NULL Handling

On this page Carat arrow pointing down
Warning:
Cockroach Labs will stop providing Assistance Support for v21.1 on November 18, 2022. Prior to that date, upgrade to a more recent version to continue receiving support. For more details, see the Release Support Policy.

NULL is the term used to represent a missing value. A NULL value in a table is a value in a field that appears to be blank. A field with a NULL value is a field with no value.

This page summarizes how NULL values are handled in CockroachDB SQL. Each topic is demonstrated via the built-in SQL client.

When using the built-in client, NULL values are displayed using the word NULL. This distinguishes them from a character field that contains an empty string ("").

NULLs and simple comparisons

Any simple comparison between a value and NULL results in NULL. The remaining cases are described in the next section.

This behavior is consistent with PostgreSQL as well as all other major RDBMS's.

icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO customers (customer_id, cust_name, cust_email) VALUES (1, 'Smith', NULL);
icon/buttons/copy
> CREATE TABLE t1(
  a INT,
  b INT,
  c INT
);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(1, 0, 0);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(2, 0, 1);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(3, 1, 0);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(4, 1, 1);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(5, NULL, 0);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(6, NULL, 1);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t1 VALUES(7, NULL, NULL);
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1;
+---+------+------+
| a |  b   |  c   |
+---+------+------+
| 1 |    0 |    0 |
| 2 |    0 |    1 |
| 3 |    1 |    0 |
| 4 |    1 |    1 |
| 5 | NULL |    0 |
| 6 | NULL |    1 |
| 7 | NULL | NULL |
+---+------+------+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE b < 10;
+---+---+---+
| a | b | c |
+---+---+---+
| 1 | 0 | 0 |
| 2 | 0 | 1 |
| 3 | 1 | 0 |
| 4 | 1 | 1 |
+---+---+---+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE NOT b > 10;
+---+---+---+
| a | b | c |
+---+---+---+
| 1 | 0 | 0 |
| 2 | 0 | 1 |
| 3 | 1 | 0 |
| 4 | 1 | 1 |
+---+---+---+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE b < 10 OR c = 1;
+---+------+---+
| a |  b   | c |
+---+------+---+
| 1 |    0 | 0 |
| 2 |    0 | 1 |
| 3 |    1 | 0 |
| 4 |    1 | 1 |
| 6 | NULL | 1 |
+---+------+---+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE b < 10 AND c = 1;
+---+---+---+
| a | b | c |
+---+---+---+
| 2 | 0 | 1 |
| 4 | 1 | 1 |
+---+---+---+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE NOT (b < 10 AND c = 1);
+---+------+---+
| a |  b   | c |
+---+------+---+
| 1 |    0 | 0 |
| 3 |    1 | 0 |
| 5 | NULL | 0 |
+---+------+---+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE NOT (c = 1 AND b < 10);
+---+------+---+
| a |  b   | c |
+---+------+---+
| 1 |    0 | 0 |
| 3 |    1 | 0 |
| 5 | NULL | 0 |
+---+------+---+

Use the IS NULL or IS NOT NULL clauses when checking for NULL values.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 WHERE b IS NULL AND c IS NOT NULL;
+---+------+---+
| a |  b   | c |
+---+------+---+
| 5 | NULL | 0 |
| 6 | NULL | 1 |
+---+------+---+

NULLs and conditional operators

The conditional operators (including IF, COALESCE, IFNULL) only evaluate some operands depending on the value of a condition operand, so their result is not always NULL depending on the given operands.

For example, COALESCE(1, NULL) will always return 1 even though the second operand is NULL.

NULLs and ternary logic

AND, OR and IS implement ternary logic, as follows.

