Sunday, 3 July 2011


Oracle supports LOBs(Large Objects) which can hold large amount of raw binary data, such as graphics images, as well as large amount of character data.

Oracle extended SQL DDL and DML to provide support for LOBs. You can also manipulate LOBs using DBMS_LOB package and OCI (Oracle Call Interface).

Depending upon the way in which LOBs are stored they can be classified as follows.

Internal LOBs
These are stored in the database tablespace. They support transaction processing like any other scalar data type. CLOB, BLOB and NCLOB belong to this category.

External LOBs
These are not stored in the database. Instead they are stored in the Operating System files. Only a pointer pointing to the actual data is stored in the database. They do not support transaction processing and integrity checking. BFILE data type belongs to this category.

See figure 1, to understand how data is stored in internal lob and external lob.

LOB Datatypes
The following are the different LOB datatypes that are supported by Oracle8.

Data Type Description
CLOB The data is consisting of single-byte character data.
NCLOB The data is consisting of multi-byte or single-byte fixed length character data that corresponds to the national character set.
BLOB The data is consisting of RAW binary data, such as bitmap images.
BFILE The data is stored in an operating system file. Only a reference to the file is stored in the database. This is the example for External LOB.
Table 1: LOB Datatypes.
LOB Locator
The data of the LOB column is NOT stored in the row along with the other columns of the row, instead only a locator is stored in the database and the actual data is stored elsewhere. The locator is similar to a pointer and points to the location where the data is actually stored. In case of Internal LOB the data is stored within the database, and in case of external LOB the data is stored outside the database as a file in the file system of the operating system.

The value that is stored in the row to point to the actual location of the Internal LOB is called as LOB Locator. It is used to locate the LOB data that is stored elsewhere in the database.

LONG datatype and LOBs are similar in some respects and differ in other. LOB data types can be taken as an extension to LONG RAW data type. LONG RAW is the only data type that supported large binary data in Oracle7. The following are the differences between LONG RAW data type and LOB data types.

LONG type LOB type
Can contain up to 2 GB of data Can contain up to 4 GB of data
A table can contain only one LONG column A table can contain more than one LOB column
A sub-query cannot select a LONG column A subquery can select LOB column

Defining and Manipulating LOBs
A LOB column is defined just like any other column. Data of the LOB column can be accessed either directly or through DBMS_LOB package. Let us first see how to create a table with LOB columns.

The following example creates a table with a CLOB type column and a BFILE type column.

create table lob_table
( id number(5),
clob_col clob,
bfile_col bfile

The following functions are used to manipulate LOB columns.

These functions are part of the SQL DML. They are used to initialize LOB locator to empty locator in INSERT and UPDATE commands.

Note: Before you start writing data to a LOB using either OCI or DBMS_LOB package, the LOB column must be initialized to empty locator using these functions.

The following example stores empty locator into CLOB_COL.

insert into lob_table (id, clob_col)
values (100, empty_clob());

This is used to initialize a BFILE column. This is used in SQL INSERT and UPDATE commands.

BFILENAME( Directory_alias, Filename) RETURN BFILE;

Directory_alias Is the alias of the directory in which the file is stored. This directory alias is created using CREATE DIRECTORY command.
Filename Is the name of the file, which contains the contents that are accessed using BFILE column.

insert into lob_table

The above INSERT command inserts a row into LOB_TABLE in which BFILE_COL refers to BMP1.BMP file in directory with alias IMAGES.

Directory Alias
Directory alias is to be created using CREATE DIRECTORY command. Directory alias is used to refer to a physical directory (directory in the file system of the operating system) using an alias in Oracle.

The directory alias can be used to change the physical directory to which alias points, without having to change the alias itself. This makes the job of making BFILE column pointing to the right directory and right file easier, even though the files are moved from one physical directory to another.

create directory “IMAGES” as ‘c:\bitmaps’;

The above statement creates a directory alias called IMAGES, which is an alias to the physical directory C:\BITMAPS.

Note: The directory alias is case sensitive. When using directory alias in BFILENAME function, if proper case is not given then Oracle doesn’t recognize the directory alias. But at the time of creation, Oracle converts the directory alias to uppercase if the name is not given in double quotes (“ “). So if you want to preserve the case of the directory alias then enclose it in double quotes.

Now, the alias IMAGES can be used to refer to the physical directory in BFILENAME function as shown in the example below.

Insert into lob_table
values(101, ‘Some data in CLOB cloumn’,

Note: it is not possible to display the value of BFILE column using SELECT command in SQL*PLUS.

Users who have to access the directory, should be granted privilege to access the directory as follows:

grant read on directory LOB_DIR to Srikanth;

The above GRANT command grants READ permission on LOB_DIR directory to user SRIKANTH.

Deleting LOBs
When a LOB value is deleted, the locator to the LOB value as well as the LOB value are deleted in case of internal LOBs (CLOB, NCLOB, and BLOB). But in case of BFILE (external LOB) only the locator is deleted and the actual data is not deleted. This is obvious considering the fact that in case of external LOBs database stores only a pointer to the actual content but not the content itself. So for BFILEs you need to delete data manually.

Note: The function discussed above deal with complete LOB column. They do not allow you to modify a part of the LOB column. For information regarding modifying a part of the LOB column, see DBMS_LOB package, later in this chapter.

