or would be executed, so using WHEN is not materially different from testing the same condition at the beginning of the trigger function. Note in particular that the NEW row seen by the condition is the current value, as possibly modified by earlier triggers. Also, a BEFORE trigger's WHEN condition is not allowed to examine the system columns of the NEW row (such as oid), because those won't have been set yet.

In an AFTER trigger, the WHEN condition is evaluated just after the row update occurs, and it determines whether an event is queued to fire the trigger at the end of statement. So when an AFTER trigger's WHEN condition does not return true, it is not necessary to queue an event nor to re-fetch the row at end of statement. This can result in significant speedups in statements that modify many rows, if the trigger only needs to be fired for a few of the rows.

In PostgreSQL versions before 7.3, it was necessary to declare trigger functions as returning the placeholder type opaque, rather than trigger. To support loading of old dump files, CREATE TRIGGER will accept a function declared as returning opaque, but it will issue a notice and change the function's declared return type to trigger.


Execute the function check_account_update whenever a row of the table accounts is about to be updated:

CREATE TRIGGER check_update
    BEFORE UPDATE ON accounts
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE check_account_update();

The same, but only execute the function if column balance is specified as a target in the UPDATE command:

CREATE TRIGGER check_update
    BEFORE UPDATE OF balance ON accounts
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE check_account_update();

This form only executes the function if column balance has in fact changed value:

CREATE TRIGGER check_update
    BEFORE UPDATE ON accounts
    WHEN (OLD.balance IS DISTINCT FROM NEW.balance)
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE check_account_update();

Call a function to log updates of accounts, but only if something changed:

    AFTER UPDATE ON accounts
    EXECUTE PROCEDURE log_account_update();

Volume 2: A Complete Trigger Example contains a complete example of a trigger function written in C.


The CREATE TRIGGER statement in PostgreSQL implements a subset of the SQL standard. The following functionality is currently missing:

SQL specifies that multiple triggers should be fired in time-of-creation order. PostgreSQL uses name order, which was judged to be more convenient.

SQL specifies that BEFORE DELETE triggers on cascaded deletes fire after the cascaded DELETE completes. The PostgreSQL behavior is for BEFORE DELETE to always fire before the delete action, even a cascading one. This is considered more consistent. There is also unpredictable behavior when BEFORE triggers modify rows or prevent updates during an update that is caused by a referential action. This can lead to constraint violations or stored data that does not honor the referential constraint.

The ability to specify multiple actions for a single trigger using OR is a PostgreSQL extension of the SQL standard.

The ability to fire triggers for TRUNCATE is a PostgreSQL extension of the SQL standard.

See Also


ISBN 9781906966058The PostgreSQL 9.0 Reference Manual - Volume 1B - SQL Command ReferenceSee the print edition