Monday, December 13, 2010

More Indicator Variables Available in DB2 10 for z/OS

As you all should know by now, version 10 of DB2 doe z/OS is generally available and has been for a month or so now. As such, it is probably time that I start to blog about some of the features of the new release. But instead of starting with one of the bigger features, that you already may have heard about, I decided to start with a feature that has flown somewhat under the radar: extended indicator variables.

Those of you who write programs that deal with possibly null results should know what an indicator variable is. Basically, DB2 represents null in a special variable known as an indicator. An indicator is defined to DB2 for each column that can accept nulls. The indicator variable is transparent to the end user, but must be provided for when programming in a host language (such as COBOL or PL/I). If the indicator variable is less than zero, then the column to which it applies has returned NULL.

DB2 10 for z/OS enhances and extends the concept of an indicator variable so they can be used outside the scope of nullability. Consider the scenario where a program is being written to modify data. There are multiple combinations of columns that may need to be modified based on conditional programmatic processing. Maybe the program is for editing customer data. The customer has multiple columns that could be modified: name, address, telephone number, credit rating, etc. So the programmer codes up an online screen (e.g. CICS) with all of the data that can then be changed by the end user.

But what happens when the end user cracks the enter key to submit the changes? What actually changed and what stayed the same? Does the program check every value on the screen (perhaps hundreds) and build every UPDATE statement iteration for data that might have been changed? Unlikely, since that would require x! statements (where x is the total number of columns). For non-mathematicians a discussion of factorial can be found here (

Yes, there are CICS options to help the programmer determine which values have changed (or simply save and compare). But until now, dealing with all the potential SQL statements could be problematic. Well, DB2 10 indicator variables come to the rescue. As of DB2 10 NFM you can use indicator variables to inform DB2 whether the value for an associated host variable has been supplied or not… and to specify how DB2 should handle the missing value.

This is an extended indicator variable. And it can be applied to host variables and parameter markers. Whether you will use extended indicator variables can be enabled at the package level, by using the EXTENDEDINDICATOR option of the BIND PACKAGE command. You can also enable extended indicator variables on a statement level for dynamic SQL by using the WITH EXTENDED INDICATORS attribute on the PREPARE statement.

How would this work? Well, extended indicator variables can be specified only for host variables that appear in the following situations:

  • The set assignment list of an UPDATE operation in UPDATE or MERGE statements
  • The values list of an INSERT operation in INSERT or MERGE statements
  • The select list of an INSERT statement in the FROM clause
OK, then, how would we use an extended indicator variable? By setting its value to tell DB2 how to proceeed. The following values are available:

  • 0 (zero) or a positive integer: This indicates the first host identifier provides the value of this host variable reference and it is not null.
  • -1, -2, -3, -4, or -6: This indicates a null.
  • -5: If extended indicator variables are not enabled, this indicates a null; otherwise, a value of -5 indicates that the DEFAULT value is to be used for the target column for this host variable.
  • -7: If extended indicator variables are not enabled, this indicates a null; otherwise, a value of -7 indicates that the UNASSIGNED value is to be used for the target column for this host variable (in other words, treat it as if it were not specified in this statement).

For an INSERT, -5 and -7 settings for an extended indicator variable will end up with the same result. This is so because the INSERT statement works by inserting a default value for any column that is missing. On the other hand, for UPDATE and the UPDATE portion of a MERGE, setting the extended indicator variable to -5 leads to the column being update to the default value, but -7 leads to the update of the column not being applied.

With extended indicator variables then, there is no need for the application to re-send a column’s current value, or to know a column’s DEFAULT value. Which should make things easier for developers.