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Timestamp Oddity

[Editorial note: this is something I started writing in 2013, managed to complete in 2017, and still failed to publish. It should have been a follow-on to another posting on the oddities of timestamp manipulation.]

Just as national language support used to be, timestamps and time-related columns are still a bit of a puzzle to the Oracle world – so much so that OEM could cripple a system if it was allowed to do the check for “failed logins over the last 30 minutes”. And, just like NLS, it’s one of those things that you use so rarely that you keep forgetting what went wrong the last time you used it. Here’s one little oddity that I reminded myself about recently:

rem
rem     Script:         timestamp_anomaly.sql
rem     Author:         Jonathan Lewis
rem     Dated:          April 2013
rem
create table t1 (
        ts_tz   timestamp(9) with time zone,
        ts_ltz  timestamp(9) with local time zone
);

insert into t1 values(systimestamp, systimestamp);
commit;

alter table t1 add constraint ts_ltz_uk unique (ts_ltz);
alter table t1 add constraint ts_tz_uk  unique (ts_tz);


Nothing terribly difficult – just a table with two variants on the timestamp data type and a unique constraint on both: except for one problem. Watch what happens as I create the unique constraints:

SQL> alter table t1 add constraint ts_ltz_uk unique (ts_ltz);

Table altered.

SQL> alter table t1 add constraint ts_tz_uk  unique (ts_tz);
alter table t1 add constraint ts_tz_uk  unique (ts_tz)
                                        *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-02329: column of datatype TIME/TIMESTAMP WITH TIME ZONE cannot be unique or a primary key

Slightly unexpected – unless you’ve memorized the manuals, of course, which I hadn’t. I wonder if you can create a unique index on timestamp with time zone:


SQL> create unique index ts_tz_uk on t1(ts_tz);

Index created.

You can’t have a unique constraint, but you CAN create a unique index! How curious – did that really happen ?

SQL> select index_name, column_name from user_ind_columns where table_name = 'T1';

INDEX_NAME           COLUMN_NAME
-------------------- --------------------
TS_LTZ_UK            TS_LTZ
TS_TZ_UK             SYS_NC00003$

The index is on a column called SYS_NC00003$ – which looks suspiciously like one of those “function-based-index” things:


SQL> select * from user_ind_expressions where table_name = 'T1';

INDEX_NAME           TABLE_NAME           COLUMN_EXPRESSION                        COLUMN_POSITION
-------------------- -------------------- ---------------------------------------- ---------------
TS_TZ_UK             T1                   SYS_EXTRACT_UTC("TS_TZ")                               1

Oracle has silently invoked the sys_extract_utc() function on our (free-floating) timestamp column to normalize it to UTC. This is really not very friendly but it does make sense, of course – it would be rather expensive to enforce uniqueness if there were (at least) 24 different ways of storing the same absolute value – and 24 is a conservative estimate.