SQL - Embedded SQL Programming

  • In this section, we will look at a different paradigm for writing programs that incorporate SQL queries.
  • The main distinction between this model and others is that the program is written in a host language like C, but contains constructs that are foreign to the host language.
  • One thing you will notice that it requires programmers to work on very low level details of communication with the database.
  • To be able to compile these programs, we must first precompile using a special program, which will rewrite the program code by replacing pieces of it.
  • Once precompilation is finished, we compile the remaining code.
  • Embedded SQL, ESQL is an industry standard language.


  • Embedded SQL is an SQL standard for writing a program in a host language (like C) with SQL statements starting with the string:


    and ending with semicolon (;).

  • In addition, all variables to be used by the program as input/output to a query must be declared within a declare section.

  • Often type conversion for preliminary data types between the programming language and SQL is done by hand.

  • Proc in Oracle, ECPG in Postgresql implements the C embeddings for SQL.

  • Note that the following notes are based on Oracle embedded SQL language (slight differences are possible for postgresql)

  • Example program:

    #include <stdio.h>
    exec sql include sqlca;
    char user_prompt[] = "Please enter username and password:  ";
    char cid_prompt[] = "Please enter customer ID:  ";
    int main()
        exec sql begin declare section;       /* declare SQL host variables    */
            char cust_id[5];
            char cust_name[14];
            float cust_discnt;                  /* host var for discnt value    */
            char user_name[20];
        exec sql end declare section;
        exec sql whenever sqlerror goto report_error; /* error trap condition     */
        exec sql whenever not found goto notfound; /* not found condition      */
        exec sql unix:postgresql://csc4380.cs.rpi.edu/sibel AS myconnection USER :user_name;
        /* ORACLE format: connect  */
        while (prompt(cid_prompt, 1, cust_id, 4) >= 0) {
            exec sql select cname, discnt
                    into :cust_name, :cust_discnt   /* retrieve cname, discnt   */
                    from customers where cid = :cust_id;
            exec sql commit work;                     /* release read lock on row */
            printf("CUSTOMER'S NAME IS  %s AND DISCNT IS  %5.1f\n",
                 cust_name, cust_discnt);            /* NOTE, (:) not used here  */


  • Each ESQL statement starts with EXEC SQL keyword and ends with a semicolon ;

  • A pre-compiler will scan a program file and only read the statements enclosed within EXEC SQL statements and disregard everything else.

  • SQLCA is a specific data structure for storing status codes of all SQL operations

    /* always have this for error handling*/
    exec sql include sqlca ;


  • To be able to perform any operations, we must open a connection to the database.

    EXEC SQL CONNECT TO target [AS connection-name] [USER user-name];
  • Many connection can be opened in a program, but generally one connection per database is sufficient.

  • Different databases can be used in a single program.

  • Close all connections before the program exists:

    EXEC SQL DISCONNECT [connection];
  • Change between multiple open connections with:

    EXEC SQL SET CONNECTION connection-name;

Variables in ESQL

  • All variables that will be used in an SQL statement must be declared using an ESQL declaration and data type

    VARCHAR    e_name[30], username[30] ;
    INTEGER     e_ssn, e_dept_id ;
  • You can use almost any SQL command in ESQL as long as proper input to these commands are provided in the form of program variables.

Executing SQL commands

  • Suppose we want to find the name of an employee given his/her SSN (input by the user of the program):

    EXEC SQL select name, dept_id into :e_name, :e_dept_id
    from employee
    where ssn = :e_ssn ;
    • Program variables are preceded by “:”, i.e. :e_ssn.
  • Read the value of the variable “e_ssn” and execute the SQL statement

    using this value, store the returned values of columns “name” and “dept_id” in the program variables “e_name” and “e_dept_id”.

  • Compare the above query with the expression below. What is the difference?

    EXEC SQL select name, dept_id
    from employee  where ssn = e_ssn ;

Executing SQL commands

  • We are able to write:

    EXEC SQL select name, dept_id into :e_name, :e_dept_id
             from employee
             where ssn = :e_ssn ;
  • Since this query returns a single tuple. For this tuple, we read the returned values.

  • We will see how to handle queries that return multiple tuples in a minute.

Dealing with Strings

  • There is a mismatch between the definition of a string in Oracle and in C/C++.

  • In C, the end of a string is identified by the null character ‘0’. Hence, “Sibel” would be stored as characters ‘S’,’i’,’b’,’e’,’l’,‘0’.

  • In Oracle, the length of a string is stored together with the string and there is no special end of string character.

  • If you convert a data string from Oracle to C, you must pad it with ‘0’ manually!

  • The data type VARCHAR e_name[30] is translated by the pre-compiler to the following structure:

    struct {
        unsigned short len
        unsigned char arr[30]
    } e_name ;
  • Putting the pieces together:

    strcpy(username.arr, “Sibel Adali") ;
    username.len = strlen(“Sibel Adali") ;
    strcpy(passwd.arr, “tweety-bird") ;
    passwd.len = strlen(“tweety-bird") ;
    exec sql   connect :username  identified by :passwd ;
    scanf(“%d", &e_ssn) ;
    exec sql   select name, dept_id into :e_name, :e_dept_id
               from employee where ssn = :e_ssn ;
    e_name.arr[e_name.len] = '\0' ;   /* so can use string in C*/
    printf(“%s", e_name.arr) ;
    exec sql commit work ;  /* make any changes permanent */
    exec sql disconnect ;     /* disconnect from the database */

Status Processing

  • SQL Communications area is a data structure that contains information about

    • Error codes (might be more detailed than SQLSTATE)
    • Warning flags
    • Event information
    • Rows-processed count
    • Diagnostics for all processed SQL statements.
  • Included in the program using

    EXEC SQL INCLUDE SQLCA; or #include <sqlca.h>
  • It is possible to get the full text of error messages and other detailed status information.

