Advanced Oracle PL/SQL Programming with Packages

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Objectives of This Book
Structure of This Book
Conventions Used in This Book
About the Disk
About PL/Vision
Comments and Questions

Who would have thought that just one year after the publication of Oracle PL/SQL Programming,[1] a 916-page tome on "everything PL/SQL", I'd end up writing a second book about the PL/SQL language? Although back in September 1995 I wasn't arrogant enough to think that I knew all there was to know about PL/SQL, I also underestimated how much more I had still to learn!

I am firmly of the belief that one never stops learning -- as long as one is open to learning. The area of PL/SQL in which I needed lots more education turned out to be packages. In my first book I explained how to build and use packages. I even provided lots of examples of package construction. But I started to realize that this wasn't enough. Over the past year, I have been designing and developing a set of packages to help me build PL/SQL-based applications. This was a thoroughly selfish effort: I wanted to be as productive as possible, and I wanted to overcome a number of weaknesses -- however transient -- in the PL/SQL language. In the process of writing this software, I learned a good deal about the best ways to build PL/SQL code, especially regarding packages. I also discovered some very interesting techniques that can make packaged software more maintainable, accessible, and easy to use.

As my thinking on the construction of packages crystallized, I began to view all of my packages as a library of code that could be used by any PL/SQL developer. I also realized that I wanted to share the new techniques and lessons I had uncovered. The result? This book and the PL/Vision product.

How often do you find yourself writing a program and simultaneously thinking: somebody must have done this before! You feel certain that you are reinventing the wheel. Worse, if you are sufficiently honest with yourself, you will also admit that someone else has probably spent more time on the problem and has already come up with a better solution than you are likely to develop for your specific application.

Often, you know you should take the time to "genericize" a program so that you can use it again and again in different circumstances. Somehow, however, you never find the time -- and the mental space -- to take your code to that higher level of abstraction.

So you limp along, accepting a relatively low level of productivity and reusing a truly minimal amount of code. You write the same things over and over and simply push aside the feeling that you are wasting your time.

Oracle developers are fortunate to be able to use an advanced, robust language like PL/SQL. PL/SQL developers are, on the other hand, less than fortunate (at least as of September 1996) to find that the supporting environment for PL/SQL is still very immature. Where are the debuggers, the code formatters and generators, the toolboxes of reusable programs and objects? When will we have a powerful editor that knows about PL/SQL syntax and -- more importantly -- the stored code available for execution?

When, you might also ask, will this guy stop complaining? It is acceptable to identify weaknesses. It is constructive to analyze areas for improvement. At some point, however, you have to stop whining and start improving things for yourself. Best yet, keep on whining but engage in self-improvement at the same time!

This book will help you write better packages. It will also show you how to use the "prebuilt" packages of the PL/Vision software product -- my attempt to change the "situation on the ground" for PL/SQL programmers. Finally, I hope that it will, via examination of my source code and the way I separated functional areas in PL/Vision, offer a blueprint for PL/SQL developers to discover how to take full advantage of PL/SQL packages in their day-to-day programming.

Objectives of This Book

Why did I write this book? I have the following modest objectives:

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