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Thursday, February 12, 2009

WTF is that? (ep. 2)

Today, the next episode of the Oracle WTF stories. One of my colleague brought to my attention the fact that the DECODE function doesn't work as expected when used with dates. He had a very simple test case:

create table muci (my_date date);

insert into muci
select decode(to_date('30/12/2099', 'dd/mm/yyyy'),
to_date('30/12/2099', 'dd/mm/yyyy')) from dual;

He asked me: what we'll have in "MUCI" table after running the statements above? I didn't think too much. I realized that SYSDATE is not likely to be 30/12/2099, even the possibility of having a wrong setting in the OS clock couldn't be excluded, but anyway, I simply said that the final result should be 30/12/2099.

Let's take a look:

SQL> select to_char(my_date, 'dd/mm/yyyy') from muci;


Well, this was unexpected.. WTF? What's wrong with the YEAR? Even with a wrong OS clock setting this shouldn't happen. The reason must be somewhere else. Because I remembered that the result of DECODE depends on the type of the arguments, I said: let's look into docs! Yeap, the answer was there: "if the first result is null, then Oracle converts the return value to the datatype VARCHAR2". How this applies to our test case? It's simple: in fact, the whole result of the DECODE is a VARCHAR2 and not a DATE as one might think. The VARCHAR2 representation of a plain date value depends on the NLS_DATE_FORMAT, which on our server was:

SQL> select value from nls_session_parameters
where parameter='NLS_DATE_FORMAT';


So, when the INSERT was done, the inserted value was '30/12/99' which was further automatically casted to a DATE according to the NLS_DATE_FORMAT setting and we ended up with a “wrong” year in the final result. Lovely!