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Lesson 1

Querying Nested Tables and Varrays

As you saw in previous lessons in this course, a collection is an ordered group of elements that are all of the same type. The two types of collections that are defined within Oracle are
  1. varrays and
  2. nested tables.

Collections can store instances of an object type, be attributes of an object type, and also be parameters to other collections. You can use collections to move data in and out of the database or between client-side applications and stored subprograms. In addition, you can define collection types within a PL/SQL package and use them programmatically within your applications.
A collection consists of an inner table and an outer table. The inner table refers to the enclosing table in which you use a nested table or varray as a data type for a column. The outer table, also known as a nested table, refers to the collection that is implemented as a column within a table. For example, within the schema, DETAIL_TABLE is the inner table, whereas the DETAIL_NEST column within the SALE_HEADER table is the outer table.

History of Collections

Records are necessary structures to manage single rows of data. Collections are necessary structures to manage multiple rows of data. The first collections were PL/SQL tables, introduced in the Oracle 7 database. Oracle 8 added two new types, both known as collections. PL/SQL tables were renamed index-by tables. Collections let you store data sets in a row within a table. Oracle 8i improved the access and management of collections. Oracle 9i introduced multilevel collections. Oracle 10g improves collections by adding ANSI functionality, globalization, multiset operations, and unique string indexes for associative arrays. Index-by tables were again renamed; now they are known as associative arrays.

What Is a Collection?

Collections are lists, which may be ordered or unordered. Ordered lists are indexed by unique subscripts; unordered lists are indexed by unique identifiers, which may be numbers, hash values, or string names.

Working with Collections

Oracle 10g provides three types of collections. None of these are technically new to Oracle 10g. However, you might argue that associative arrays are new because of the significant subscript changes. Instead of unique number subscripts, Oracle 10g allows you to use either a unique number or a string. These are key structures that you will use frequently in PL/SQL programming. You should take time to develop a clear understanding of what they are, when to use them, and how to use them. Each of the collection types will be explained and demonstrated. If you have read the discussion in Chapter 5 on record and object types, you will have a solid foundation for the discussion of collections. If you skipped the record and object type discussion, it is assumed you have command of those topics. The three Oracle 10g collection types and their descriptions are
  1. Associative arrays (index-by tables)
  2. Nested tables
  3. Varrays

Module objectives

When you have completed this module, you will be able to:
  1. Explain the concept of flattening a nested table
  2. Describe the SQL enhancements for nested tables such as THE and TABLE
  3. Query nested tables and varrays
  4. Create a PL/SQL block to query nested tables and varrays
In the next lesson, we will define the concept of flattening a nested table.