DML within DML

As noted in my previous post, a recent code review revealed a couple of things that I wasn’t aware of… which is one of the pleasures of working in IT; learning new things. Aggregation within the RETURNING INTO clause of a DML statement was a good thing to find out about. I’m having a hard time thinking of a scenario that would legitimately justify the other feature; performing DML within DML…

To demonstrate, let’s create two simple tables, TAB_A and TAB_B, each with two columns; ID and VAL. Both table start off with a small set of data:

CREATE TABLE tab_a
   (id    NUMBER (6) NOT NULL
   ,val   NUMBER (6) NOT NULL
   ,CONSTRAINT tab_a_pk PRIMARY KEY (id))
/

CREATE TABLE tab_b
   (id    NUMBER (6) NOT NULL
   ,val   NUMBER (6) NOT NULL
   ,CONSTRAINT tab_b_pk PRIMARY KEY (id))
/

INSERT INTO tab_a
SELECT ROWNUM
,      ROWNUM
FROM   dual
CONNECT BY ROWNUM <= 10
/

INSERT INTO tab_b
SELECT ROWNUM
,      ROWNUM
FROM   dual
CONNECT BY ROWNUM <= 10
/

COMMIT
/

Next we’ll create a package with two routines. The first routine is a function that sets the VAL value in TAB_A to a random value and returns that value. The second routine is a procedure that sets the VAL value in TAB_B using the return value of the first function:

CREATE OR REPLACE PACKAGE proc_pkg
AS
   FUNCTION val_a (p_id IN tab_a.id%TYPE)
      RETURN tab_a.val%TYPE;
   PROCEDURE update_b (p_id IN tab_b.id%TYPE);
END proc_pkg;
/

CREATE OR REPLACE PACKAGE BODY proc_pkg
AS
   FUNCTION val_a (p_id IN tab_a.id%TYPE)
      RETURN tab_a.val%TYPE
   AS
      l_return_value tab_a.val%TYPE;
   BEGIN
      UPDATE tab_a
      SET    val = TRUNC(dbms_random.value (100,200))
      WHERE  id = p_id
      RETURNING val INTO l_return_value;
      RETURN l_return_value;
   END val_a;
   
   PROCEDURE update_b  (p_id IN tab_b.id%TYPE)
   AS
   BEGIN
      UPDATE tab_b
      SET    val = val_a (id)
      WHERE  id = p_id;
   END update_b;
END proc_pkg;
/

If you look at the UPDATE_B routine, we’re updating TABL_B but since we invoke function VAL_A we’re also updating TAB_A. My initial thought when seeing code like this was “hey, that won’t work”… and it seems I was wrong:

SQL> EXEC proc_pkg.update_b (5)

PL/SQL procedure successfully completed.

SQL> SELECT *
  2  FROM   tab_a
  3  WHERE  id = 5
  4  /

        ID        VAL
---------- ----------
         5        163

SQL> SELECT *
  2  FROM   tab_b
  3  WHERE  id = 5
  4  /

        ID        VAL
---------- ----------
         5        163

Okay, so it works; performing DML on one table can invoke a function that performs DML on another table. We can insert, update and delete data on a table from a PL/SQL function invoked via DML on a different table. If we were to try running a simple SELECT query using a function that does DML then we get ORA-14551:

SQL> SELECT id
  2  ,      proc_pkg.val_a (id)
  3  FROM   tab_a
  4  /
,      proc_pkg.val_a (id)
       *
ERROR at line 2:
ORA-14551: cannot perform a DML operation inside a query
ORA-06512: at "DEVELOPER.PROC_PKG", line 8

Yes, you can get around this particular error by making the function an autonomous transaction… but don't do that, it's not what autonomous transaction are designed for.

My problem is that I have difficulty thinking of a scenario whereby doing DML from within DML might be a good idea instead of splitting it into separate operations. In some ways it’s similar to a row level trigger and I dislike that approach to data processing as it leads to spaghetti code. Sure, some sort of demo where I want to log details about the execution of the function as it executes I can understand, but in normal business type processing…? Furthermore, keep in mind that we're essentially doing row by row type processing here; our TAB_A DML function will be invoked for each row modified in TAB_B so we're not doing bulk processing on TAB_A. This is likely to be a performance inhibitor for the TAB_A changes.

I guess this is something that I would classify as a nice feature but use only with caution when no other option exists… although I'm happy to take advice on this.

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2 thoughts on “DML within DML

    • I couldn’t agree more, Jeff. I was somewhat surprised that it was possible to do this but I was astonished that someone would actually use the “feature” when it was clearly not necessary.

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