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PostgreSQL functions

2016-11-23 4 min read Development Alexey Bogdanov

PostgreSQL has a lot of built-in functions, such as Trigonometric Functions, String Functions, IP address functions, etc. But we’re not limited by built-in functions. PostgreSQL (as well as other RDBMS) allows creating custom functions. In this tutorial we will take a look at user-defined functions.

PostgreSQL supports the following programming languages for writing functions:

  • SQL
  • PL/pgSQL
  • C
  • PL/Python
  • PL/Tcl
  • some other languages

Create functions with PL/pgSQL

Functions written in PL/pgSQL can contain a variable declaration, conditional and looping constructions, exception handling and so on. PL/pgSQL is a block-structured and case-insensitive language.

Base syntax for creating functions in PostgreSQL looks into the following way:

OR REPLACE FUNCTION function_name (arguments)
RETURNS r_type AS $$
LANGUAGE plpgsql;

CREATE OR REPLACE FUNCTION - creates a new function named by function_name in case when such function doesn’t exists, otherwise replaces the existing function.
arguments - is a list of function’s arguments. Functions can have zero or more parameters(arguments). We may specify only parameter type, e.g. (int4, varchar(40)). In that case within a function body, the parameters of the function are referred to as $1, $2,.. and so on, in the order they are defined. But we also can specify parameters names together with its types (price int4, name varchar(40)).
RETURNS - returned data type from the function. In our case r_type is specified type which will be returned from the function.
DECLARE declarations; - is a declaration section, which contains the variables names and its data types.
BEGIN Statement; - is a statement section which is the main body of the function. It may contain unlimited nested sub-blocks ( with DECLARE, BEGIN, END sections).
END - finishes the statement block.

BEGIN/END sections doesn’t start or stop transactions. It’s used for grouping blocks of code.

Function example

Let’s assume we have a table vehicle

vehicle table

which has the following columns:

vehicle_id - vehicle's ID
make - vehicle's make
model - vehicle's model
price - vehicle's price in $

Now let’s create a function which accepts desired price as a parameter and prints the amount of vehicles with price lower than or equals to desired price:

OR REPLACE FUNCTION getCheapVehicleCount(desiredPrice INTEGER)
total INTEGER;
SELECT count(*)
INTO total
FROM vehicle v
WHERE v.price <= desiredPrice;
RETURN total;
LANGUAGE plpgsql;

Now let’s create a simple table vehicle:


    vehicle_id SERIAL       NOT NULL,
    make       VARCHAR(100) NOT NULL,
    model      VARCHAR(100) NOT NULL,
    price      NUMERIC(5)   NOT NULL

and fill in it with the test data:

INSERT INTO vehicle (make, model, price)
VALUES ('Toyota', 'Camry', 25560);
INSERT INTO vehicle (make, model, price)
VALUES ('Audi', 'A4', 42825);
INSERT INTO vehicle (make, model, price)
VALUES ('Acura', 'ILX', 30840);
INSERT INTO vehicle (make, model, price)
VALUES ('BMW', '5 Series ', 67470);

Verifying function

For verification let’s find how many vehicles have price less or equals to 30000$:

SELECT getCheapVehicleCount(30000);

The output will look into the following way:

cheap vehicle amount

Return multiple rows from the function

Let’s assume we need a function which returns a list of vehicles that have price lower than or equals to desired price. Such function will look into the following way:

OR REPLACE FUNCTION getCheapVehicles(desiredPrice INTEGER)
	RETURNS TABLE (id int, make VARCHAR(100), model VARCHAR(100), price NUMERIC(5))  AS $$

RETURN QUERY SELECT * FROM vehicle v WHERE v.price <= desiredPrice;
LANGUAGE plpgsql;

If we call the function getCheapVehicles into the following way:

FROM getCheapVehicles(40000);

We’ll get the following output:

cheap vehicles

In case when we call getCheapVehicles function without * FROM we’ll get the following output:

cheap vehicles


When we call a function which doesn’t return any result or we don’t need the returned result we may discard result by using PERFORM keyword:


More detailed information about functions in PostgreSQL could be found in official documentation here: CREATE FUNCTION.

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