Expression Result
FALSE AND FALSE FALSE
FALSE AND TRUE FALSE
FALSE AND NULL FALSE
TRUE AND FALSE FALSE
TRUE AND TRUE TRUE
TRUE AND NULL NULL
NULL AND FALSE FALSE
NULL AND TRUE NULL
NULL AND NULL NULL
Expression Result
FALSE OR FALSE FALSE
FALSE OR TRUE TRUE
FALSE OR NULL NULL
TRUE OR FALSE TRUE
TRUE OR TRUE TRUE
TRUE OR NULL TRUE
NULL OR FALSE NULL
NULL OR TRUE TRUE
NULL OR NULL NULL
Expression Result
FALSE IS FALSE TRUE
FALSE IS TRUE FALSE
FALSE IS NULL FALSE
TRUE IS FALSE FALSE
TRUE IS TRUE TRUE
TRUE IS NULL FALSE
NULL IS FALSE FALSE
NULL IS TRUE FALSE
NULL IS NULL TRUE

NULLs and arithmetic

Arithmetic operations involving a NULL value will yield a NULL result.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT a, b, c, b*0, b*c, b+c FROM t1;
+---+------+------+-------+-------+-------+
| a |  b   |  c   | b * 0 | b * c | b + c |
+---+------+------+-------+-------+-------+
| 1 |    0 |    0 |     0 |     0 |     0 |
| 2 |    0 |    1 |     0 |     0 |     1 |
| 3 |    1 |    0 |     0 |     0 |     1 |
| 4 |    1 |    1 |     0 |     1 |     2 |
| 5 | NULL |    0 | NULL  | NULL  | NULL  |
| 6 | NULL |    1 | NULL  | NULL  | NULL  |
| 7 | NULL | NULL | NULL  | NULL  | NULL  |
+---+------+------+-------+-------+-------+

NULLs and aggregate functions

Aggregate functions are those that operate on a set of rows and return a single value. The example data has been repeated here to make it easier to understand the results.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1;
+---+------+------+
| a |  b   |  c   |
+---+------+------+
| 1 |    0 |    0 |
| 2 |    0 |    1 |
| 3 |    1 |    0 |
| 4 |    1 |    1 |
| 5 | NULL |    0 |
| 6 | NULL |    1 |
| 7 | NULL | NULL |
+---+------+------+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT COUNT(*), COUNT(b), SUM(b), AVG(b), MIN(b), MAX(b) FROM t1;
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------+--------+
| COUNT(*) | COUNT(b) | SUM(b) |       AVG(b)       | MIN(b) | MAX(b) |
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------+--------+
|        7 |        4 |      2 | 0.5000000000000000 |      0 |      1 |
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------+--------+

Note the following:

  • NULL values are not included in the COUNT() of a column. COUNT(*) returns 7 while COUNT(b) returns 4.

  • NULL values are not considered as high or low values in MIN() or MAX().

  • AVG(b) returns SUM(b)/COUNT(b), which is different than AVG(*) as NULL values are not considered in the COUNT(b) of rows. See NULLs as Other Values for more details.

NULL as a distinct value

NULL values are considered distinct from other values and are included in the list of distinct values from a column.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT DISTINCT b FROM t1;
+------+
|  b   |
+------+
|    0 |
|    1 |
| NULL |
+------+

However, counting the number of distinct values excludes NULLs, which is consistent with the COUNT() function.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT b) FROM t1;
+-------------------+
| count(DISTINCT b) |
+-------------------+
|                 2 |
+-------------------+

NULLs as other values

In some cases, you may want to include NULL values in arithmetic or aggregate function calculations. To do so, use the IFNULL() function to substitute a value for NULL during calculations.

For example, let's say you want to calculate the average value of column b as being the SUM() of all numbers in b divided by the total number of rows, regardless of whether b's value is NULL. In this case, you would use AVG(IFNULL(b, 0)), where IFNULL(b, 0) substitutes a value of zero (0) for NULLs during the calculation.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT COUNT(*), COUNT(b), SUM(b), AVG(b), AVG(IFNULL(b, 0)), MIN(b), MAX(b) FROM t1;
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------------------+--------+--------+
| COUNT(*) | COUNT(b) | SUM(b) |       AVG(b)       | AVG(IFNULL(b, 0))  | MIN(b) | MAX(b) |
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------------------+--------+--------+
|        7 |        4 |      2 | 0.5000000000000000 | 0.2857142857142857 |      0 |      1 |
+----------+----------+--------+--------------------+--------------------+--------+--------+

NULLs and set operations

NULL values are considered as part of a UNION set operation.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT b FROM t1 UNION SELECT b FROM t1;
+------+
|  b   |
+------+
|    0 |
|    1 |
| NULL |
+------+

NULLs and sorting

When sorting a column containing NULL values, CockroachDB sorts NULL values first with ASC and last with DESC. This differs from PostgreSQL, which sorts NULL values last with ASC and first with DESC.

