The array[] value constructor

The array[] value constructor is a special variadic function. Uniquely among all the functions described in this "Array data types and functionality" major section, it uses square brackets ([]) to surround its list of actual arguments.

Purpose and signature

Purpose: Create an array value from scratch using an expression for each of the array's values. Such an expression can itself use the array[] constructor or an array literal.


input value:       [anyarray | [ anyelement, [anyelement]* ]
return value:      anyarray

Note: You can meet the goal of creating an array from directly specified values, instead, by using an array literal.

These thee ordinary functions also create an array value from scratch:

  • array_fill() creates a "blank canvas" array of the specified shape with all values set the same to what you want.
  • array_agg() creates an array (of, in general, an implied "row" type) from a SQL subquery.
  • text_to_array() creates a text[]array from a single text value that uses a specifiable delimiter to beak it into individual values.


create type rt as (f1 int, f2 text);
select array[(1, 'a')::rt, (2, 'b')::rt, (3, 'dog \ house')::rt]::rt[] as arr;

This is the result:

 {"(1,a)","(2,b)","(3,\"dog \\\\ house\")"}

Whenever an array value is shown in ysqlsh, it is implicitly ::text typecast. This text value can be used immediately by enquoting it and typecasting it to the appropriate array data type to recreate the starting value. The YSQL documentation refers to this form of the literal as its canonical form. It is characterized by its complete lack of whitespace except within text scalar values and within date-time scalar values. This term is defined formally in Defining the canonical form of a literal.

To learn why you see four consecutive backslashes, see Statement of the rules.

Users who are familiar with the rules that are described in that section often find it expedient, for example when prototyping code that builds an array literal, to create an example value first, ad hoc, using the array[] constructor, like the code above does, to see an example of the syntax that their code must create programmatically.

Using the array[] constructor in PL/pgSQL code

The example below attempts to make many teaching points in one piece of code.

  • The actual syntax, when the expressions that the array[] constructor uses are all literals, is far simpler than the syntax that governs how to construct an array literal.
  • You can use all of the YSQL array functionality in PL/pgSQL code, just as you can in SQL statements. The code creates and invokes a table function, and not just a DO block, to emphasize this interoperability point.
  • Array-like functionality is essential in any programming language.
  • The array[] constructor is most valuable when the expressions that it uses are composed using declared variables, and especially formal parameters, that are used to build whatever values are intended. In this example, the values have the user-defined data type "rt". In other words, the array[] constructor is particularly valuable when you build an array programmatically from scalar values that you know first at run time.
  • It vividly demonstrates the semantic effect of the array[] constructor like this:
  r     rt[];
  two_d rt[];
  assert (array_dims(r) = '[1:3]'), 'assert failed';
  one_d_1 := array[r[1], r[2], r[3]];
  assert (one_d_1 = r), 'assert failed';

array_dims() is documented in the "Functions for reporting the geometric properties of an array" section.

Run this to create the required user-defined "row" type and the table function and then to invoke it.

-- Don't create "type rt" if it's still there following the previous example.
create type rt as (f1 int, f2 text);

create function some_arrays()
  returns table(arr text)
  language plpgsql
as $body$
  i1 constant int := 1;
  t1 constant text := 'a';
  r1 constant rt := (i1, t1);

  i2 constant int := 2;
  t2 constant text := 'b';
  r2 constant rt := (i2, t2);

  i3 constant int := 3;
  t3 constant text := 'dog \ house';
  r3 constant rt := (i3, t3);

  a1 constant rt[] := array[r1, r2, r3];
  arr := a1::text;
  return next;

    r rt[];
    one_d_1 rt[];
    one_d_2 rt[];
    one_d_3 rt[];
    two_d   rt[];
    n int not null := 0;
    -- Show how arrays are useful, in the classic
    -- sense, as what EVERY programming language
    -- needs to handle a number of items when the
    -- number isn't known until run time.
    for j in 1..3 loop
      n := j + 100;
      r[j] := (n, chr(n));
    end loop;

    -- This further demonstrates the semantics
    -- of the array[] constructor.
    assert (array_dims(r) = '[1:3]'), 'assert failed';
    one_d_1 := array[r[1], r[2], r[3]];
    assert (one_d_1 = r), 'assert failed';

    one_d_2 := array[(104, chr(104)), (105, chr(105)), (106, chr(106))];
    one_d_3 := array[(107, chr(107)), (108, chr(108)), (109, chr(109))];

    -- Show how the expressions that define the outcome
    -- of the array[] constructor can themselves be arrays.
    two_d := array[one_d_1, one_d_2, one_d_3];
    arr := two_d::text;
    return next;


select arr from some_arrays();

It produces two rows. This is the first:

 {"(1,a)","(2,b)","(3,\"dog \\\\ house\")"}

And this is the second row. The readability was improved by adding some whitespace manually:


Using the array[] constructor in a prepared statement

This example emphasizes the value of using the array[] constructor over using an array literal because it lets you use expressions like chr() within it.

-- Don't create "type rt" if it's still there followng the previous examples.
create type rt as (f1 int, f2 text);
create table t(k serial primary key, arr rt[]);

prepare stmt(rt[]) as insert into t(arr) values($1);

-- It's essential to typecast the individual "rt" values.
execute stmt(array[(104, chr(104))::rt, (105, chr(105))::rt, (106, chr(106))::rt]);

This execution of the prepared statement, using an array literal as the actual argument, is semantically equivalent:

execute stmt('{"(104,h)","(105,i)","(106,j)"}');

But here, of course, you just have to know in advance that chr(104) is h, and so on. Prove that the results of the two executions of the prepared statement are identical thus:

    (select arr from t where k = 1)
    (select arr from t where k = 2)
  )::text as result;

It shows this: