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Don Burleson Blog 







External Tables Tips

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
Don Burleson

By Mark Rittman

Introducing External Tables

One of the key new features in Oracle for business intelligence and data warehousing was the inclusion of a number of ETL features within the database, the point of which was to remove the requirement to purchase a separate ETL engine such as Informatica, Genio or Datastage. The approach proposed by the author uses these new features to shortcut the warehouse load process.

If you remember from earlier in the article, our load process had to carry out three steps:

  1. load data from a large flat file

  2. apply transformations to the data

  3. update/insert the data into a dimension table

Traditionally, you would accomplish this first step by using SQL*Loader. SQL*Loader allows you to import a flat file into the database, carry out basic transformations on it (change case, reformat, reject invalid rows), and if it helps speed up the process, load it in parallel using direct path. As you can only insert data using SQL*Loader, and the degree to which transformations can take place is limited, you'd generally load the data into a staging table and then process it in a second step.

Oracle however introduced a new feature called External Tables, which allows you to define a database table over a flat file. Taking as our example a comma-separated contracts file that is used to load data into a contracts dimension, the code to create an external table would be:

create directory inp_dir as '/home/oracle/input_files';

create table contracts_file (contract_id number, desc varchar2(50), init_val_loc_curr number)
organization external (
    type oracle_loader
    default directory inp_dir
    access parameters (
        fields terminated by ','
    location ('contracts_file.inp')
parallel 10;

The External Table feature allows you to embed the SQL*Loader control file into the table DLL script, and then allows you to run SELECT statements against the flat file. You can include the external table in joins, subqueries and so on, but you can't use the external table to delete or update data in the flat file. External tables came in with Oracle , and they're available as data sources in recent versions of Oracle Warehouse Builder.




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