Chapter 56. Writing a Procedural Language Handler

All calls to functions that are written in a language other than the current version 1 interface for compiled languages (this includes functions in user-defined procedural languages and functions written in SQL) go through a call handler function for the specific language. It is the responsibility of the call handler to execute the function in a meaningful way, such as by interpreting the supplied source text. This chapter outlines how a new procedural language's call handler can be written.

The call handler for a procedural language is a normal function that must be written in a compiled language such as C, using the version-1 interface, and registered with PostgreSQL as taking no arguments and returning the type language_handler. This special pseudo-type identifies the function as a call handler and prevents it from being called directly in SQL commands. For more details on C language calling conventions and dynamic loading, see Section 38.10.

The call handler is called in the same way as any other function: It receives a pointer to a FunctionCallInfoBaseData struct containing argument values and information about the called function, and it is expected to return a Datum result (and possibly set the isnull field of the FunctionCallInfoBaseData structure, if it wishes to return an SQL null result). The difference between a call handler and an ordinary callee function is that the flinfo->fn_oid field of the FunctionCallInfoBaseData structure will contain the OID of the actual function to be called, not of the call handler itself. The call handler must use this field to determine which function to execute. Also, the passed argument list has been set up according to the declaration of the target function, not of the call handler.

It's up to the call handler to fetch the entry of the function from the pg_proc system catalog and to analyze the argument and return types of the called function. The AS clause from the CREATE FUNCTION command for the function will be found in the prosrc column of the pg_proc row. This is commonly source text in the procedural language, but in theory it could be something else, such as a path name to a file, or anything else that tells the call handler what to do in detail.

Often, the same function is called many times per SQL statement. A call handler can avoid repeated lookups of information about the called function by using the flinfo->fn_extra field. This will initially be NULL, but can be set by the call handler to point at information about the called function. On subsequent calls, if flinfo->fn_extra is already non-NULL then it can be used and the information lookup step skipped. The call handler must make sure that flinfo->fn_extra is made to point at memory that will live at least until the end of the current query, since an FmgrInfo data structure could be kept that long. One way to do this is to allocate the extra data in the memory context specified by flinfo->fn_mcxt; such data will normally have the same lifespan as the FmgrInfo itself. But the handler could also choose to use a longer-lived memory context so that it can cache function definition information across queries.

When a procedural-language function is invoked as a trigger, no arguments are passed in the usual way, but the FunctionCallInfoBaseData's context field points at a TriggerData structure, rather than being NULL as it is in a plain function call. A language handler should provide mechanisms for procedural-language functions to get at the trigger information.

This is a template for a procedural-language handler written in C:

#include "postgres.h"
#include "executor/spi.h"
#include "commands/trigger.h"
#include "fmgr.h"
#include "access/heapam.h"
#include "utils/syscache.h"
#include "catalog/pg_proc.h"
#include "catalog/pg_type.h"



    Datum          retval;

    if (CALLED_AS_TRIGGER(fcinfo))
         * Called as a trigger function
        TriggerData    *trigdata = (TriggerData *) fcinfo->context;

        retval = ...
         * Called as a function

        retval = ...

    return retval;

Only a few thousand lines of code have to be added instead of the dots to complete the call handler.

After having compiled the handler function into a loadable module (see Section 38.10.5), the following commands then register the sample procedural language:

CREATE FUNCTION plsample_call_handler() RETURNS language_handler
    AS 'filename'
    HANDLER plsample_call_handler;

Although providing a call handler is sufficient to create a minimal procedural language, there are two other functions that can optionally be provided to make the language more convenient to use. These are a validator and an inline handler. A validator can be provided to allow language-specific checking to be done during CREATE FUNCTION. An inline handler can be provided to allow the language to support anonymous code blocks executed via the DO command.

If a validator is provided by a procedural language, it must be declared as a function taking a single parameter of type oid. The validator's result is ignored, so it is customarily declared to return void. The validator will be called at the end of a CREATE FUNCTION command that has created or updated a function written in the procedural language. The passed-in OID is the OID of the function's pg_proc row. The validator must fetch this row in the usual way, and do whatever checking is appropriate. First, call CheckFunctionValidatorAccess() to diagnose explicit calls to the validator that the user could not achieve through CREATE FUNCTION. Typical checks then include verifying that the function's argument and result types are supported by the language, and that the function's body is syntactically correct in the language. If the validator finds the function to be okay, it should just return. If it finds an error, it should report that via the normal ereport() error reporting mechanism. Throwing an error will force a transaction rollback and thus prevent the incorrect function definition from being committed.

Validator functions should typically honor the check_function_bodies parameter: if it is turned off then any expensive or context-sensitive checking should be skipped. If the language provides for code execution at compilation time, the validator must suppress checks that would induce such execution. In particular, this parameter is turned off by pg_dump so that it can load procedural language functions without worrying about side effects or dependencies of the function bodies on other database objects. (Because of this requirement, the call handler should avoid assuming that the validator has fully checked the function. The point of having a validator is not to let the call handler omit checks, but to notify the user immediately if there are obvious errors in a CREATE FUNCTION command.) While the choice of exactly what to check is mostly left to the discretion of the validator function, note that the core CREATE FUNCTION code only executes SET clauses attached to a function when check_function_bodies is on. Therefore, checks whose results might be affected by GUC parameters definitely should be skipped when check_function_bodies is off, to avoid false failures when restoring a dump.

If an inline handler is provided by a procedural language, it must be declared as a function taking a single parameter of type internal. The inline handler's result is ignored, so it is customarily declared to return void. The inline handler will be called when a DO statement is executed specifying the procedural language. The parameter actually passed is a pointer to an InlineCodeBlock struct, which contains information about the DO statement's parameters, in particular the text of the anonymous code block to be executed. The inline handler should execute this code and return.

It's recommended that you wrap all these function declarations, as well as the CREATE LANGUAGE command itself, into an extension so that a simple CREATE EXTENSION command is sufficient to install the language. See Section 38.17 for information about writing extensions.

The procedural languages included in the standard distribution are good references when trying to write your own language handler. Look into the src/pl subdirectory of the source tree. The CREATE LANGUAGE reference page also has some useful details.