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Postgres Character data types

Work with text data in Postgres

In Postgres, character data types are used to store strings. There are three primary character types: CHAR(n), VARCHAR(n), and TEXT. CHAR(n) and VARCHAR(n) types are suitable for strings with known or limited length; for example, usernames and email addresses. Whereas TEXT is ideal for storing large variable-length strings, such as blog posts or product descriptions.

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Storage and syntax

  • VARCHAR(n) allows storing any string up to n characters.
  • CHAR(n) stores strings in a fixed length. If a string is shorter than n, it is padded with spaces.
  • TEXT has no length limit, making it ideal for large texts.

Storing strings requires one or a few bytes of overhead over the actual string length. CHAR and VARCHAR columns need an extra check at input time to ensure the string length is within the specified limit. Most Postgres string functions take and return TEXT values.

String values are represented as literals in single quotes. For example, 'hello' is a string literal.

Example usage

Consider a database tracking data for a library. We have books with titles and optional descriptions. Titles are usually of a similar length, so they can be modeled with a CHAR type. However, descriptions can vary significantly in length, so they are assigned the TEXT type.

The query below creates a books table and inserts some sample data:

    title CHAR(50),
    description TEXT

INSERT INTO books (title, description)
    ('Postgres Guide', 'A comprehensive guide to PostgreSQL.'),
    ('Data Modeling Essentials', NULL),
    ('SQL for Professionals', 'An in-depth look at advanced SQL techniques.');

To find books with descriptions, you can use the following query:

SELECT title
FROM books
WHERE description IS NOT NULL;

This query returns the following:

 Postgres Guide
 SQL for Professionals

Other examples

String functions and operators

Postgres provides various functions and operators for manipulating character data. For instance, the || operator concatenates strings.

The query below joins the title and description columns together:

SELECT title || ' - ' || description AS full_description
FROM books;

This query returns the following:

 Postgres Guide - A comprehensive guide to PostgreSQL.

 SQL for Professionals - An in-depth look at advanced SQL techniques.

For more string functions and operators, see PostgreSQL String Functions and Operators.

Pattern matching

With VARCHAR and TEXT, you can use pattern matching to find specific text. The LIKE operator is commonly used for this purpose.

SELECT id, title
FROM books
WHERE title LIKE 'Data%';

This returns books whose titles start with "Data".

id |                       title
  2 | Data Modeling Essentials

Additional considerations

  • Performance: There are no significant performance differences between any of the types. Using fixed/limited length types, CHAR and VARCHAR can be useful for data validation.
  • Function Support: All character types support a wide range of functions and operators for string manipulation and pattern matching.


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