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DBI::FAQ -- The Frequently Asked Questions for the Perl5 Database Interface

Frequently Asked Questions for DBI
[ Hermetica ]

DBI Frequently Asked Questions v.0.35
Last updated: June 20th, 1997


    perldoc DBI::FAQ


This document is currently at version 0.35, as of June 20th, 1997.


This document serves to answer the most frequently asked questions on both the DBI Mailing Lists and personally to members of the DBI development team.

Basic Information & Information Sources

1.1 What is DBI, DBperl, Oraperl and *perl?

To quote Tim Bunce, the architect and author of DBI:

    ``DBI is a database access Application Programming Interface (API)
      for the Perl Language. The DBI API Specification defines a set
      of functions, variables and conventions that provide a consistent
      database interface independant of the actual database being used.''

In simple language, the DBI interface allows users to access multiple database types transparently. So, if you connecting to an Oracle, Informix, mSQL, Sybase or whatever database, you don't need to know the underlying mechanics of the interface. The API defined by DBI will work on all these database types.

A similar benefit is gained by the ability to connect to two different databases of different vendor within the one perl script, ie, I want to read data from an Oracle database and insert it back into an Informix database all within one program. The DBI layer allows you to do this simply and powerfully.

Here's a diagram that demonstrates the principle:

[ DBI Architecture ]

DBperl is the old name for the interface specification. It's usually now used to denote perl4 modules on database interfacing, such as, oraperl, isqlperl, ingperl and so on. These interfaces didn't have a standard API and are generally not supported.

Here's a list of old DBperl's, their corresponding DBI counterparts and support information. Please note, the author's listed here generally do not maintain the DBI module for the same database. These email addresses are unverified and should only be used for queries concerning the perl4 modules listed below. DBI driver queries should be directed to the dbi-users mailing list.

  Perl4 Name  Database          Author                  DBI Driver
  ----------  --------          ------                  ----------
  Sybperl     Sybase            Michael Peppler         DBD::Sybase
  Oraperl     Oracle 6 & 7      Kevin Stock             DBD::Oracle
  Ingperl     Ingres            Tim Bunce &             DBD::Ingres
                                Ted Lemon
  Interperl   Interbase         Buzz Moschetti          DBD::Interbase
  Uniperl     Unify 5.0         Rick Wargo              None
  Pgperl      Postgres          Igor Metz               DBD::Pg
  Btreeperl   NDBM              John Conover            SDBM?
  Ctreeperl   C-Tree            John Conover            None
  Cisamperl   Informix C-ISAM   Mathias Koerber         None
  Duaperl     X.500 Directory   Eric Douglas            None
              User Agent

However, some DBI modules have DBperl emulation layers, so, DBD::Oracle for example comes with an Oraperl emulation layer, which allows you to run legacy oraperl scripts without modification. The emulation layer translates the oraperl API calls into the corresponding DBI calls.

Here's a table of emulation layer information:

    Module          Emulation Layer     Status
    ------          ---------------     ------
    DBD::Oracle     Oraperl             Complete
    DBD::Ingres     Ingperl             Complete
    DBD::Informix   Isqlperl            Under development
    DBD::Sybase     Sybperl             Working? ( Needs verification )
    DBD::mSQL       Msqlperl            Experimentally released with 

The Msqlperl emulation is a special case. Msqlperl is a perl5 driver for mSQL databases, but does not conform to the DBI Specification. It's use is being deprecated in favour of DBD::mSQL. Msqlperl may be downloaded from CPAN via:


1.2. Where can I get it from?

DBI is primarily distributed from:


The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network resources should be used for retrieving up-to-date versions of the drivers. Local CPAN sites may be accessed via Tom Christiansen's splendid CPAN multiplexer program located at:


For more specific version information and exact URLs of drivers, please see the DBI drivers list and the DBI module pages which can be found on:


1.3. Where can I get more information?

There are a few information sources on DBI.

DBI Specification

There are two specifications available at this link, the new DBI Draft Specification which is a rapidly evolving document as Tim Bunce and the development team drive towards a stable interface, and the old historical DBperl Specification out of which the current DBI interface evolved.

The latter document should be regarded as being of historical interest only and should not serve as a programming manual, or authoratative in any sense. However, it is still a very useful reference source.

POD documentation

PODs are chunks of documentation usually embedded within perl programs that document the code ``in place'', providing a useful resource for programmers and users of modules. POD for DBI and drivers is beginning to become more commonplace, and documentation for these modules can be read with the following commands.

