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SMON_SCN_TIME and ORA-8161? Digging deeper

In the recent versions of the Oracle database, we’ve had the ability to convert between a System Change Number (SCN) and the approximate time to which that SCN pertains. These functions are unsurprisingly called SCN_TO_TIMESTAMP and TIMESTAMP_TO_SCN. The only potential misnomer here is that even though the functions are called “timestamp” and return a datatype of timestamp, on most platforms you are going to notice that the granularity doesn’t run down into fractions of seconds

SQL> select scn_to_timestamp(14816563713652) from dual;

08-JUN-19 AM

This all looks great until you start poking around too far into the past, and you end up in territory like this:

With and without WITH_PLSQL within a WITH SQL statement

OK, let’s be honest right up front. The motivation for this post is solely to be able to roll out a tongue twisting blog post title Smile. But hopefully there’s some value as well in here for you if you’re hitting the error:

ORA-32034: unsupported use of WITH clause

First some background. A cool little enhancement to the WITH clause came along in 12c that allowed PLSQL functions to be defined within the scope of the executing SQL statement. To see the benefit of this, consider the following example that I have a personal affinity with (given my surname).

Let’s say I’ve allowed mixed-case data in a table that holds names.

Generic data models … generic applications … ugh

There’s a hesitation to publish this example, because publishing it may be interpreted as an endorsement of this approach and it certainly isn’t. Over the years there have been plenty of articles describing the long term pain that typically comes from generic data models. Here’s a few to whet your appetite.

PL/SQL – Don’t mix and match scope

Here’s a simple little PL/SQL block where we call an inner procedure PARAMETER_TESTER from its parent block. Pay particular attention to the parameter we pass to the procedure, and it’s value throughout the execution of that procedure.

Quick and easy masking

I had a request from a client a while back regarding masking of data. They had an application with sensitive data in the Production environment (where access and audit were very tightly controlled) but the issue was how to respect that sensitivity in non-Production environments whilst still preserving full size data sizes for application testing.

After some conversations about requirements, it turned out that since (even in non-Production environments) all access to application components was logged and audited, the issue was simply protecting against “inadvertent” access to sensitive data. For example, in the application, if I searched for “males with black hair with an interest in technology” I should never see the name “Connor McDonald” on screen in the results, because simply viewing that data could be treated as a breach of privacy.

More chances to bulk process

I’m sure most of us have read or heard at a conference the benefits of array fetching and array binding when it comes to passing data back and forth to the database. And we’ve all seen the numerous demo scripts in PL/SQL along the lines of:

FORALL i in 1 .. n 
   INSERT ...

As such, there is a misconception out there that you are only going to be able to use bulk binding for basic DML operations. So I thought I’d share this example that came in via AskTOM recently. We got asked if there was any means of improving the performance of this row-by-row operation where the DML was a complex Text index search, with the additional complication that on a row by row basis, the DML may fail but that this was an anticipated outcome that needed to be handled and moved past. The scenario presented was as follows:

Determined on Determinism

I’m feeling very determined on this one. Yes I have a lot of determination to inform blog readers about determinism, and yes I have run out of words that sound like DETERMINISTIC. But one of the most common misconceptions I see for PL/SQL functions is that developers treat them as if they were “extending” the existing database kernel. By this I mean that developers often assume that wherever an existing in-built function (for example TO_NUMBER or SUBSTR etc) could be used, then a PL/SQL function of their own creation will work in the exactly the same way.

Often that will be the case, but the most common scenario I see tripping up people is using PL/SQL functions within SQL statements. Consider the following simple example, where a PL/SQL function is utilizing the in-built SYSTIMESTAMP and TO_CHAR functions.

The death of UTL_FILE – part 2

I wrote a post a while back call “The Death of UTL_FILE”, and probably because of it’s click-bait title I got lots of feedback, so I’m back to flog that horse Smile. Seriously though, I stand behind my assertion in that post, that the majority of usages of UTL_FILE I’ve seen my career are mimicking the spooling behaviour of a SQL*Plus script. And as that post pointed out, you can now achieve that functionality directly with the scheduler.

That is well and good for writing files from the database, and I added:

It’s all downhill past 30

Yes, it sounds like a lamentation of the aging process, and from my own experience, it is definitely true that the wheels started falling off for my knees, back and plenty of other body parts once I turned 30. But that is perhaps a legacy of too much alcohol, not eating well in my youth and failing to stretch rather than any particular chronological milestone Smile.

But this post is not about that. This one is about the magical 30 character limit on identifiers that we finally lifted in version 12c. For static SQL, this is obviously a no impact change – you either define your tables and columns with longer names or you don’t, and the static SQL you write reflects that position.

IRR function in PLSQL

We had an AskTOM question recently about how to calculate the IRR, ie, the Internal Rate of Return. To be honest, I had not really heard of the function, but readers were quick to point out to me that it was a commonly used function in the most “popular” database on earth, namely Microsoft Excel Smile