  • Whenever an SQL statement is executed, its status is returned in a variable named "SQLSTATE"

  • This variable must be defined in the variable section, but it is populated with values automatically

      char    SQLSTATE[6] ;
  • Different errors and conditions have values that might be vendor specific.

Status processing

  • sqlca covers both warnings and errors. If multiple warnings or errors occur during the execution of a statement, then sqlca will only contain information about the last one.

  • If no error occurred in the last SQL statement, sqlca.sqlcode will be 0 and sqlca.sqlstate will be “00000”.

  • If a warning or error occurred, then sqlca.sqlcode will be negative and sqlca.sqlstate will be different from “00000”.

  • If the last SQL statement was successful, then sqlca.sqlerrd[1] contains the OID of the processed row, if applicable, and sqlca.sqlerrd[2] contains the number of processed or returned rows, if applicable to the command.

  • The code can be checked after each statement and error handling code can be written

    • Commit, rollback
    • Exit program, etc.
    if (strcmp(SQLSTATE, "000000") != 0)
         rollback ;
  • It is also possible to use trap conditions that remain active throughout the program.

    EXEC SQL WHENEVER <condition> <action> ;
    • Actions: DO function, DO break, GOTO label, CONTINUE, STOP
  • Because WHENEVER is a declarative statement, its scope is positional, not logical. That is, it tests all executable SQL statements that physically follow it in the source file, not in the flow of program logic.

  • A WHENEVER directive stays in effect until superseded by another WHENEVER directive checking for the same condition.


  • Transactions start with the logically start with the first SQL statement and end with either a COMMIT or ROLLBACK statement

  • It is possible to set boundaries of transactions with the SQL statement:

    BEGIN ;
  • Diagnostics size is the number of exception conditions that can be described at one time in the status.

  • READ ONLY, READ/WRITE transactions allow the programmer to define the type of the transaction

  • Isolation level allows the programmer to define the desired level of consistency

ESQL - Cursor Operations

  • Declare a cursor using a regular SQL query (no “into”).

          select ssn, name from employee
          where dept_id = :e_dept_id ;
  • Open a cursor: means the corresponding SQL query is executed, the results are written to a file (or a data structure) and the cursor is pointing to the first row.

    EXEC SQL OPEN emps_dept ;
  • Read the current row pointed to by the cursor using “fetch”. At the end of fetch, the cursor is moved to point to the next tuple.

    EXEC SQL FETCH emps_dept INTO :e_ssn, :e_name ;
  • How do we know when we reach the end of a cursor?

    • Check the “sqlcode” to see if the end of a cursor is reached (its expected value depends on the system).

      if (sqlca.sqlcode == -1) { … }
  • Error handling statements


Cursors and snapshots

  • If a cursor is declared as “INSENSITIVE”, the contents of the cursor is computed once when the cursor is opened, and remains the same until the cursor is closed, even if the underlying data tables change during the this time.

    DECLARE cursor-name CURSOR INSENSITIVE CURSOR FOR table-expression
  • This type of cursor is a snapshot of the database, a view of it at a specific time.

      [ORDER BY order-item-comma-list]
      [ FOR [READ ONLY | UPDATE | OF column-commalist] ]

Cursors for update

  • If a cursor is declared for update, then updates can be performed on the current tuple.

    DECLARE CURSOR cursor-name CURSOR FOR table-expression
                FOR UPDATE OF column-list
    UPDATE table-name SET assignment-list
               WHERE CURRENT OF cursor-name
    DELETE FROM table-name WHERE CURRENT OF cursor-name
  • For these updates to have an effect, the cursor must not be INSENSITIVE.


  • When constraints are violated, they cause an exception (or sqlerror) to be thrown.

  • When are constraints violated?

    • If constraint checking for a constraint is immediate, as soon as an SQL statement causes the constraint to become false, it is rolled back.

    • If a constraint is defined to be deferrable, then the constraint is not checked until a transaction tries to commit. Then, if it is violated, the whole transaction is rolled back.


Dynamic SQL

  • In Dynamic SQL, embedded SQL statements are created on the fly using strings!

  • these strings are fed to an exec sql statement

    exec sql execute immediate :sql_string
  • Since dynamic SQL statements are not known to the pre-compiler at compile/initiation time, they must be optimized at run time!

  • Create a query once using a prepare statement and run it multiple times using the execute statement.

    strcopy(sqltext.arr, "delete from employee where ssn = ?") ;
    sqltext.len=str.len(sqltext.arr) ;
    exec sql prepare del_emp from :sqltext ;
    exec sql execute del_emp using :cust_id ;


  • When we execute a dynamic SQL statement, we do not know which columns will be returned and how many columns will be returned.

  • The SQLDA descriptor definition allows us to find the number of columns and the value for each column.

    exec sql include sqlda ;
    exec sql declare sel_curs cursor for sel_emps ;
    exec sql prepare sel_emps from :sqltext ;
    exec sql describe sel_emps into sqlda ;
    exec sql open sel_curs ;
    exec sql fetch sel_curs using descriptor sqlda ;