The DBI Specification

The POD for the DBI Specification can be read with the:

    perldoc DBI


Frequently Asked Questions

This document, the Frequently Asked Questions is also available as POD documentation! You can read this on your own system by typing:

    perldoc DBI::FAQ

This may be more convenient to persons not permanently, or conveniently, connected to the Internet but the document may not be the latest version.


Users of the Oraperl emulation layer bundled with DBD::Oracle, may read up on how to program with the Oraperl interface by typing:

    perldoc Oraperl

This will produce an updated copy of the original oraperl man page written by Kevin Stock for perl4. The oraperl API is fully listed and described there.


Users of the DBD::mSQL module may read about some of the private functions and quirks of that driver by typing:

    perldoc DBD::mSQL
POD in general

Information on writing POD, and on the philosophy of POD in general, can be read by typing:

    perldoc perlpod

Users with the Tk module installed may be interested to learn there is a Tk-based POD reader available called tkpod, which formats POD in a convenient and readable way.

Rambles, Tidbits and Observations

There are a series of occasional rambles from various people on the DBI mailing lists who, in an attempt to clear up a simple point, end up drafting fairly comprehensive documents. These are quite often varying in quality, but do provide some insights into the workings of the interfaces.

``DBI -- The perl5 Database Interface''

This is an article written by Alligator Descartes and Tim Bunce on the structure of DBI. It was published in issue 5 of ``The Perl Journal''. It's extremely good. Go buy the magazine. In fact, buy all of them! ``The Perl Journal''s WWW site is:


This article, published in the November 1996 edition of ``Dr. Dobbs Journal'' concerned DBperl. The author of this edition apparently did not bother to contact any of the DBI development team members for verification of the information contained within his article. Several reviews of the article on the dbi-users mailing list were disparaging, to say the least. The fact the article was written about DBperl instead of DBI hints at the staleness of the information. However, we include the reference for completeness' sake.

``The Perl5 Database Interface''

This item is a book to be written by Alligator Descartes ( for it is me ) and published by O'Reilly and Associates this coming Winter.

Here is the putative table of contents for the book.

     * Introduction
          + Databases
          + CGI / WWW
          + perl
     * Basic Database Concepts
          + Types of Database
               o Flat File
               o AnyDBM
               o RDBMS
          + Using Which Database For What...
     * SQL
          + Why SQL?
          + Structuring Information In Databases
          + Retrieving Data From Databases
          + Manipulating Data and Data Structures
     * DBI Architecture
     * Programming with DBI
          + DBI Initialization
          + Handles
               o Driver Handles
               o Database Handles
               o Statement Handles
          + Connection and Disconnection
          + Handling Errors
          + Issuing Simple Queries
          + Executing Atomic Statements
          + Statement MetaData
          + More perl-ish Statements
          + Binding
          + Transaction Handling
          + Utility Methods
          + Handle Attributes and Dynamic Variables
     * DBI and ODBC
     * The Database Drivers
          + DBD::Oracle and oraperl
          + DBD::Informix and isqlperl
          + DBD::mSQL and Msqlperl
     * Case Studies
          + DBI and the WWW
          + Data Migration and Warehousing
          + Administration Software
     * Appendix: API Reference / Specification
     * Appendix: Resources
README files

The README files included with each driver occasionally contains some very useful information ( no, really! ) that may be pertinent to the user. Please read them. It makes our worthless existences more bearable. These can all be read from the main DBI WWW page at:

Mailing Lists

There are three mailing lists for DBI run by Ted Lemon. These can all be subscribed to and unsubscribed from via the World Wide Web at the URL of:


If you cannot successfully use the WWW form on the above page, please subscribe to the list in the following manner:

    Email: 'dbi-XXX-request@fugue.com' with a message body of

Where 'dbi-XXX' is the name of the mailing list you are interested in. But note that your request will be handled by a human and may take some time.

The lists that users may participate in are:


This mailing list is for announcements only. Very low traffic. The announcements are usually posted on the main DBI WWW page.


This mailing list is intended for the use of developers discussing ideas and concepts for the DBI interface, API and driver mechanics. Only any use for developers, or interested parties. Low traffic.


This mailing list is a general discussion list used for bug reporting, problem discussion and general enquiries. Medium traffic.

Mailing List Archives
US Mailing List Archives

Searchable hypermail archives of the three mailing lists, and some of the much older traffic have been set up for users to browse.

European Mailing List Archives

As per the US archive above.

