Sql – Why does Oracle 9i treat an empty string as NULL


I know that it does consider ' ' as NULL, but that doesn't do much to tell me why this is the case. As I understand the SQL specifications, ' ' is not the same as NULL — one is a valid datum, and the other is indicating the absence of that same information.

Feel free to speculate, but please indicate if that's the case. If there's anyone from Oracle who can comment on it, that'd be fantastic!

Best Solution

I believe the answer is that Oracle is very, very old.

Back in the olden days before there was a SQL standard, Oracle made the design decision that empty strings in VARCHAR/VARCHAR2 columns were NULL and that there was only one sense of NULL (there are relational theorists that would differentiate between data that has never been prompted for, data where the answer exists but is not known by the user, data where there is no answer, etc. all of which constitute some sense of NULL).

By the time that the SQL standard came around and agreed that NULL and the empty string were distinct entities, there were already Oracle users that had code that assumed the two were equivalent. So Oracle was basically left with the options of breaking existing code, violating the SQL standard, or introducing some sort of initialization parameter that would change the functionality of potentially large number of queries. Violating the SQL standard (IMHO) was the least disruptive of these three options.

Oracle has left open the possibility that the VARCHAR data type would change in a future release to adhere to the SQL standard (which is why everyone uses VARCHAR2 in Oracle since that data type's behavior is guaranteed to remain the same going forward).