DBMS_LOB Package
Functions and procedures in DBMS_LOB package can be used to perform various operations related to LOBs. These methods of DBMS_LOB are very important while dealing with LOBs as normal functions such as SUBSTR cannot be used with LOBs.

The following is the list of functions and procedures in DBMS_LOB package.

Method Description
READ(locator,nobytes,offset, output) Reads nobytes of a LOB value starting from offset and places the read piece in output.
WRITE(locator, nobytes, offset, buffer) Writes nobytes from buffer into a LOB starting at offset in a LOB value.
APPEND(dest_locator, source_locator) Appends one LOB value at the end of another LOB value.
ERASE(locator, nobytes, offset) Erases nobytes from the given offset of a LOB value.
TRIM(locator, newlength) Reduces the size of a LOB value by trimming characters on the right.
SUBSTR(locator, nobytes, offset) Extracts a portion of a LOB value and returns that value. The difference between this and READ procedure is that READ procedure places the extracted value in the given variable whereas this returns the value.
dest_offset,source_offset) This is a combination of READ and WRITE procedures. This modifies a LOB value by replacing a part of it with data from another LOB.
GETLENGTH(locator) Returns the length of a LOB value.
INSTR(locator,pattern,offset,occur) Searches for the given pattern and returns the position at which the pattern is found. If offset is given search starts at the offset. And if occur parameter is also given then it looks for occur number of occurrence.
COMPARE(locator1,locator2,nobytes,offset1,offset2) Compares two LOB values and returns 0 if they are same, 1 if first one is bigger than second one, and -1 if second one is bigger than first one. offset1 and offset2 may be used to specify at which position in first and second LOBs the search should begin. nobytes specifies the number of bytes to be compared.
Table 2: DBMS_LOB Functions and Procedures

Examples using DBMS_LOB Package
The following examples use procedures and functions given in the table 2.

INSTR function
The following example looks for the pattern ‘Oracle’ in CLOB_COL column of the row where ID is 10 in LOB_TABLE.

c_lob CLOB;
pos Number(2);
/* get the value of CLOB_LOB column
from the row where ID is 10 */

select clob_col into c_lob
from lob_table
where id = 10;

/* Use INSTR function to find out the
position where the pattern ‘Oracle’
occurs in the LOB value.
Search start at first character and look for the
first occurrence of the pattern

pos := dbms_lob.instr(c_lob,’Oracle’,1,1);

-- if INSTR returns 0 if means pattern is not found
if pos = 0 then
dbms_output.put_line(‘Could not file pattern Oracle’);
dbms_output.put_line(‘Found Oracle at =‘ || to_char(pos));
end if;


COPY procedure
The following example copies 10 characters of one LOB to another lob.

source_clob CLOB;
dest _clob CLOB;

/* get CLOB_COLs of ID 20 */
select clob_col into source_clob
from lob_table
where id = 20;

/* retrieve CLOB_COL of id 10 for
updation */

select clob_col into dest_clob
from lob_table
where id = 15
for update; -- required to update LOB value

/*Now copy data with the following parameters
No. of character to be copied = 10
Offset in the destination LOB = 50
Offset in the source LOB = 10 */

dbms_lob.copy( dest_clob,source_clob,10,50,10);


BFILE Related Procedures and Functions
The following are the procedures and functions in DBMS_LOB that are related to BFILE data type.

Procedure or Function Description
FILEOPEN(bfile,mode) Opens the specified file.
FILECLOSE(bfile) Closes the specified file
FILECLOSEALL Closes all open files.
FILEEXISTS(bfile) Checks whether the file referenced by BFILE locator exists.
FILEGETNAME(loc,dir,file) Gets the name of external file referenced by BFILE locator.
FILEISOPEN(bfile) Checks whether external file is currently open.
Table 3: BFILE Related Procedures and Functions in DBMS_LOB Package.

The following example displays the directory and filename of a BFILE column.

bf bfile;
d varchar2(20);
f varchar2(20);
/* get the BFILE_COL value for the ID 20 */
select bfile_col into bf
from lob_table
where id = 20;

/* get directory name into d and filename into f */

dbms_output.put_line('Directory: ' || d || ' File : '|| f);

The following example checks whether the file referenced by a BFILE_COL is existing on the disk.

bf bfile;
/* get the BFILE_COL value for the ID 20 */
select bfile_col into bf
from lob_table
where id = 20;

/* FILEEXISTS returns non-zero if the given locator
points to an existing file on the disk */

if dbms_lob.fileexists(bf) <> 0 then
dbms_output.put_line(‘ BFILE for ID 20 is found ‘);
dbms_output.put_line(‘ BFILE for ID 20 is not found‘);
end if;


The following program is used to read the content of BFILE_COL of LOB_TABLE.

value BFILE;
buf char(100);
amt BINARY_INTEGER := 100;
pos INTEGER :=1;
SELECT bfile_col INTO value FROM lob_table
WHERE id = 1;
dbms_lob.fileopen(value, dbms_lob.file_readonly);
LOOP,amt,pos, buf);
-- process contents of buf
pos := pos + amt;

The above program first retrieves BFILE_COL column’s data from LOB_TABLE. Then FILEOPEN method is used to open the file using BFILE locator. Then LOOP is used to read contents from BFILE using READ method until READ method raises NO_DATA_FOUND exception. Each time a chunk of the data is read and processed.

DBMS_LOB.FILE_READONLY constant is used to specify that the file is to be opened file read-only.

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