Compilation Problems

2.1. Compilation problems or "It fails the test!"

First off, consult the online information about the module, beit DBI itself, or a DBD, and see if it's a known compilation problem on your architecture. These documents can be found at:


If it's a known problem, you'll probably have to wait till it gets fixed. If you're really needing it fixed, try the following:

Attempt to fix it yourself

This technique is generally not recommended to the faint-hearted. If you do think you have managed to fix it, then, send a patch file ( context diff ) to the author with an explanation of:

  • What the problem was, and test cases, if possible.

  • What you needed to do to fix it. Please make sure you mention everything.

  • Platform information, database version, perl version (perl -V), module version and DBI version.

Email the author Do NOT whinge!

Please email the address listed in the WWW pages for whichever driver you are having problems with. Do not directly email the author at a known address unless it corresponds with the one listed. Some authors, including Tim Bunce, specifically do not want mail sent directly to them.

We tend to have real jobs to do, and we do read the mailing lists for problems. Besides, we may not have access to <insert your favourite brain-damaged platform here> and couldn't be of any assistance anyway! Apologies for sounding harsh, but that's the way of it!

However, you might catch one of these creative genii at 3am when we're doing this sort of stuff anyway, and get a patch within 5 minutes. The atmosphere in the DBI circle is that we do appreciate the users' problems, since we work in similar environments.

If you are planning to email the author, please furnish as much information as possible, ie:

  • ALL the information asked for in the README file for the problematic module. And we mean ALL of it. We don't put lines like that in documentation for the good of our health, or to meet obscure README file standards of length.

  • If you have a core dump, try the Devel::CoreStack module for generating a stack trace from the core dump. Send us that too. Devel::CoreStack can be found on CPAN at:

  • Module versions, perl version, test cases, operating system versions and any other pertinent information.

Remember, the more information you send us, the quicker we can track problems down. If you send us no useful information, expect nothing back.

Email the dbi-users Mailing List

It's usually a fairly intelligent idea to cc the mailing list anyway with problems. The authors all read the lists, so you lose nothing by mailing there.

Platform and Driver Issues

3.1 What's the difference between ODBC and DBI?

Good question! To be filled in more detail! Meanwhile see the notes at the end of the DBI README file.

3.2 Is DBI supported under Windows 95 / NT platforms?

Finally, yes! Jeff Urlwin has been working diligently on building DBI and DBD::Oracle under these platforms, and, with the advent of a stabler perl and a port of MakeMaker, the project has come on by great leaps and bounds.

Recent DBI and DBD::Oracle modules will build and work out-of-the-box on Win32 with the standard perl 5.004 (or later) version of perl.

If you have to use the old non-standard ActiveWare perl port you can't use the standard DBI and DBD::Oracle modules out-of-the-box. Details of the changes required and pre-patched versions can be found at:


3.3 Can I access Microsoft Access or SQL-Server databases with DBI?

    Contributed by Tim Bunce and Jeff Urlwin

Supplied with DBI-0.79 ( and later ) is an experimental DBI 'emulation layer' for the Win32::ODBC module. It's called DBI::W32ODBC and is, at the moment, very minimal. You will need the Win32::ODBC module available from:


Given its status, problem reports without fixes are likely to be ignored. You will also need the Win32 DBI patch kit as supplied by Jeff Urlwin, which you can locate by reading the previous question's answer.

To get back to the question, theoretically, yes, you can access Microsoft Access and SQL-Server databases from DBI via ODBC!

3.4 Is the a DBD for <insert favourite database here>?

Is is listed on the DBI drivers page?


If not, no. A complete absence of a given database driver from that page means that no-one has announced any intention to work on it.

A corollary of the above statement implies that if you see an announcement for a driver not on the above page, there's a good chance it's not actually a DBI driver, and may not conform to the specifications. Therefore, questions concerning problems with that code should not really be addressed to the DBI Mailing Lists.

3.5 What's DBM? And why should I use DBI instead?

Extracted from ``DBI - The Database Interface for Perl 5'':

    ``UNIX was originally blessed with simple file-based ``databases'', namely
    the dbm system. dbm lets you store data in files, and retrieve
    that data quickly. However, it also has serious drawbacks.

        File Locking

        The dbm systems did not allow particularly robust file locking
        capabilities, nor any capability for correcting problems arising through
        simultaneous writes [ to the database ].

        Arbitrary Data Structures

        The dbm systems only allows a single fixed data structure:
        key-value pairs. That value could be a complex object, such as a
        [ C ] struct, but the key had to be unique. This was a large
        limitation on the usefulness of dbm systems.