CockroachDB supports NULLS FIRST and NULLS LAST in ORDER BY clauses. However, in some cases the support is syntax-only—an error is returned if NULLS FIRST or NULLS LAST specification doesn't "match" the internal structure of the used index. If the index is ascending, the error is returned for NULLS LAST; if the index is descending, the error is returned for NULLS FIRST.

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 ORDER BY b ASC;
+---+------+------+
| a |  b   |  c   |
+---+------+------+
| 6 | NULL |    1 |
| 5 | NULL |    0 |
| 7 | NULL | NULL |
| 1 |    0 |    0 |
| 2 |    0 |    1 |
| 4 |    1 |    1 |
| 3 |    1 |    0 |
+---+------+------+
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t1 ORDER BY b DESC;
+---+------+------+
| a |  b   |  c   |
+---+------+------+
| 4 |    1 |    1 |
| 3 |    1 |    0 |
| 2 |    0 |    1 |
| 1 |    0 |    0 |
| 7 | NULL | NULL |
| 6 | NULL |    1 |
| 5 | NULL |    0 |
+---+------+------+

NULLs and unique constraints

NULL values are not considered unique. Therefore, if a table has a Unique constraint on one or more columns that are optional (nullable), it is possible to insert multiple rows with NULL values in those columns, as shown in the example below.

icon/buttons/copy
> CREATE TABLE t2(a INT, b INT UNIQUE);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t2 VALUES(1, 1);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t2 VALUES(2, NULL);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO t2 VALUES(3, NULL);
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM t2;
+---+------+
| a |  b   |
+---+------+
| 1 |    1 |
| 2 | NULL |
| 3 | NULL |
+---+------+

NULLs and CHECK Constraints

A CHECK constraint expression that evaluates to NULL is considered to pass, allowing for concise expressions like discount < price without worrying about adding OR discount IS NULL clauses. When non-null validation is desired, the usual NOT NULL constraint can be used along side a Check constraint.

icon/buttons/copy
> CREATE TABLE products (id STRING PRIMARY KEY, price INT NOT NULL CHECK (price > 0), discount INT, CHECK (discount <= price));
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO products (id, price) VALUES ('ncc-1701-d', 100);
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO products (id, price, discount) VALUES ('ncc-1701-a', 100, 50);
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT * FROM products;
+----------+-------+----------+
|    id    | price | discount |
+----------+-------+----------+
| ncc1701a |   100 |       50 |
| ncc1701d |   100 | NULL     |
+----------+-------+----------+
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO products (id, price) VALUES ('ncc-1701-b', -5);
failed to satisfy CHECK constraint (price > 0)
icon/buttons/copy
> INSERT INTO products (id, price, discount) VALUES ('ncc-1701-b', 100, 150);
failed to satisfy CHECK constraint (discount <= price)

NULLs and concatenation with other types

New in v21.1: Concatenation between a non-NULL value and a NULL value results in a NULL value.

Note:

In CockroachDB v20.2 and earlier, for all values other than STRING, concatenation between a non-NULL value and a NULL value results in an ARRAY of the non-NULL value's type. To return an ARRAY of a specific type from a NULL concatenation in CockroachDB v21.1 and later, cast the NULL value to an ARRAY.

For example:

icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT NULL || 1;
  ?column?
------------
  NULL
(1 row)
icon/buttons/copy
> SELECT NULL || `item`;
  ?column?
------------
  NULL
(1 row)

Yes No
On this page

Yes No