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Conditional Expressions

The conditional expressions select one of multiple result values.


The SQL CASE expression is a generic conditional expression, similar to if/else statements in other programming languages. CASE clauses can be used wherever an expression is valid They come in two variants:

WHEN <condition> THEN <result>
[WHEN ...]
[ELSE <result>]

CASE <expression>
WHEN <value> THEN <result>
[WHEN ...]
[ELSE <result>]

In the first variant, each condition is an expression that returns a boolean result. If the condition's result is true, the value of the CASE expression is the result that follows the condition, and the remainder of the CASE expression is not processed. If the condition's result is not true, any subsequent WHEN clauses are examined in the same manner. If no WHEN condition yields true, the value of the CASE expression is the result of the ELSE clause. If the ELSE clause is omitted and no condition is true, the result is null.

E.g., the query

CREATE TABLE test AS VALUES(1),(2),(3);

WHEN a=1 THEN 'one'
WHEN a=2 THEN 'two'
ELSE 'other'
FROM test;

yields the result

a | case
1 | one
2 | two
3 | other

The second form of CASE expressions, sometimes referred to as "simple" case expressions, is similar to a switch statement in C.

First, expression is computed and then compared to each of the value expressions in the WHEN clauses until one is found that is equal to it. If no match is found, the result of the ELSE clause (or a null value) is returned.

The example above can be written using the simple CASE syntax:

WHEN 1 THEN 'one'
WHEN 2 THEN 'two'
ELSE 'other'
FROM test;

A CASE expression does not evaluate any subexpressions that are not needed to determine the result. For example, this is a possible way of avoiding a division-by-zero failure:

SELECT ... WHERE CASE WHEN x <> 0 THEN y/x > 1.5 ELSE false END;

The data types of all the result expressions must be convertible to a single output type.


COALESCE(<value>, ...)

The COALESCE function returns the first of its arguments that is not null. Null is returned only if all arguments are null. It is often used to substitute a default value for null values when data is retrieved for display, for example:

SELECT COALESCE(description, short_description, '(none)') ...

This returns description if it is not null, otherwise short_description if it is not null, otherwise (none).

Like a CASE expression, COALESCE only evaluates the arguments that are needed to determine the result; that is, arguments to the right of the first non-null argument are not evaluated.


NULLIF(<value1>, <value2>)

The NULLIF function returns a null value if value1 equals value2; otherwise it returns value1. This can be used to perform the inverse operation of the COALESCE example given above:

SELECT NULLIF(value, '(none)')

In this example, if value is (none), null is returned, otherwise the value of value is returned.


GREATEST(value, ...)
LEAST(value, ...)

The GREATEST and LEAST functions select the largest or smallest value from a list of any number of expressions. The expressions must all be convertible to a common data type, which will be the type of the result.

By default, NULL values in the list are ignored. The result will be NULL only if all the inputs evaluate to NULL. If NULLs from the inputs should be preserve, use the `PRESERVE NULLS variants. In this case the result will be NULL if any input is NULL.

Note that GREATEST and LEAST are not in the SQL standard, but are a common extension.