    However, dbm systems still provide a useful function for users with
    simple datasets and limited resources, since they are fast, robust and 
    extremely well-tested. Perl modules to access dbm systems have now
    been integrated into the core Perl distribution via the
    AnyDBM_File module.''

To sum up, DBM is a perfectly satisfactory solution for essentially read-only databases, or small and simple datasets with a single user. However, for more powerful and scaleable datasets, not to mention robust transactional locking, users are recommended to use DBI.

3.6 When will mSQL-2 be supported?

As of DBD::mSQL-0.61, there has been support for mSQL-2. However, there is no real support for any of the new methods added to the core mSQL library regarding index support yet. These are forthcoming and will be accessible via func() methods private to DBD::mSQL. You can read more about these private methods in the DBD::mSQL POD that can be found by typing:

    perldoc DBD::mSQL

provided you have DBD::mSQL correctly installed.

3.7 What database do you recommend me using?

This is a particularly thorny area in which an objective answer is difficult to come by, since each dataset, proposed usage and system configuration differs from person to person.

From the current author's point of view, if the dataset is relatively small, being tables of less than 1 million rows, and less than 1000 tables in a given database, then mSQL is a perfectly acceptable solution to your problem. This database is extremely cheap, is wonderfully robust and has excellent support. More information is available on the Hughes Technology WWW site at:


If the dataset is larger than 1 million row tables or 1000 tables, or if you have either more money, or larger machines, I would recommend the Oracle RDBMS. Oracle's WWW site is an excellent source of more information.


Informix is another high-end RDBMS that is worth considering. There are several differences between Oracle and Informix which are too complex for this document to detail. Information on Informix can be found on their WWW site at:


In the case of WWW fronted applications, mSQL may be a better option due to slow connection times between a CGI script and the Oracle RDBMS and also the amount of resource each Oracle connection will consume. mSQL is lighter resource-wise and faster.

These views are not necessarily representative of anyone else's opinions, and do not reflect any corporate sponsorship or views. They are provided as-is.

3.8 Is <insert feature here> supported in DBI?

Given that we're making the assumption that the feature you have requested is a non-standard database-specific feature, then the answer will be no.

DBI reflects a generic API that will work for most databases, and has no database-specific functionality defined.

However, driver authors may, if they so desire, include hooks to database-specific functionality through the func() method defined in the DBI API. Script developers should note that use of functionality provided via the func() methods is unlikely to be portable across databases.

Programming Questions

4.1 Is DBI any use for CGI programming?

In a word, yes! DBI is hugely useful for CGI programming! In fact, I would tentatively say that CGI programming is one of two top uses for DBI.

DBI confers the ability to CGI programmers to power WWW-fronted databases to their users, which provides users with vast quantities of ordered data to play with. DBI also provides the possibility that, if a site is receiving far too much traffic than their database server can cope with, they can upgrade the database server behind the scenes with no alterations to the CGI scripts.

4.2 How do I get faster connection times with DBD::Oracle and CGI?

    Contributed by John D. Groenveld

The Apache httpd maintains a pool of httpd children to service client requests.

Using the Apache mod_perl module by Doug MacEachern, the perl interpreter is embedded with the httpd children. The CGI, DBI, and your other favorite modules can be loaded at the startup of each child. These modules will not be reloaded unless changed on disk.

For more information on Apache, see the Apache Project's WWW site:


The mod_perl module can be downloaded from CPAN via:


4.3 How do I get persistent connections with DBI and CGI?

    Contributed by John D. Groenveld

Using Edmund Mergl's Apache::DBI module, database logins are stored in a hash with each of these httpd child. If your application is based on a single database user, this connection can be started with each child. Currently, database connections cannot be shared between httpd children.

Apache::DBI can be downloaded from CPAN via:


4.4 ``My perl script runs from the command line, but fails under the httpd!'' Why?

Basically, a good chance this is occurring is due to the fact that the user that you ran it from the command line as has a correctly configured set of environment variables, in the case of DBD::Oracle, variables like $ORACLE_HOME, $ORACLE_SID or TWO_TASK.

The httpd process usually runs under the user id of nobody, which implies there is no configured environment. Any scripts attempting to execute in this situation will correctly fail.

To solve this problem, set the environment for your database in a BEGIN { } block at the top of your script. This will generally solve the problem.

Similarly, you should check your httpd error logfile for any clues, as well as the very valuable ``Idiot's Guide To Solving Perl / CGI Problems'' and ``Perl CGI Programming FAQ'' for further information. It is unlikely the problem is DBI-related.

