Name Resolution

This version of CockroachDB is no longer supported. For more details, see the Release Support Policy.

Changed in v2.0: A query can specify a table name without a database or schema name (e.g., SELECT * FROM orders). How does CockroachDB know which orders table is being considered and in which schema?

This page details how CockroachDB performs name resolution to answer this question.

Logical Schemas And Namespaces

New in v2.0: A CockroachDB cluster can store multiple databases, and each database can store multiple tables/views/sequences. This two-level structure for stored data is commonly called the "logical schema" in relational database management systems.

Meanwhile, CockroachDB aims to provide compatibility with PostgreSQL client applications and thus supports PostgreSQL's semantics for SQL queries. To achieve this, CockroachDB supports a three-level structure for names. This is called the "naming hierarchy".

In the naming hierarchy, the path to a stored object has three components:

  • database name (also called "catalog")
  • schema name
  • object name

The schema name for all stored objects in any given database is always public. There is only a single schema available for stored objects because CockroachDB only supports a two-level storage structure.

In addition to public, CockroachDB also supports a fixed set of virtual schemas, available in every database, that provide ancillary, non-stored data to client applications. For example, information_schema is provided for compatibility with the SQL standard.

The list of all databases can be obtained with SHOW DATABASES. The list of all schemas for a given database can be obtained with SHOW SCHEMAS. The list of all objects for a given schema can be obtained with other SHOW statements.

How Name Resolution Works

Name resolution occurs separately to look up existing objects and to decide the full name of a new object.

The rules to look up an existing object are as follows:

  1. If the name already fully specifies the database and schema, use that information.
  2. If the name has a single component prefix, try to find a schema with the prefix name in the current database. If that fails, try to find the object in the public schema of a database with the prefix name.
  3. If the name has no prefix, use the search path with the current database.

Similarly, the rules to decide the full name of a new object are as follows:

  1. If the name already fully specifies the database and schema, use that.
  2. If the name has a single component prefix, try to find a schema with that name. If no such schema exists, use the public schema in the database with the prefix name.
  3. If the name has no prefix, use the current schema in the current database.

Parameters for Name Resolution

Current Database

The current database is used when a name is unqualified or has only one component prefix. It is the current value of the database session variable.

  • You can view the current value of the database session variable with SHOW database and change it with SET database.

  • You can inspect the list of valid database names that can be specified in database with SHOW DATABASES.

  • For client apps that connect to CockroachDB using a URL of the form postgres://..., the initial value of the database session variable can be set using the path component of the URL. For example, postgres://node/mydb sets database to mydb when the connection is established.

Search Path

The search path is used when a name is unqualified (has no prefix). It lists the schemas where objects are looked up. Its first element is also the current schema where new objects are created.

  • You can set the current search path with SET search_path and inspected it with SHOW search_path.

  • You can inspect the list of valid schemas that can be listed in search_path with SHOW SCHEMAS.

  • By default, the search path contains public and pg_catalog. For compatibility with PostgreSQL, pg_catalog is forced to be present in search_path at all times, even when not specified with SET search_path.

Current Schema

The current schema is used as target schema when creating a new object if the name is unqualified (has no prefix).

  • The current schema is always the first value of search_path, for compatibility with PostgreSQL.

  • You can inspect the current schema using the special built-in function/identifier current_schema().


The examples below use the following logical schema as a starting point:

> CREATE TABLE mydb.mytable(x INT);
> SET database = mydb;

Lookup with Unqualified Names

An unqualified name is a name with no prefix, that is, a simple identifier.

> SELECT * FROM mytable;

This uses the search path over the current database. The search path is public by default, in the current database. The resolved name is mydb.public.mytable.

> SET database = system;
> SELECT * FROM mytable;
pq: relation "mytable" does not exist

This uses the search path over the current database, which is now system. No schema in the search path contain table mytable, so the look up fails with an error.

Lookup with Fully Qualified Names

A fully qualified name is a name with two prefix components, that is, three identifiers separated by periods.

> SELECT * FROM mydb.public.mytable;

Both the database and schema components are specified. The lookup succeeds if and only if the object exists at that specific location.

Lookup with Partially Qualified Names

A partially qualified name is a name with one prefix component, that is, two identifiers separated by a period. When a name is partially qualified, CockroachDB will try to use the prefix as a schema name first; and if that fails, use it as a database name.

For example:

> SELECT * FROM public.mytable;

This looks up mytable in the public schema of the current database. If the current database is mydb, the lookup succeeds.

For compatibility with CockroachDB 1.x, and to ease development in multi-database scenarios, CockroachDB also allows queries to specify a database name in a partially qualified name. For example:

> SELECT * FROM mydb.mytable;

In that case, CockroachDB will first attempt to find a schema called mydb in the current database. When no such schema exists (which is the case with the starting point in this section), it then tries to find a database called mydb and uses the public schema in that. In this example, this rule applies and the fully resolved name is mydb.public.mytable.

Using the Search Path to Use Tables Across Schemas

Suppose that a client frequently accesses a stored table as well as a virtual table in the Information Schema. Because information_schema is not in the search path by default, all queries that need to access it must mention it explicitly.

For example:

> SELECT * FROM mydb.information_schema.schemata; -- valid
> SELECT * FROM information_schema.schemata; -- valid; uses mydb implicitly
> SELECT * FROM schemata; -- invalid; information_schema not in search_path

For clients that use information_schema often, you can add it to the search path to simplify queries. For example:

> SET search_path = public, information_schema;
> SELECT * FROM schemata; -- now valid, uses search_path

Databases with Special Names

When resolving a partially qualified name with just one component prefix, CockroachDB will look up a schema with the given prefix name first, and only look up a database with that name if the schema lookup fails. This matters in the (likely uncommon) case where you wish your database to be called information_schema, public, pg_catalog or crdb_internal.

For example:

> SET database = mydb;
> CREATE TABLE public.mypublictable (x INT);

The CREATE TABLE statement in this example uses a partially qualified name. Because the public prefix designates a valid schema in the current database, the full name of mypublictable becomes mydb.public.mypublictable. The table is created in database mydb.

To create the table in database public, one would instead use a fully qualified name, as follows:

> CREATE TABLE public.public.mypublictable (x INT);

See Also

YesYes NoNo