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Scalar subqueries tips

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

May 31, 2015

Scalar subqueries are a powerful enhancement to Oracle9i SQL. They allow for quick formulation of extremely complex SQL statements. Oracle's introduction of scalar subquery support is another example of the company's commitment to keeping pace with the evolution of the SQL language.

Scalar subquery examples

Once you become acquainted with the syntax, you'll find scalar subqueries to be very powerful. Scalar subqueries are especially useful for combining multiple queries into a single query. In Listing C, we use scalar subqueries to compute several different types of aggregations (max and avg) all in the same SQL statement. Note that this query uses both scalar subqueries and in-line views.

   (select max(salary) from emp)       highest_salary,
   emp_name                            employee_name,
   (select avg(bonus) from commission) avg_comission,
   (select dept_name from dept where dept = 'finance');
Scalar subqueries are also handy for inserting into tables, based on values from other tables. In Listing D, we use a scalar subquery to compute the maximum credit for BILL and insert this value into a max_credit table.
insert into
   select max(credit) from credit_table where name = ?BILL?

The scalar subquery in Listing D is quite useful for Oracle data warehouse applications. In an Oracle data warehouse, it's common for the DBA to pre-aggregate values to speed up query execution, and scalar subqueries are a powerful helper in aggregation. In Listing E, we populate an emp_salary_summary table with many types of aggregate values from the base tables.

insert into
   (select sum(salary) from emp),
   (select max(salary) from emp),
   (select min(salary) from emp),
   (select avg(salary) from emp)

Restrictions on scalar subqueries

Scalar subqueries are restricted to returning a single value because they select a finite value. Scalar subqueries could be used in previous versions of Oracle in some parts of a SQL statement, but Oracle9i extends their use to almost any place where an expression can be used, including:

  • CASE expressions
  • SELECT statements
  • VALUES clauses of INSERT statements
  • WHERE clauses
  • ORDER BY clauses
  • Parameters of a function
There are also important restrictions on scalar subqueries. Scalar subqueries can?t be used for:
  • Default values for columns
  • RETURNING clauses
  • Hash expressions for clusters
  • Functional index expressions
  • CHECK constraints on columns
  • WHEN condition of triggers
  • GROUP BY and HAVING clauses
  • START WITH and CONNECT BY clauses
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