The ``Idiot's Guide To Solving Perl / CGI Problems'' can be located at:


as can the ``Perl CGI Programming FAQ''. Read BOTH these documents carefully! They will probably save you many hours of work.

5.1 Can I do multi-threading with DBI?

As of the current date of this FAQ ( see top of page ), no. perl does not support multi-threading. However, multi-threading is expected to become part of the perl core distribution as of version 5.005, which implies that DBI may support multi-threading fairly soon afterwards.

For some OCI example code for Oracle that has multi-threaded SELECT statements, see:


5.2 How do I handle BLOB data with DBI?

To be written.

5.3 How can I invoke stored procedures with DBI?

There is currently no standard way to call stored procedures with DBI. However, if the database lets you use SQL to call stored procedures then the DBI and DBD driver probably will to.

For example, assuming that you have created a stored procedure within an Oracle database, you can use $dbh->do() to immediately execute the procedure:

    $dbh->do( "BEGIN someProcedure END;" );     # Oracle specific

5.4 How can I get return values from stored procedures with DBI?

    Note: This is Oracle specific. Contributed by Jeff Urlwin

    $sth = $dbh->prepare( "BEGIN foo(:1, :2, :3); END;" )  # Oracle specific
               || die $sth->errstr;
    $sth->bind_param(1, $a) || die $sth->errstr;
    $sth->bind_param_inout(2, \$path, 2000)    || die $sth->errstr;
    $sth->bind_param_inout(3, \$success, 2000) || die $sth->errstr;
    $sth->execute || die $sth->errstr;

Note the error checking, it may seem like extra work but it'll probably save you hours in the long run. See $sth->{RaiseError} and $sth->{printError} in the DBI docs for easier ways to get the same effect.

5.5 How can I create or drop a database with DBI?

Database creation and deletion are concepts that are too abstract to be adequately supported by DBI. For example, Oracle does not support the concept of dropping a database at all! Also, in Oracle, the database server essentially is the database, whereas in mSQL, the server process runs happily without any databases created in it. The problem is too disparate to attack easily.

Some drivers, therefore, support database creation and deletion through the private func() methods. You should check the documentation for the drivers you are using to see if they support this mechanism.

5.6 How can I commit or rollback a statement with DBI?

To be written. See the commit or rollback methods in the DBI docs.

5.7 How are NULL values handled by DBI?

NULL values in DBI are specified to be treated as the value undef. NULLs can be inserted into databases as NULL, for example:

    $rv = $dbh->do( "INSERT INTO table VALUES( NULL )" );

but when queried back, the NULLs should be tested against undef. This is standard across all drivers.

5.8 What are these func() methods all about?

The func() method is defined within DBI as being an entry point for database-specific functionality, eg, the ability to create or drop databases. Invoking these driver-specific methods is simple, for example, to invoke a createDatabase method that has one argument, we would write:

    $rv = $dbh->func( 'argument', 'createDatabase' );

Software developers should note that the func() methods are non-portable between databases.

Support and Training

The Perl5 Database Interface is FREE software. IT COMES WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND. See the DBI README and DBI documentation for more details.

However, some organizations are providing either technical support or training programs on DBI. The present author has no knowledge as to the quality of these services. The links are included for reference purposes only.

Commercial Support

The Perl Clinic

The Perl Clinic can arrange commercial support contracts for Perl, DBI, DBD::Oracle and Oraperl. Support is provided by the company with whom Tim Bunce, author of DBI and DBD::Oracle, works. For more information on their services, please see:


for more details.


No training programs are known at this time.

Other References

In this section, we present some miscellaneous WWW links that may be of some interest to DBI users. These are not verified and may result in unknown sites or missing documents.



Alligator Descartes <descarte@hermetica.com>


This document is Copyright (c)1994-1997 Alligator Descartes, with portions Copyright (c)1994-1997 their original authors. This module is released under the 'Artistic' license which you can find in the perl distribution.

This document is Copyright (c)1997 Alligator Descartes. All rights reserved. Permission to distribute this document, in full or in part, via email, Usenet, ftp archives or http is granted providing that no charges are involved, reasonable attempt is made to use the most current version and all credits and copyright notices are retained ( the AUTHOR and COPYRIGHT sections ). Requests for other distribution rights, including incorporation into commercial products, such as books, magazine articles or CD-ROMs should be made to Alligator Descartes <descarte@hermetica.com>.

© 1995-97 Hermetica
Alligator Descartes - Hermetica